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Owners behind Books & Mortar finalize plans for new indie bookstore near downtown GR

If you ask booksellers and West Michigan natives Chris Roe and Jonathan Shotwell, they’ll tell you every great city needs an equally great independent bookstore. One that brings people together, starts conversations, and reflects the passions, challenges and dynamics of its surrounding community. 

And in a few months, that’s exactly what the pair hope to bring to downtown Grand Rapids with the opening of Books & Mortar, a new indie venue that has a mission to be “a community-minded independent bookstore that enhances the quality of life for the people of Grand Rapids, Michigan through promoting a literacy culture, curating a socially conscious book selection, providing community space for open dialogue, offering retail space for local artists, and affirming the freedom of speech.”

Though Roe and Shotwell have spent the last five years earning masters degrees in Divinity at a Chicago graduate school, the couple lived in Grand Rapids for a few years prior to that and found themselves missing the opportunities to make an impact in communities much smaller than those they saw in the big city. 

“We moved to Chicago, and we thought that would be a hotbed of all of these great neighborhoods with great buildings and great new projects, but it’s on such a huge scale that you don’t notice the difference when things change the way you do in a smaller place like Grand Rapids,” says Roe, an indie bookstore enthusiast. 

“Everybody has a huge impact on the community and so something like one singular bookstore becomes another place where people meet each other, run into each other...it’s just so exciting to see people embracing retail in a city in a way that brings more people together,” he says. 

Still in the process of negotiating a lease, Roe and Shotwell can’t reveal the future location of Books & Mortar quite yet, but say the store will be in a downtown-adjacent neighborhood with a diverse residential community and business demographic. 

“It is kind of the confluence of a lot of different types of communities, and so it really hopefully will be a meeting place for many different types of Grand Rapidians and not just the typical progressive urban dweller,” says Roe. 

The store will also be host to a second location for a local coffee maker, though they also are waiting to finalize the logistics before releasing more information about the partnership. 

“I don’t know how to word this, but, honestly, the response we’ve gotten from people and leaders and neighbors and business owners in Grand Rapids has more than affirmed exactly why we wanted to come back in the first place,” Shotwell says. “It’s astounding.” 

To stay updated with the progress of Books & Mortar or learn more about the owners, visit Books & Mortar online here or find them on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Books & Mortar 

Hampton Inn & Suites celebrates downtown GR opening of new 142-room Michigan Street digs

Dave Levitt is no stranger to new developments along Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile. One of three partners behind Third Coast Development, the firm has been responsible for many of the new developments along the Michigan Street corridor east of downtown Grand Rapids, and Levitt says the recent addition of a new $28 million, 142-room Hampton Inn & Suites will only benefit growth further. 

“We believe the Hampton Inn & Suites property will become instantly beneficial to the growing Midtown portion of Michigan Street,” Levitt says. “Third Coast Development is very excited to offer this lodging option to the greater Grand Rapids region.”  

The new downtown Grand Rapids hotel has a range of amenities that include free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour business center with complimentary printing, a 1,456-square-foot meeting space built to accommodate as many as 98 people, an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, a fitness center, and a free hot breakfast Monday through Friday. 

Within walking distance of area’s Women’s Health Center of West Michigan, Spectrum Butterworth Hospital and a handful of other Medical Mile-related organizations located right off of I-196, the new downtown Grand Rapids location is located at 433 Dudley Place NE and is owned and managed in partnership by Third Coast Development and Lodgco Hospitality, LLC

“As a Michigan-based company, we are excited to work with Third Coast Development on this landmark project for the city of Grand Rapids,” says Michael Smith, president of Lodgco Management, which owns and manages 15 other Michigan hotels. “This new Hampton Inn & Suites expands our footprint in the Grand Rapids market and brings a great product and good jobs to the Midtown area. It’s a great win for everybody.” 

For more information or to book a stay at downtown Grand Rapids’ new Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton, visit the hotel online here or call 1 (616) 456-2000. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton 



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Restoring Glory: Keeler Building to see new life as 56 North Division

Mostly vacant for more than 20 years, one of downtown’s last iconic underused buildings, the Keeler Building on North Division Avenue, will again see new life under the care of Chicago-based developers Franklin Partners. Since word came out that Franklin Partners had purchased the building from long-time property owner James Azzar in January, many rumors have swirled as to what the redevelopment plans would entail for the seven-story office building.

Preliminary plans shared with Rapid Growth include a full renovation of the interior and exterior of the building, which will transform the historic venue into office space for up to 1,200 employees (no tenants have been named at this time), with retail storefronts along the ground floor. The ornate red brick and terra cotta exterior will be restored, and the removal of part of the second floor at the northeast corner will allow for a two-story glass enclosed atrium. An entire new streetscape will be put in along the exterior, which has been blocked off to pedestrians for over a year due to the deteriorating areaway under the sidewalk and the city’s fear of a collapse.

Much like Franklin Partner’s rehabilitation work on 25 Ottawa and 99 Monroe, the best features of the 102-year-old building will be highlighted and accentuated. The interior will receive all new mechanicals, elevators, and restoration of the interior design elements, as well as include “a fitness center, common areas and ground floor retail,” according to Julie Maue, Director of Marketing for Franklin Partners.

“This will basically be a brand new building once we are done. We have always been a ‘value add group,’ so we love big and empty (buildings),” says Don Shoemaker, Managing Partner for Franklin Partners. “It’s fun to work in a city that wants to be the best and wants to experience growth.”

The Keeler Building, once the headquarters of Keeler Brass Company and called the “Keeler Exposition Center” when it opened in 1914, has served many roles in its lifetime. It was designed by architect Eugene Osgood, who, along with his father Sidney Osgood, ran the firm Osgood & Osgood, which designed several other notable buildings around the city, including the Corl Knott building at 25 Commerce and the Masonic Temple on Fulton Street. Shortly after opening, the Keeler Building was renamed the Keeler Furniture Exhibition Building and hosted furniture designers from several West Michigan furniture companies and from around the country.

After 80 years and multiple owners, Ellis Parking bought the predominantly vacant building in the 1990s and petitioned the city to allow them to demolish it for a surface parking lot. The Historic Preservation Commission blocked those efforts, although Ellis still owns a lot at the South end of the building.

The area around the Keeler on North Division has seen a flurry of redevelopment activity, with the largest sign of activity coming from Kendall College of Art & Design’s offer to purchase the county building across the street at 82 Ionia for student housing and activities.  

Franklin Partners recently sold their 25 Ottawa and 99 Monroe projects, and are doubling down on downtown Grand Rapids with the Keeler Building purchase and upcoming plans for the Display Pack factory building on North Monroe.
Concept Design Group is serving as architect on the Keeler Building renovation.

Jeff Hill is the former Publisher of Rapid Growth Media, and now works in the residential construction and development industry.

Images courtesy of Franklin Partners, Grand Rapids Public Library and the Grand Rapids Public Museum Archives.

Comic books make a comeback with opening of Plainfield Ave. storefront The Comic Signal

From X-Men to The Avengers and all of the villains in between, the past few years of comic book-based Hollywood blockbusters prove it: Comic books are officially cool again. 

This is good news for Grand Rapids native Don Myers, who, after more than 40 years as a dedicated comic book fan and collector, is celebrating the grand opening of his very own store, The Comic Signal, on Feb. 27. 

“The story telling within comic books — I realize it’s different from the novels, but it’s still a form of storytelling, and I’ve seen how important that form of storytelling has been over the past 40 years, but I think we’re seeing how important it is now in the larger culture, too,” Myers says. 

Myers bought his first comic book in 1974 at the still-standing Argo’s used bookstore in Eastown. It’s been about 42 years since then, and with a personal collection that totals out at almost 30,000, Myers said it seemed like a good time to realize a longtime dream of opening his own store. 

Located at 4318 Plainfield Ave. NE, the 2,500-square-foot comic book shop didn’t require a whole lot of physical rework, though all of the cosmetic renovations were done by Myers and his father, including a handcrafted solid wood cashier’s table handcrafted made from reclaimed wood the pair found on other family-owned property. 

“I did want to find something in the Northview area,” says Myers, who has lived in Grand Rapids since he was in third grade. “…I’ve always been in this neighborhood, and I wanted the store to be in my area, in my neighborhood, my community. Also, as far as the market goes, everything comic-book wise is located closer to downtown.”

Boasting a huge variety of comic books and related memorabilia, The Comic Signal has also announced a partnership with local artist Justine Dillenbeck, whose unique pyrography pieces include characters from popular comic book movies and video games like Thor and Halo

Myers initially connected with Dillenbeck through his daughter, who graduated with the ArtPrize artist from nearby Northview High School. 

“I was able to meet her at one of her shows and that’s where I first saw her work and was just amazed by it,” Myers says. “The detail she puts into her artwork with her woodturning projects was astounding to me, as well as beautiful.”

Dillenbeck will be one of a handful of artists in the store drawing custom superhero sketches for those attending The Comic Signal’s Feb. 27 grand opening event, which will run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with featured activities including a kids costume contest, a raffle for free comic books, and an opportunity for photographs with the heroes themselves — or, at least, actors that look a whole lot like them. 

Myers said The Comic Signal's grand opening will bleed into the following day for those who can't make Saturday's festivities, with Feb. 28 operational hours from 1-5 p.m. 

“It’s just so energizing,” Myers says. “Even though we haven’t opened yet, it’s been such a fun experience for me so far.”

Click here to visit The Comic Signal online or find The Comic Signal on Facebook for more information on the new Plainfield Ave. store and its upcoming grand opening event. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Don Myers


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Vision Real Estate Investment opens new Monroe Center St. NW offices with community in focus

It’s been about a year and a half since real estate developer Tim Engen began pulling together his own industry dream team. Though the staff of the new Vision Real Estate Investment’s five-person firm may have been knitted together with a diverse group of professional backgrounds, it’s their shared roots in the Grand Rapids area that he thinks give them such a solid foundation to start with. 

“Everyone I spoke to advised me to follow my passion and to surround myself with the best individuals in the industry, and thanks to that advice, Vision Real Estate Investment was born,” says Engen, who made a switch to the real estate development world after two and a half years as vice president for the Caledonia-based tech firm Netech. 

He says his extensive work in the ever-growing West Michigan tech sector affords him a skill set that is uniquely valuable in a redevelopment context, allowing VREI to optimize internal systems to make quick, real-time decisions and maximize operational efficiency in its service areas that include acquisition, development and property management. 

Engen officially announced the opening of VREI and its new 140 Monroe Center St. NW office building — the recently built 4,000-square-foot space that was ready for move-in besides adding furniture from Haworth and a custom reception area designed by Grand Rapids’ Studio Wise. 

“We really wanted to make this space pop and wanted something that would be custom for our space as well as locally made” says VREI’s new Senior Development Manager Bradley Hartwell, a former development associate and associate broker with Rockford Construction Co. 

The new development company's remaining three members include former Prim Property Management co-owner Kyle Sischo as VREI’s new controller; new director of marketing Jessica Geerling, who in the past worked in Locus Development’s marketing department and more recently, as the marketing manager for Centre for Plastic Surgery in Grand Rapids; and VREI’s new staff accountant Stephanie Seube, who worked alongside Sischo for four years at Prim Property Management. 

Find Vision Real Estate Investment on Facebook or visit www.visionrei.com for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Vision Real Estate Investment

Michigan's first-ever co-op brewery set to launch investment campaign to buy Grand Rapids facility

Congregating in Eastown backyards, Grand Rapidians began to dream of the city’s first beer co-op years ago, and, over many a home brew, they envisioned an egalitarian venue that could introduce more diversity into the city’s flourishing beer scene, from the racial and socioeconomic makeup of its members to the kinds of drinks they pour.

“We talked about a brewery that could be owned by the community and be democratically run so it benefits everyone equally,” says Josh Smith, the director of the brewery’s board.

The High Five Co-op Brewery was born after founder Dallas McCulloch, inspired by the Blackstar Co-op Pub and Brewery in Austin, Texas, pitched an idea for the business in 2011 at a 5x5 business competition. He was awarded a $5,000 prize for the idea, which, following the brainstorming sessions in Eastown and other community organizing efforts, has gone on to land the support from many a resident and local business. More than 130 people are members of the co-op (to become a lifetime member, you pay a one-time fee of $150), and High Five has worked on a number of collaboration beers with other local breweries, including Harmony, The Mitten, Rockford Brewing Company, Grand Rapids Brewing Company, White Flame, Final Gravity, B.O.B.’s Brewery, HopCat, and Gravel Bottom Brewery.

Now, after garnering community support and navigating the way through the myriad paperwork and approvals from the state, High Five is about to launch an investment drive to raise money for the down payment on a physical space and brewing equipment, allowing it to become one of a handful of co-op breweries in the United States (there are now six such businesses, with about seven in the planning stages).

"The group of people who've  dedicated the last few years to build Michigan’s first cooperative brewery are excited about the  future,” says Laura Barbrick, president of High Five Co-op Brewery. “We feel that this is the right time to raise the capital needed to start our new cooperatively-owned brewpub in Grand Rapids.”

The investment launch party will be held on Friday, March 4 from 6-8pm at 1111 Godfrey Ave. SW, suite 250. Members hope to raise about $250,000, with the minimum they’re aiming to land being $100,000. The investment campaign will continue for one year, after which Smith says members will be looking to purchase a facility somewhere within Grand Rapids' city limits.

When it opens, the brewery will be much like other business co-ops — imagine, say, a co-op grocery store, but with beer. This means the group is entirely owned by its members — that translates to every single member getting a vote in the direction of the brewery. While the membership roster now hovers at a little more than 130 people, Smith says he hopes that number will significantly expand to something more akin to Austin’s Blackstar, which has several thousands members. And, Smith says, he’s hoping their model could inspire other business co-ops to flourish in Grand Rapids.

“We’re definitely pro-co-op business in any form,” says Smith, who now works as a kitchen manager at HopCat and is wrapping up his business degree from Davenport University. “We love the idea of local food co-ops, and any other type of industry or business that could utilize this model. We feel strongly about how positive of an effect it can have on the community.

“We’ll probably always keep the membership open; we’ll never cap membership,” Smith continues. “We’ll do our part to support any other local co-ops.”

For the members, part of the draw of a co-op model is the ability to have a greater say in what their business does and stands for, including equality.

“We’d like to have more racial diversity in our members,” High Five board vice president Jorel Van Os recently told Draft Magazine. “That’s something the beer scene in general lacks, and we’d like to make more of an effort in marketing that. Even just having bathrooms that are trans-friendly, that’s important to me and a lot of other people on the board.”

In addition to being a more diverse and inclusive group, Grand Rapids’ first co-op brewery will focus on supporting the city’s home brewers, including featuring members’ home brews on tap.

“We envision the High Five Co-op Brewery space as a sort of brewer incubator,” Smith says. “There are tons of super talented home brewers in this town that make incredible beer that no one gets to try out. A lot of those home brewers aspire to break into the brewing industry and make a career out of home brewing. The problem is, it’s extremely difficult to get a job brewing on a commercial system without experience.”

To help brewers break into Grand Rapids’ beer scene, the co-op will “bridge that gap and provide home brewers with a place to gain experience brewing on commercial systems,” Smith explains.

If you’re interested in learning more about the co-op, you can check out its website here. All members of the public are invited to the launch party, which will take place on Friday, March 4 from 6-8pm at 1111 Godfrey Ave. SW, suite 250. At the party, there will be mainstay and specialty beer samples from the High Five Brewers Committee, as well as an informal presentation from the Board of Directors. For more details, visit High Five’s Facebook page here, and register for the launch party here.

13.3-mile Laker Line BRT system promises opportunity for economic growth between GR, GVSU

Thanks to $57 million in allocated federal funds announced with last week’s release of President Barack Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget, plans for the The Rapid’s Laker Line BRT system are finally moving forward. 

One of 31 transportation projects throughout 18 states chosen to receive a chunk of the Federal Transit Authority’s $3.5 billion Capital Investment Grant Program funding, the Laker Line would provide service between downtown Grand Rapids and the Allendale Campus of Grand Valley State University, stretching 13.3 miles in total.

Nick Monoyois is the project manager for the Laker Line BRT system and says the announcement comes on the heels of more than two years of planning, public input, and close collaboration with the cities of Standale, Walker, Grand Rapids and their respective downtown development authorities, including area business districts expected to benefit the most from the new route. 

“The city of Standale has recognized the ability of these BRT stations, through some revitalizing land-use planning, in helping make a stronger sense of place and walkability,” Monoyois says. “They’re trying to revive that very highly automobile-oriented Standale corridor by creating more dense, walkable land-use adjacent to the proposed station locations.”

He says the same thing goes for the West Fulton business district and  Medical Mile, as well, which have both been identified in the past by the Vital Streets Task Force and the Michigan Street Corridor Plan as transit priorities due to the anticipated economic development impact the new Laker Line system could afford. 

“One of the greatest benefits that are realized with enhanced modes such as BRT are significant returns on private investment near BRT stations,” says Monoyois, adding that with an antiquated ridership of around 13,000 riders per day, the new Laker Line offers opportunity to both business owners and commuters not exclusive to GVSU. 

“That’s a lot of people going back and forth on Fulton,” he says. “They’re students, and faculty, and staff, but more than that they’re residents in that neighborhood and the business district sees that as a great opportunity to capture some of these riders and encourage retail growth.” 

The idea behind the growing regional emphasis on multimodal transit options is simple — if you combine  increased access to convenient transportation with the freed-up square footage for actual commerce made possible by less demanding parking requirements, businesses not only have more diverse opportunities for retail growth, but they also become more attractive and accessible to those who travel the corridor. 

“It’s the idea of place-making,” says Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager for The Rapid. “How do you make a place that is an attractive, welcoming environment? A place people want to spend time? If it’s easy to talk a walk and explore, you’re more likely to find new shops or places to eat.” 

Kalczuk says the project was chosen to receive grant monies in part because of The Rapid’s success with the Silver Line BRT system, which is supported by 34 individual stations along a 9.6-mile route starting from Central Station along Grandville Avenue SW and ending at Division Avenue and 60th Street.

She says the Laker Line will have some shared stations with the Silver Line in the core downtown area and will have all of the same features such as snowmelt systems, level boarding between the bus and station for handicap accessibility, real-time bus arrival displays and fare kiosks for purchasing tickets prior to boarding. 

The new route will also feature “articulated buses,” which have accordion-style middles to accommodate for increased capacity.

“One of the ways we’re managing that demand is by putting the bigger vehicles out and we expect that the overall readership in the corridor will grow; meaning that it’s not going to be just the existing Route 50 ridership base, but it will also be attracting new riders that live in the neighborhood,” Kalczuk says. “Whether you are coming from south or west, it’s making that downtown access much easier. It’s not only for Grand Valley students, faculty, and staff either — it’s for commuters and people that work downtown that live on the west side.”

In total, the Laker Line is slated to cost about $71,014,000. In addition the federal funding, the state is expected to provide approximately $14,202,8000 for the project. The federal funding is not definite, as the budget proposal must still get the stamp of approval from Congress.

The Rapid will spend 2016 completing engineering and designs for the line, and construction is expected to kick off next year, with implementation of the new route expected to begin in 2018. 

For more information, visit www.rapidtherapid.org

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Rapid 



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SalesPad, LLC invests $3.85 million with expansion of GR offices, addition of 91 new jobs

In an effort to meet an increased product demand with an expansion of its current Grand Rapids-based workforce, software developers at SalesPad, LLC have announced the addition of 91 new jobs and the growing of its operations at 3200 Eagle Park Dr. NE. 

“We need innovative, creative, tech-savvy software developers and support specialists to keep up with our company’s growth,” says SalesPad CEO Pete Eardley, whose company currently employs 110 people. 

The $3.85 million investment comes on the heels of the approval for a $364,000 grant by the Michigan Strategic Fund, which was made possible with help from economic development organization The Right Place, Inc. 

According to Economic Modeling Specialists International, West Michigan’s information technology industry is growing at a rate of 13.8 percent — 9.4 percent higher than the national average — and TRP’s Thad Rieder, senior business development manager and project lead for the SalesPad expansion says SalesPad is no exception to that industry growth.    

“West Michigan’s high-tech community continues to grow, and SalesPad is a part of that growth story,” Rieder says. “We firmly believe that our region’s strong work ethic, culture and innateness is what retains and attracts companies like SalesPad to West Michigan.” 

Founded in 2003, SalesPad products focus on increasing business productivity and efficiency with enterprise software that works with applications like Microsoft Dynamics GP and Intuit Quickbooks alongside creating customized software solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses. 

“In order to grow, we really need tech talent,” says Matt Williams, president of SalesPad. “We honestly believe in the people, work ethic, and resources found in West Michigan. We’re committed to expanding and doing things right here in Grand Rapids.” 

Click here for more information on career opportunities at SalesPad, LLC. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of SalesPad, LLC. 

Twenty Fulton East brings mixed-income housing, retail space to downtown

It’s just a big pile of dirt and a flurry of excavating equipment now, but soon downtown Grand Rapids’ newest residential project will be rising from behind the construction fences and the old Junior Achievement building near Fulton and Division. Bordered by Sheldon Avenue on the east, Fulton on the north and the JA building on the west, the new building called Twenty Fulton East will rise just over 120 feet on the site of a former parking lot.

The 12-story tower is another project by Midland-based Brookstone Capital, owned by developer Karl Chew, which has created a slew of residential projects in the downtown Grand Rapids area in the last 10 years. Many of these project have taken advantage of the state’s Low Income Housing Tax Credits program, which provides affordable housing at a certain percentage level below the median income. But Twenty Fulton East will provide a mixed-income approach, with 45 affordable LIHTC units and 45 market rate units: one of the first of its kind in downtown Grand Rapids. "Mixed-income developments and diversity are common elements in urban communities from coast to coast  — New York, to Chicago, and Los Angeles," said representatives of Brookstone Capital back in 2013.

The new Diamond Place project at Diamond Avenue and Michigan Street also plans a similar approach to mixed housing. Much of the diversity in housing prices is being pushed by the recent city of Grand Rapids’ Great Housing Strategies.
 
“It’s exciting to see this project finally start to take shape,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “This development is important to the continued revitalization of the Heartside Neighborhood – and, when completed, will help to serve the critical housing needs in our core city."
 
“The balance of affordable workforce housing and market-rate housing in this project is among the recommendations set forth in our community’s Great Housing Strategies,” Bliss said. "This commitment to providing housing that is affordable for all income levels in our downtown is commendable and needs to be replicated by other developers.”

Twenty Fulton East will contain about 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail, which city leaders hope will provide another link in the downtown retail chain that extends along Monroe Center, Fulton Street and South Division Avenue. Already the corner has experienced a resurgence in new life in previously underutilized spaces recently, including Villa Footwear, Brother’s Leather Supply Co, Bold Socks, Tower Pinkster Titus, Osteria Rossa, Kendall College’s Architecture program, the remake of Monument Park, 616 Development’s Kendall building makeover, and Reynold’ Sports renovation project.

The $42 million project seemed to stall after it was first announced back in 2013. Shortly after the first renderings were released, the project was postponed after it failed to get the tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. It was revived in the fall of 2014 after MSHDA approved the LIHTC request. Other hiccups along the way included the need to vacate the old “Hastings Road” right-of-way that cut across the property, and a switch of architecture firms from locally-owned ProgressiveAE to Pappageorge Haymes out of Chicago. Pappageorge Haymes remains the architecture firm, and the general contractor is Pioneer Construction.

Twenty Fulton East is expected to take 18 to 20 months to complete.

Jeff Hill is the former Publisher of Rapid Growth Media, and now works in the residential construction and development industry.

Photos by Jeff Hill; renderings courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids preservationists to state lawmakers: hands off our historic districts

Grand Rapids resident Tim West has lived in the city on and off for 35 years now, and he says he’s seen how historic districts have transformed the neighborhoods.

“I have witnessed the neighborhoods in and around Heritage Hill gradually become safer and more beautiful, attracting more and more foot traffic, and more and more revenue along with that,” says West, who currently resides along Fulton Avenue in the historic James Russell house, which is now functioning as a co-op. “The quality of life is certainly improving, and I wouldn't want it any other way.”

West is just one of many local historic preservation advocates who are worried about the future of Grand Rapids’ historic districts with the announcement of proposed twin legislation HB 5232 and SB 720 — dubbed the Historic Preservation Modernization Act.

Not only would the legislation require current historic districts to reapply for their historic status every 10 years, but  neighborhoods would have to re-earn district status by landing the support of two-thirds of property owners in the designated area, as well as with a city-wide vote. Should a district not land this support, it would be dissolved.

The legislation has drawn ire from throughout Michigan, with historic preservationists, city planning officials and other civic leaders saying such stipulations would seriously endanger historic districts in Grand Rapids, and the entire state, by, for example, allowing large property owners to determine the future of districts and disempowering neighbors who would be the most impacted with the city-wide vote.

“We believe that HB 5232 & SB 720 jeopardize property owners’ investments in historic districts by subjecting districts to a citywide renewal vote every 10 years,” Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association President Jim Payne writes in a letter posted on the group’s website. “This would allow the vote of residents outside of a historic district to determine if that district would continue to be allowed to exist. This provision actually takes away local control — control by neighborhood residents that these historic districts have always enjoyed.”

State Rep. Chris Afendoulis, who represents East Grand Rapids and who introduced the House bill, says his legislation intends to give back decision making power to individual property owners living in historic districts, who often cannot make the renovations they want because of the districts’ restrictive regulations.

“The pendulum has swung too far to one side in only allowing people to do things that look great, but aren’t affordable for your average homeowner,” says Afendoulis, who conceptualized HB 5232 after watching neighbors in East Grand Rapids fail to create a historic district there.

“When I campaigned for office, one of the things I said was that I believe in property rights,” Afendoulis says. “We have a goal for historic preservation, but I also look at it and say, ‘We’ve got such advancements in building materials and construction techniques, and to sit there and say those things aren’t authentic because they weren’t around 100 years ago and so they won’t look good doesn’t make sense.’”

However, both local and state historic preservationists say the bill operates under the assumption that one size fits all, and Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s Nancy Finegood says that’s just not the way it works.

“There’s less expensive alternatives available, and it just depends on what you’re talking about,” says Finegood, the executive director of the MHPN. “For example, rehabbing windows as opposed to replacing — initially the expense may be more, but they’ve lasted 100 years and will last 100 more years — as opposed to cheaper replacement windows, which may have to be replaced again every 10 to 15 years.”

Finegood’s perspective echoes that of local leaders like Suzanne Schulz, planning director for the city of Grand Rapids.

“The unfortunate thing is that we’re not really understanding what was broken, and what we need to fix to begin with, because the (current) act has really held up well, and I think when we look at those neighborhoods that it’s protected, they’re our highest value neighborhoods and they have been the most stable ones throughout the years,” says Schulz, who was been working alongside Afendoulis to make changes to the most disagreeable parts of the bill — such as the 10-year sunset clause and city-wide vote — to create a substitute version of the legislation that Afendoulis says is expected to hit the floor next week.

“Historic district preservation works so well in fragile neighborhoods, where they are definitely of high quality, but they’re also at great risk from people who don’t value the structures themselves,” she says, saying measures currently taken protect homeowners’ property values by preserving the architectural and historic integrity that would otherwise be open to interpretation by individual property owners who may not all have such good intentions.

“The historic district law allows for protections and guarantees for property owners when they invest that there is some confidence they can have when they buy into a neighborhood,” Schulz concludes. “By removing that and taking that away, I don’t know how that’s protecting individuals at all.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Anna Gustafson

Holland's CityVu Bistro to be converted to rooftop events and conference space

CityFlatsHotel owner Chuck Reid announced last month the re-branding of Holland’s CityVu Bistro in Holland as an events and conference space this spring, with the additional conversion on the main floor to a new fast-casual restaurant. 

The decision is in part the result of the success CityFlatsHotel has seen with its downtown Grand Rapids ballroom, The Ballroom @ CityFlatsHotel, which opened in fall of 2012 and underwent an additional expansion project last year. 

“The amount of weddings, special events, and corporate occasions in the ballroom made the decision to repurpose CityVu Bistro an easy one,” Reid says.

The remodel work is set to begin Feb. 15, overseen by CityFlatsHotel’s parent company Charter House Innovations, a furniture manufacturer and a design firm. 

Holland’s main floor CitySen Lounge will be updated to include additional seating and serve build-your-own pizzas in a fast-casual dining environment where guests will be able to order their choice of fresh locally sourced ingredients, hand-made doughs and sauces. 

“We see this as a great opportunity to open the premier events location on the lakeshore with beautiful views of Holland during every season,” Reid says. 

For more information, visit www.cityflasthotel.com 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of CityFlatsHotel

Monthly 'pop-up marketplace' at GR Downtown Market to feature local artisans

Launching May 22, the Grand Rapids Downtown Market will host a once-monthly pop-up marketplace to feature solely Michigan-made-and-grown goods, including home decor, furniture and art, as well as locally produced food and farm fresh produce. 

Lasting through September, the pop-up marketplace will take place on the fourth Sunday of each month under the Market Shed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

President and CEO of the Downtown Market, Mimi Fritz, says by launching the Michigan Pop-Up Marketplace, the Downtown Market can provide resources and opportunities to small-time artisans and artists looking for a low barrier of entry to consumers. 

“There is no shortage of creativity in West Michigan, and as we look to build on the mission of the Downtown Market, we are working to create more accessibility to artisan products whether they be in the form of food, art or function,” Fritz says. 

Applications for interested vendors are available at http://madeinmipopup.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Downtown Market 

OST acquisition of Visualhero Design is necessary combination of strengths in changing tech industry

In an effort to utilize their respective strengths in a changing marketplace where design and technology continue to converge, information technology consulting firm Open Systems Technologies has announced the acquisition of Grand Rapids-based design consulting firm Visualhero Design, expanding OST’s capabilities to find solutions with new methods of problem solving that extend from research through product.

Though the official acquisition of Visualhero by OST is very recent, the two companies began collaborating about five years ago, with OST initially drawn to the application of Visualhero’s “human-centered” design strategy in its own software development practices.

“When we started working with Visualhero, we recognized the amount of energy and expertise they had in this area and how much value it provided in even just our customer engagement,” says Michael Lomonaco, director of marketing and communications at OST.

“It’s no big secret that IT is being challenged in ways that it has never been challenged before,” Lomonaco says. “Those traditions of what OST was built on and founded in with the data center and the cloud is obviously a piece of that — keeping lights on, high availability, disaster recovery — those things must continue and OST must continue to be a leader in those more enterprise technologies.”

However, Lomonaco says the once more distinguishable areas of design, data analytics, software development and a more recent Internet of Things are leaning increasingly on one another to provide the more enhanced user experience customers are seeking, and OST’s acquisition of Visualhero affords a more seamless alignment in strategy.

“More than acquiring new technology, it’s redefining our engagement and our service offerings and how they come to fruition and mature for our current and future customers, not to mention the product development side and that whole cycle,” he says.

Founded in 2005 by CEO Andy Van Solkema, who will now assume the role of Chief Designer at OST, Visualhero began building its reputation as leaders in human-centered design, or design thinking, as a response to businesses’ growing need for clarity in the management of more and more sophisticated technology. 

Van Solkema says in the last decade, the service of human-centered design itself has changed, going from designing communication to objects to now what are becoming more complex systems enabled by technology.

“To define that you have to understand the two aspects of design,” Van Solkema says. “The aspect most people think of first is the one that’s visceral and object oriented, and that’s really evident in our U.X. space and depth of knowledge we have.

"However, the design thinking and human-centric design…We come in to define clarity, to help to define strategies that can then inform technology choices, and likewise on the feedback loop, the technology choices and level of expertise OST brings to the table with its data center can inform our design teams with insight from the market,” Van Solkema continues.

OST and Visualhero will continue to operate from their respective west side offices at 605 Seward Ave. NW and 560 5th St. and maintain separate brand identities for the time being, though Lomonaco says OST did retain all 12 members of the Visualhero team in the acquisition.

However, both Lomonaco and Van Solkema say it’s not something as simple as shared office space that the partnership between the two firms is founded on — it’s a shared understanding of the complexity of what makes good design, and combined tools to make it happen.

“Good design is really not just about design; that it takes really smart business partners and their ability to allow us to create clarity for them and the really strong technology to enable those experiences, is really the whole basis of our motivation here and we’re really excited,” Van Solkema says.

This acquisition comes on the heels of another major announcement from OST, which the National Association for Business Resources just named as a “2015 Best and Brightest Company to Work For.” The accolade, which OST has landed two years in a row, was given to 101 top companies across the United States.

The winning companies were recognized in the January 14 online edition of Corp! Magazine.  In addition, OST will be recognized at an awards gala on May 5, 2016 in Grand Rapids.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of OST/Visualhero Design



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Creative firm Extra Credit Projects invests in new Creston, N. Monroe office space on Taylor Ave.

Outgrowing its former fourth-floor offices located in the old Grand Rapids Furniture campus at 560 5th St., creative firm Extra Credit Projects (ECP) has upgraded its workspace with new offices located at 1250 Taylor Ave. in north Grand Rapids.

On the cusp of Grand Rapids’ N. Monroe and Creston districts, ECP’s new space is located across the street from the former Display Pack, Inc. building at 1340 N. Monroe Ave., which was acquired last year by Franklin Partners for redevelopment.

Rob Jackson is the CEO of ECP, which launched about 10 years ago on Grand Rapids’ west side, and he says though his firm tends to seek business areas home to more “blue collar” companies, they didn’t target the up-and-coming neighborhood on purpose — it just worked out that way.

“We were just looking for the right space, and it happened to be here,” Jackson says. “The Creston-North Monroe area is an up-and-coming business district, and we do kind of like the upside of that.”

At about 4,200 square feet, ECP’s new home affords its team around 1,000 extra square feet of floor space to work with, including a central kitchen and fireplace, shower/lockers, bike storage, a dedicated workshop, on-site parking, and garage space for some of its larger projects. All of this new space is a huge help for a firm that does some seriously diverse work, from corporate branding and television ads to book and cover design — and a whole lot more.

“At our old space when we’d have a large project, like carving out some big 20-foot foam prop, it was hard as a fourth-floor renter to find space around the property to work in,” says Jackson, who used to have to rent a separate workshop on Front St. alongside its old 5th St. loft offices to accommodate those big undertakings. “We’re more spread out here. We have a little bit of outside space, and we just feel like there’s all kinds of alternative workspace we can utilize.”

Alongside its offering of easier access from surrounding highways and more bike-friendly proximity to home for many members of its 11-person team, Jackson says the move to the growing neighborhood — in all of its simplicity of space — just makes sense for ECP as a larger brand. 

“Everything we do is based on simplicity,” he says. “From outdoor projects to websites to logos and brand identity, everything we do is based in simplicity and one big idea.

Jackson says he looks forward to ECP’s continued growth as both a brand and an operation in its expanded offices, thinking of the new Taylor Avenue digs as a sort of long-term investment in the overall growth of the city of Grand Rapids.

“We’re invested. We want to be a part of this. We’re in it,” Jackson says. “We always hope to be a little bit of a creative draw of Grand Rapids, to lore in blue-chip clients looking for a little more value, for something different from New York or Los Angeles — and we have had wins in that area, which is cool to do from here in Grand Rapids.”

To see some of ECP’s work or for more information on the creative firm, visit www.extracreditprojects.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Extra Credit Projects

People's Cider Co. joins Long Road Distillery, Mitten Brewing Co. with new Leonard St. tasting room

When it comes to plans for The Peoples Cider Co.’s new urban tasting room at 539 Leonard St. NW, owner Jason Lummen says collaboration is the name of the game.

Located on the same corner as Mitten Brewing Co. at 527 Leonard St. NW and next door to craft spirits maker Long Road Distillers at 537 Leonard St. NW, it’s the good company that ultimately inspired Lummen to move his current tasting room out of his Eastown production facility and into its own modest 400-square-foot storefront across town.

“When the opportunity came to me to put the tasting room in the next door, I jumped at it,” says Lummen, who used to sell some of his ciders wholesale to Mitten Brewery and supplied cider to Long Road Distillery for its apple brandy. “There’s a whole bunch of nice guys over there, and we all just get along.”

He says the various collaborations between the three alcoholic beverage makers — a brewery, distillery and cidery — are unique in the way they are completely unrelated, owned and operated by separate individuals with no prior connections.

“As far as we know, it doesn’t exist anywhere, having those three things in a row independently,” Lummen says. “They might have a large company come into a place and do that with a distillery and brewery or something like that, but as far as we know there isn’t anything like that with three consecutive addresses and three very different, independently opened businesses.” 

Though he’s still waiting on approval from the city planning and liquor control commissions, he expects to get the official green light to move ahead with the planning process after the Feb. 11 Grand Rapids Planning Commission meeting and have his new digs open by May 1.

“This is a really small business,” says Lummen, who alongside his wife has operated The Peoples Cider Co. as a full-time job for the past four years with no additional employees. “With this expansion comes the hiring of our first employee and that kind of thing, and so we’re really just getting started.”

He says the space won’t require any major structural renovations, mostly just some cosmetic improvements to reflect the The Peoples Cider Co. brand in a welcoming neighborhood he says is not too unlike the Eastown streets he grew up on.

“It’s a vibrant neighborhood and an old city neighborhood,” Lummens says. “Growing up as an Eastown kid, I appreciate that old city neighborhood feel; the traditional business district with the houses around it that people can walk from to come get a drink.”

He says he sees the space on West Leonard as providing a level of security and sustainability for his business in a walkable central business district with such close proximity to the surrounding residents.

“I really understand what it is to see those kinds of places benefit the neighborhood and then find a lasting place there,” he says. “I’m going to be 36, and I’ve been going to some of these businesses my whole life.”

Visit The Peoples Cider Co. online here or find them on Facebook

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of People’s Cider Co.
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