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133-year-old St. Cecilia's Music Center to undergo $2.4 million renovation to historic building

The St. Cecilia Music Center at the corner of Ransom Avenue and Fulton Street has, since its inception, been home to vibrant concert series that include top-name jazz artists, chamber musicians from such prestigious groups as the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and touring folk musicians. 

This summer, SCMC leadership have launched a $2.4 million campaign to provide long-awaited and needed improvements and upgrades to the building, including new seating in Royce Auditorium, a new roof, professional sound and lighting systems for Royce Auditorium, a remodel of the lower administration offices and rehearsal space, and upgraded HVAC equipment. 

“We just keep getting stronger, making a profound mark on music appreciation within our great community and offering world-class music in our first-class facility,” says SCMC executive director Cathy Holbrook. 

The SCMC Board has set a campaign goal for endowment funds of $3 million to help sustain the organization on an annual basis. Catalyst funding is also being collected to allow for expanded programming in the near future. 

The capital portion of the campaign will fund $2.4 million for various upgrades and improvements for the 133-year-old St. Cecilia Music Center building at 24 Ransom Ave. NE. 

For more information, visit www.scmc-online.org

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of St. Cecilia’s Music Center 

New street signage in East Hills supports neighborhood's 'people first' mantra

After last week's public unveiling of the handful of non-motorist street signage and marking improvements, collaborators from the City of Grand Rapids and the East Hills Council of Neighbors want both residents and commuters to remember: East Hills is a people-first neighborhood and its transit structure should support and help enforce that idea. 

Rachel Lee is director of the EHCN, and she says implementation ideas surrounding the possible non-motorist street upgrades began as part of a larger discussion during the drafting of the 2014 Public Spaces Plan, which included a Complete Streets section — or, in other words, an emphasis on design solutions, policies and initiatives that make the neighborhood's streets safer for all users, no matter what your mode of transportation.

“…Since we consider ourselves a ‘people first neighborhood,'  one where we like to plan for pedestrians, transit, cyclists and then cars, we wanted to take those strategies to the next level,” Lee says.  

So, members of the EHCN worked alongside the City of Grand Rapids to brainstorm different kinds of non-motorized strategies East Hills could implement in partnership with the city to help encourage pedestrian and bicycle safety and create a more walkable neighborhood overall. With the ever-growing population of new non-motorized commuters adding to that foot traffic each day, making a few user-friendly adjustments seemed like the best place to start. 

“People always talk about that thing of when you go to a big city, and you step on the street and all the cars just stop for pedestrians,” Lee says. “That doesn’t really happen here, and that’s a cultural thing…So, how can we help impact the culture so that people understand that when they’re driving through the central city neighborhood, there’s also going to be people walking around, or using city transit, or riding bikes, and that they’re also part of that urban fabric?”

The majority of recent updates focus on the functionality of crosswalks in high-trafficked areas, many of the changes informed by a walking audit of the neighborhood to identify areas of high pedestrian traffic.

Funded by the city’s traffic calming and safety initiative budget, the $14,473 project afforded the enhancement of two existing crosswalks (resurfacing severely worn crosswalks with a higher quality, longer lasting thermal plastic paint); the creation of five new crosswalks; shallow markings along Wealthy Street, Eastern Avenue, and Diamond Avenue; “no bikes on sidewalks” signs posted throughout the commercial corridors along Cherry Street; and, finally, the city’s first-ever installation of “in-yield pedestrian” signs within select crosswalks on Cherry, Wealthy, and Lake Drive. 

Following the neighborhood's signage installation, Western Michigan University will study the impact of the East Hills “pilot program” launch, such as analyzing where the best possible placement of new signage might be, to help create strategies for potential city-wide implementation in the future.

“This is just a start for our neighborhood, and it’s taken us since fall 2014 to get where we are today, so we’re by no means finished with what we want to do,” Lee says. “Our streets and our sidewalks are not seasonal attributes to our city. They’re part of everyday life and because of that, we need to make them as safe. and as inviting, and as welcoming as we possibly can.” 

For more information about how you can help make East Hills even more people friendly, visit EHCN online at www.easthillscouncil.org.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of East Hills Council of Neighbors 

Holland's new kid-friendly museum celebrates West Michigan's design roots, encourages hands-on play

With its design-based aesthetic an intentional homage to West Michigan’s own rich history in the design world, the new hands-on interactive learning and play space inside the Holland Area Arts Council is clearly not just a kid thing. 

Housed in one of the HAAC’s former Holland gallery spaces, The Studio totals out a cozy 3,530 square feet, effectively affording a sort of miniaturized hands-on children’s museum to the Holland arts community, who because of its theme and more intimate size are also able to take the concept and make it their own. 

“West Michigan has such a huge reputation for design, we thought that could not only draw visitors into our state if we talked about hands-on education with design, but would at the same time draw in the manufacturing community to be more invested in our space so that they would be able to profile their industry’s design triumphs,” says Lorma Williams Freestone, executive director of HAAC. 

In an old gallery space located at one of the building’s corners, Williams Freestone says The Studio’s new home allows for a much natural light to complement its modern-industrial aesthetic — which, she adds, was more directly influenced by installations specifically crafted by local artists and designers for The Studio’s rotating interior.

“We wanted it to be clean and almost industrial, create a real clean slate with the white walls and the galvanized fixtures, which also gives it a very modern, clean look,” Lorma Williams Freestone says. 

The galvanized action, she says, was directly influenced from an artist installation that used palm-sized blocks of found objects to create a massive magnetized texture wall, with magnetic sheets for the galvanized fixtures produced by Zeeland manufacturer K2 Metal. 

“We needed a metal wall to put it on, so we had a galvanized sheet wall brought in for us, and that was the jumping off point where we stepped back and said, ‘This is really beautiful and let’s make everything in this space accented with that galvanized metal.’” 

Conceptualized back in February 2014, HAAC staff held rounds of strategic planning sessions, visited interactive art spaces from around the country, and engaged a group of local designers , educators, artists, and engineers to create The Studio.

The HAAC building, located at 150 E. 8th St. in Holland, will host different kinds of indoor and outdoor activities for families at The Studio’s June 11 grand opening. Open to the public with no RSVP required, there is a $5 admission fee for the event, which will last from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information about the space, visit Holland Area Arts Council or The Studio online or find them here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Holland Area Arts Council 

$9.2M Fulton Square development progresses ahead of schedule for Dec. 2016 opening

When Orion Construction’s Fulton Square development is finished come this winter, the new mixed-use project will boast 55,000 square feet between its two buildings, housing 47 residential units, 3,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, a 4,000-square-foot restaurant, and 92 parking spaces in total.  

Straddling the neighborhood boundary between Eastown and Fulton Heights, the new Fulton Square is located next door to Opera Grand Rapids on the corner of Fulton Street SE and Carlton Avenue, occupying a lot that has been long vacant since its last tenant, Michigan Lithos, burned down several years ago. 

“We’re excited to be able to bring back another Eastown development from vacant land, like Eastown Flats,” says Jason Wheeler, spokesperson for the Grand Rapids-based Orion Construction, which opened its 35-unit Eastown Flats apartment building during summer 2015. “It’s always good if we can take something that was creating no taxable valuable and made it into something that provides economic impact.”

The $9.2 million project was funded by a combination of Brownfield redevelopment  and Neighborhood Enterprise Zone tax incentives, with additional financing from majority investors SIBSCO and Sparta-based ChoiceOne Bank. With Concept Design Group as the project’s architect, Colliers International is managing the leases of the developments. None of the leases have been signed yet, though Wheeler says ORES has been in talks with potential restaurant and retail tenants who are interested in the space. 

The project, which Wheeler says is ahead of schedule with an anticipated December 2016/January 2017 completion, received unanimous support from the city, planning commission, and area neighborhood association before breaking ground in April. 

With Aquinas College just a stone’s throw away, Wheeler says Orion hopes to bring more than just new housing options to the college’s students, faculty, staff, and community members at large. 

“What Fulton Square offers is a housing component and additional entertainment opportunities within that Eastown area that we think will be supported well by Aquinas College students and faculty, as well as being an additional entertainment offering to the Grand Rapids Opera House,” Wheeler says, adding that there’s an added bonus of potential for increased exposure to the GR Opera by some who otherwise may have not visited on their own. 

“I also want to thank the neighborhood association for being such a strong supporter and providing so much valuable insight into the design and different components of development so that we knew it met their standards and expectations,” Wheeler says. “Their input was really valuable and we took that into consideration during the design and continue to take that into consideration as we finish the development.”

To learn more about the future Fulton Square, visit fultonsquaregr.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images & renderings courtesy of Orion Construction Co. & Concept Design Group

Center for Physical Rehabilitation to open fifth clinic in downtown GR's Arena Place

Scheduled to open June 13, the Center for Physical Rehabilitation's fifth office will be a 2,500-square-foot building on the ground floor of the new Arena Place in downtown Grand Rapids. 

Providing outpatient orthopedic physical therapy, sports medicine, workers compensation, and injury prevention, this new location builds off of its existing four West Michigan locations in Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Belmont, and Walker. 

“There's a number of clients we’ve treated through the years that work downtown and have to come back out to the suburbs to get their orthopedic rehab, so we wanted to do a nice easy convenient access spot downtown,” says COO and partner Chris Nawrocki, adding that CPR will have on-site parking specifically allocated for clients at Arena Place. 

Nawrocki says at this new downtown location, a major focus will be worker’s compensation rehabilitation and prevention, more specifically using a certified program called Fit2WRK. 

“That’s about the industrial athlete — you treat those injured workers like an athlete, which is to try to expedite their care, keep them moving, keep them on the job task. Sometimes they need a change but engage to be productive and get to the source of what the problem is. Get them to return to full capacity work,” Nawrocki says. 

There’s also a greater focus on prevention of injuries for middle school and high school athletes — an area for which Nawrocki says he and the rest of CPR think there is currently a gap in the market. 

“How do you prevent someone walking in the door with overused rotator cuff? You see a lot of high school and college conditioning, strengthening, performance training centers propping up so we want to jump in with our specialized advanced medical background and make sure people are trained correctly and strong enough to go out and execute further sports specific exercises,” he says.

“We think there’s a gap in the marketplace with being trained properly in the correct biomechanics and making sure that core foundation is laid properly,” he continues. “Training a high school or middle school patient is different than treating college kid from a core foundational standpoint and it’s different with an adult, too. You can’t treat a 22-year-old body like a 14-year -body.”

Orion Construction is the project’s developer and general contractor, and Concept Design is the architect.

For more information, visit www.pt-cpr.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Center for Physical Rehabilitation 

New Pregis Films to generate $17.1 million in investment, 50 new jobs

Local and state partners in the city of Grand Rapids, alongside regional economic development organization, The Right Place, Inc., announced a $17.1 million investment in the acquisition and expansion of a local manufacturing facility by Deerfield, Ill.-based Pregis, LLC.

Made possible by the approval of a Michigan Strategic Fund incentive, Eagle Film Extruders will now take on a new name — Pregis Films — after its acquisition by Pregis, LLC, complete with an expansion of its Roosevelt Park facility located at 1100 Hynes Ave. that will allow for the opening of a new production line to increase capacity and meet customer demand. 

“One of the things that The Right Place has really worked hard to do over the past decade or so, is work to retain — and Eagle Film is a classic example of this — retain and expand those industrial businesses we have within city limits,” says Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing at TRP. “We have a strong belief that in order to have a vibrant city, you have to have businesses of all shapes and sizes, including industrial facilities.”

With a three-year investment total of $17.1 million, the acquisition and expansion is also expected to generate 50 new jobs at the Grand Rapids facility, where it will continue production of high-quality polyethylene blown film used for a variety of packaging applications 

Pregis CEO Kevin Bauduin says the company is currently experiencing an increased demand from industrial and e-commerce, among other market segments, for higher quality materials, so investing in the facility will help meet market segment expectations for packing performance and provide vertical integration for some of Pregis’s other products. 

The 160,000-square-foot facility currently houses four state-of-the-art multilayer blown film extrusion lines, converting equipment, and warehouse space, though Pregis plans to install a new  five-layer blown film line that is expected to be operational mid-summer following the facility’s expansion. 

Eric Icard is the senior business development manager at TRP and project lead on the expansion. He says when hearing from businesses interested in building or expanding manufacturing and distribution facilities in West Michigan, the appeal is in no small part due to the quality of the region’s workforce alongside an often overlooked geographic advantage with its proximity to both major U.S. cities and Canada.

“I don’t believe we give that much consideration, but that’s very nice for anybody looking at distribution,” Icard says.

“Plus, there’s just providing opportunities for the people we serve in West Michigan,” he says. “As an entity, at The Right Place, our focus is the standard of living and how we can improve the standard of living. When people are elevated through opportunities for higher wages, they have a better chance at increasing that standard of living, which in turn creates a better quality of life.”

For more information, visit The Right Place, Inc. online at www.therightplace.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Right Place, Inc./Pregis, LLC 

Want a downtown grocery store? GR Food Co-op aims to make that a reality

There is still much to be done before members of the Grand Rapids Food Co-Op Initiative are able to establish a physical grocery store in downtown Grand Rapids, but with the launch of its first big membership drive planned for June, organizers of the registered nonprofit group are optimistic about their plan’s viability in the coming years. 

“(Feasibility study results) were encouraging, and it does look like a co-op in Grand Rapids would be financially viable,” says Linda Jones, the Grand Rapids resident who spearheaded the initiative alongside the Creston Neighborhood Association’s Deborah Eid. 

Jones and Eid first began conversations about bringing a co-op grocery into the downtown core about one year ago, shortly after she moved back to Grand Rapids so her husband, Jim Jones, could pursue more work in the area’s co-operative housing.

“I said I wanted to start a food co-op in Grand Rapids because I was concerned about not having a decent grocery store close by,” Jones says. “Deborah Eid said, ‘I’d like to work on that too.’” 

Now around 20 members strong, Jones was able to garner more interest through Facebook, and members have leaned on advice from existing food co-ops in Kalamazoo and Traverse City, as well as experiences at national food co-op conventions, to build their organization in the sociocracy business model. Essentially, the model employs group consent in order to use analysis and compromise to resolve differing opinions in an effort to avoid a seizure of too much power by one party.

“With consent, if I can work within the given parameters I will, and if I can’t, I’ll tell you why I can’t and then we all work together to craft a better proposal,” she says. “By the end of the process, you’ve got the best you can come up with at that time…Every opinion is included, every voice is heard, and every voice matters — which is important with a co-op effort, since it is so collaborative.”

The big difference between a regular grocery store and a co-op grocery store lies in ownership — though the co-op grocery would be open for everyone to shop at, the co-operative model dictates that the store is run by member-owners, whose share amount represents their stake in the business that gives them a vote. 

Jones says the Grand Rapids Food Co-Op Initative’s recent online survey garnered about 100 responses, with about 50 percent indicating interest in a buy-in amount that was $350 or less, and a surprising 35 percent willing to pay $500 or more  for a member share, which would additionally provide discounts on items in the store once established. 

The goal is to move into a commercial building around 10,000 square feet in size and the group is considering options in any under serviced neighborhood within a few miles of Grand Rapids’ downtown core. The store would be big enough to have a wide range of traditional grocery items as well as a deli, hot bar, salad bar, and gathering place with the possibility of a demonstration kitchen for cooking  classes. 

“We want this store to be a place that brings people together to share the bounty of our vibrant local food producers,” Jones says. 

Right now, the co-op initiative will focus on getting the word out about the June membership drive — Jones says the organization needs about 1,000 committed members in order to move forward with signing leases on a physical space — and are also looking for additional funding through local foundations interested in food equality alongside USDA funds for some seed grant money. 

Until then, the group is encouraging questions and feedback via its Facebook page here and hope to demonstrate the value a co-operative grocery can have for downtown neighborhoods where access to fresh produce and grocery selection is currently lacking. 

“To have a place residents they feel they can have a say in will help empower them in many other ways, too,” she says. “Maybe there’s other changes in their neighborhood they can make after they see they can have a say in this effort.”

For more information or to stay updated on the June membership drive, visit the Grand Rapids Food Co-Op Initiative here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Linda Jones/ GR Food Co-Op Initiative 

A more meaningful life: Coppercraft Distillery owners focus on community - and, of course, cocktails

After Walter Catton was hit by an SUV while training for an Ironman in 2009, he spent 40 days in the hospital — and when he left, he and his wife, Kim Catton, knew they wanted their lives to change. The couple, who have six children together, wanted to be able to build and own something of their own — a place where they could grow a community.

So, in 2012 they founded the Coppercraft Distillery, a Holland-based artisan spirits distiller that began producing whiskey, bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, and applejack in 2013 – the same year they opened their tasting room. Since then, Coppercraft has quickly taken off, winning awards for its handmade spirits crafted with local ingredients (the Cattons use corn from Zeeland’s Boersen Farms, for example) and landing support from throughout the community — and beyond. Restaurants in Michigan, Illinois and Colorado sell their various spirits, and that list is constantly growing.

“We wanted to live out the American dream,” Kim Catton says as she sits in the space that was carved from the former Belden Brick and Supply in Holland, where the distillery is producing tens of thousands of gallons of spirits annually. “Walter wanted to make something using his hands, and we thought, ‘Well, why not take a chance?’”

That decision to take a risk has paid off, and their drinks are landing high praise from neighbors to professionals. Recently, Coppercraft’s cask strength bourbon, which is aged in oak barrels, landed a Best of Category award from the American Distilling Institute, and its applejack and cask strength bourbon claimed gold medals from the San Francisco International Spirits Competition. Plus, the gin and rum have also won praise from the Denver International Spirits Show and the American Craft Spirits Association.

In addition to the people, residents and tourists alike, who visit the distillery for tours, tastings, live music, and more, Coppercraft was again tapped as the official spirit of Holland’s annual Tulip Time Festival. For three consecutive years, the distillery has crafted an exclusive Tulip Time signature cocktail. This time around, the distillery is offering “The Copper Blossom,” which showcases the venue’s rum that just won a bronze medal at the 2016 American Distiller’s Institute awards in San Diego.

Through May 31, establishments across Holland and Zeeland will create their own, customized Copper Blossom cocktail featuring Coppercraft’s rum as part of what the venue is calling the “Copper Trail.”

“We created the Copper Trail for this year’s Tulip Time Festival to involve and engage our community and our out-of-town guests,” Kim Catton says. “It not only demonstrates the various ways Coppercraft’s Rum can be served, but also gives our partners a chance to showcase their mixology talents.” You can check out the making of a Copper Blossom at Coppercraft in the video here:

The distillery and partnering establishments, the Holland Area Visitors Bureau, and the Tulip Time Office will provide Copper Trail cards that will allow customers to rate the cocktails — and those who visit a minimum of three participating venues can submit their cards to Coppercraft for a free stainless steel flask and a chance to win a $75 gift basket filled with a distillery gift card and other swag. For a list of the participating sites, go here.

With a strong foothold in the community, the Cattons are planning further expansion, including adding a kitchen that will allow them to offer small plates, something which they aim to do before the end of the summer, as well as potentially opening tasting rooms in Grand Rapids and Saugatuck. Plus, they’ll continue to grow their already popular programs, like distillery tours, live music events, vinyl nights and cocktail classes, all of which are held in the space that celebrates the area’s local history —some of their wood used in the space is 300-year-old wood Cypress wood from Holland’s Heinz pickle plant, and they have seats made from old South Haven High School bleachers.

The tasting room also proudly displays two stills, both of which are pre-Prohibition structures hailing from Louisville. The centerpiece of the business is the 350-gallon Vendome copper still — which, for those of us distillery layman, is reminiscent of some incredible steampunk art, but, for those in the alcohol know, it’s one of the main reasons the distillers can create spirits with complexity and character.

“We put our whole heart and soul into this, and we love sharing that with people,” Kim Catton says. “We want to share what we enjoy.”

For more information about Coppercraft Distillery, visit its website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Instagram account.

Trainers at A Pleasant Dog plan for new doggie daycare with future Baxter facility upgrade

It’s taken more than a year for Jenn Gavin, owner of A Pleasant Dog, to find the right space to expand. Finding a building with enough outdoor green space and room indoors for a doggie daycare and training operation hasn’t been easy, but now that she’s got one, it was well worth the wait. 

“As you can imagine, it’s pretty difficult to find that kind of space in the city,” says Gavin, who started A Pleasant Dog a little over two years ago as a one-woman operation. “Our ideal was to be on Wealthy Street, but we didn’t know if we could afford it.” 

She found something that seems like a perfect fit just off Wealthy Street at 406 Barth Ave., a site that’s located one block away from the new Wealthy Street Animal Hospital. With plans to hire an additional trainer with the opening of the new space, A Pleasant Dog has expanded its staff to four trainers, two interns, and a dedicated office administrator. 

“We were looking for a space that would allow us to do more training; we’ve outgrown our rental spaces and needed a somewhere new in order to open a very small-scale daycare, which was prompted by a need many of our clients expressed,” says Gavin, who will leave her current Heritage Hill location for the Barth Avenue site, but will continue to teach out of a number of local veterinary offices, as well as a space provided by Stepping Stones Montessori School. 

The 1,200-square-foot space on Barth Avenue was formerly home to a barbershop that doubled as a recording studio. After the owners closed the business and the building was vacant for some time, Gavin saw an opportunity for her own business to grow into the big, open floor plan and adjacent outdoor lot on Wealthy Street.

“(The owners) did a beautiful job of restoring the building,” says Gavin, who sits on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and says she feels lucky to have found such a nicely restored mid-century building, especially one that lends itself particularly well to its new proposed use. 

Alongside landscaping work for aesthetics, Gavin plans to build ornamental fencing that looks like rod iron around the lots green space, eventually filling it with obstacle courses for agility training — just one of the many options now available for customers that range from supply classes to advanced obedience, with an additional regime of lessons designed specifically for owners with reactive dogs. 

“My heart is in helping people with reactive dogs because it’s such a difficult situation to be in,” says Gavin, who has rescued and raised her fair share of reactive dogs. “It’s actually a cause for many dogs who are re-homed, because (owners) don’t know there’s a kinder and more humane way to deal with it.”

Though Gavin still has to go before the planning commission today for final approval on plans for the location, she says she’s already received support from the Eastown Community Association, the Baxter Neighborhood Association, Wealthy Street Business Alliance, and other businesses and residents along both Wealthy Street and Barth Avenue. 

If all goes well, she plans to open A Pleasant Dog in its new home by June 1 and is currently raising funds through an Indiegogo campaign that offers those who donate a whole host of perks made possible through partnerships with other local businesses, such as leashes designed by Woosah Outfitters’ Erica Lang and free park memberships from Shaggy Pines Dog Park in Cascade, as well as other offers for class registration and even free dog training for life. 

You can find out about A Pleasant Dog’s Indiegogo campaign here, or visit A Pleasant Dog online or via Facebook to learn more. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Logan Zillmer Photo and Electric Elm



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A Pleasant Dog training service expands with new hires, new programming this spring
 

Traverse City gastropub, 7 Monks Taproom, to open at 616 Lofts on Michigan this fall

When 7 Monks Taproom opens its new location on the ground floor of 616 Lofts on Michigan Street next fall, the owners expect to feel right at home in the local craft brewing scene with their plans for 57 taps featuring seasonal craft beers from Grand Rapids — and around the world.

“One thing we’ve always prided ourselves on is our selection,” says 7 Monks spokesperson Jason Kasdorf. “We rely heavily on Belgian beers, but also European beers in general.”

With huge walls of windows, 25-foot ceilings, and a modern-industrial aesthetic, the new 7 Monks Grand Rapids taproom will act as the anchor retailer for 616 Lofts on Michigan, located at 740 Michigan St. SE in Midtown. 

Named for its specialty in serving Trappist style beer, the craft beer bar and gastropub opened its flagship Traverse City location in 2011 as the brainchild of co-owners Matt Cozens and Jim Smolak.

With a second location in Boyne City just a few short months away from its grand opening, Cozens and Smolak say the Grand Rapids location seems like a natural next step. 

“We are thrilled by the opportunity to join the thriving beer scene in Grand Rapids,” says Cozzens. “From day one we have been honored by the great partnerships with some of the city’s leading breweries, and we look forward to joining them in Beer City, USA.” 

For more information, visit www.7monkstap.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of 7 Monks Taproom 

Social Kitchen & Bar debuts at Downtown Market, restaurant to celebrate grand opening this week

As servers pass in a whirlwind of sour cream pancakes, chicken and waffles, and corned beef hash, Sherie Ritzler surveys Saturday morning’s scene at Social Kitchen & Bar, a restaurant that just debuted at the Downtown Market, and, so far, the new venue’s general manager is more than a little pleased at what she hears.

“It’s like Christmas come early,” one diner says Saturday, the first time Social is serving brunch, as he navigates a bloody mary bar lined with a seemingly endless line of cocktail accoutrements: bacon, cheese, a million (well, give or take) hot sauces, horseradish, and so on.

These are the kind of statements Ritzler, a relatively new Grand Rapids transplant who has spent decades opening and running restaurants across the country, from New York to Los Angeles, likes to hear, especially as Social gears up for its official grand opening celebration from Thursday, May 5 through Sunday, May 8.

“Like the name, Social, says, we want this to be your watering hole, your go-to place,” says Ritzler, who most recently was working in Detroit for Peas & Carrots Hospitality, the restaurant group that owns Social and a half dozen other restaurants in the Detroit area and Chicago. This is the group’s first foray into West Michigan, and the second Social Kitchen & Bar — the other Social is located in Birmingham, Michigan.

“This building and concept fits in so well with us,” Ritzler says of the Downtown Market. “There’s the focus on the local — our bread comes from Field & Fire, our pies come from Sweetie-licious, and all our spices are from the Spice Merchants.”

As for what drew the restaurant group to Grand Rapids in the first place?

“The growth going on here, to not be a part of that would be a huge mistake,” Ritzler says as she watches a tray of mimosas travel past her, the waitress maneuvering around a toddler waving a handful of toy cars and heads for a family celebrating a birthday (“Dad, you’re so old,” a teenage daughter keeps repeating).

While Social hasn’t yet celebrated its grand debut, it has been holding a soft opening for a couple of weeks, and Ritzler says news of the 175-seat venue that offers what is characterized as “refined comfort food” has traveled quickly: the restaurant is often filled to capacity (and it's garnered high praise in customers' reviews). As part of the soft opening, customers have been asked to give written feedback — something Ritzler says has been “invaluable.”

“We’ve focused a lot on cocktails at Social on the east side of the state, but we know people really like beer here,” she says, explaining that, as of now, there are six Michigan beers on tap, but that list is expected to grow after receiving feedback from customers.

On the second day of the grand opening festivities, Social will host a dinner party on Friday, May 6 from 5 to 7:30pm. Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Grand Rapids Downtown Market Education Foundation and the Bissell Pet Foundation. Tickets for Friday’s event can be purchased here.

As for the food, Executive Chef Matt Frankum — who most recently was at The Old Goat — is whipping up brunch, lunch and dinner menus that Ritzler says aim to use fresh, local ingredients for food that customers can “trust and rely on.”

Brunch entrees range in price from $9 to $16, with such offerings as chicken and waffles ($10), sour cream pancakes ($11),  and steak and eggs ($16). Side dishes run from $3 to $8 and include biscuits and sausage gravy ($8), bacon hash browns ($7) and Field and Fire toast ($3).

For lunch, offerings vary from pizzas ($12-$16) to burgers ($11 to $15), such entrees as a falafel wrap ($12) and an egg sandwich ($11), and more. The dinner menu includes entrees from $13 to $32, including pecan trout ($24), naan grilled cheese ($13) and steak frites ($32). As part of the same dinner menu, there are salads, pizza, burgers, and more. Plus, there’s an extensive beer, cocktail and wine list.

Social Kitchen & Bar is located in the Downtown Market (435 Ionia Ave. SW). It is open seven days a week and serves lunch Monday through Friday from 11am-3pm, brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10am-3pm, and dinner Sunday through Tuesday from 4-9pm, Wednesday and Thursday from 4-10pm, and Friday and Saturday from 4-11pm. For more information, you can go here.

Photos by Anna Gustafson

Dream green: What do Grand Rapids parks need?

No matter how far a reach, or how out-of-the-box an idea, Grand Rapids’ Parks and Recreation Director David Marquardt says over the next two days he wants the public to tell him exactly what they want to see happen with the public parks in their neighborhoods — especially the ideas that dare dream big. 

“What we’re shaping these public outreach efforts around following this weekend is the ‘make a wish’ slogan,” says Marquardt, who will gather alongside fellow city officials, community leaders, and members of the public for the first of two open houses hosted by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “Make a wish for your park. If you could have anything in your park, what are the sort of things would you like to see?”

A good example, Marquardt says, is Grand Rapids’ Mayor Rosalyn Bliss, who during her recent State of the City address called attention to the growing importance of public parks in the future development of the city, saying she is committed to ensuring that, in the future, there is a public park within walking distance of every child in the city.  

“That’s a huge deal,” he says. “That’s a big goal, and it’s a bold goal, but it’s one I’m very excited to get behind.”

The open houses come as a precursor to the department's upcoming task of developing the new five-year Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which builds on the sweeping transformation already underway following residents' stamp of approval on implementing a seven-year dedicated parks millage to provide an estimated $30 million in funding for repair, rehabilitation, and new improvements to parks, pools and playgrounds. 

Coming back into focus

Tracey Flower is Executive Director at Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, which was founded in 2008 as an independent, citizen-led nonprofit that operates separately from city government while still working closely alongside it to identify specific park improvement initiatives, generate resources, and mobilize people to help project and enhance public spaces and parks throughout Grand Rapids neighborhoods. 

Flower says you don’t have to look much further than the millage approval for proof that parks are becoming more important to Grand Rapidians, who aren’t alone in the collective refocusing of urban communities on public parks — it’s something that’s been happening for the past decade or so nationwide.

“I think that people have largely…really started to wake up and realize how critical and how valuable setting aside those public spaces are to the health of the community. We’ve even been seeing a lot of discussion over the past few years in terms of research about how important it is for children to have an opportunity to engage with nature and learn in nature,” Flower says. 

“I think there is value in everything from having playgrounds where kids can be creative and interact with, to having an opportunity for everybody in general to engage with each other in those public green spaces, which is especially important in an urban setting where so many living spaces don’t have that kind of space," she continues.

Parks get schooled on tapping full potential

Friends of Grand Rapids Parks reports that in 2014, the city of Grand Rapids had 74 city-owned parks in its entirety, totaling 11,595 acres of land earmarked for parks, recreation, and open space holdings within city limits. 

As far as unofficial public parks go, the total amount of space and ownership status are a little less clear, but those are all the kinds of things the city hopes to figure out through discussions with not only the public but also community partners — and none are more relevant than the Grand Rapids Public School District. 

GRPS spokesman John Helmholdt says that over the past few years, the district has been working consistently alongside the city in a commitment to sustainability goals, which have a lot to do not only with maintaining green space and increasing tree canopy, but finding ways to make the most of all of the underutilized outdoor areas.

“A lot of discussions center around utilization of land owned by GRPS — which is great in number and geography throughout city,” says Helmholdt, using the example of Coit Park, which sports a City of Grand Rapids sign and is treated like a public space, but is legally owned by the district. 

Greater than logistical strategizing, Helmholdt says, are not only the avenues the district can open to the city for using outdoor space, but also the ways the city can facilitate educational opportunities in their outdoor spaces, too, an idea re-enforced with a recently awarded $25,000 planning grant from the National League of Cities to fund efforts focusing on reconnecting children with nature. 

“We’re required to teach the core content standards, also known as Common Core, but how can we incorporate environmental education alongside that natural play? For example, when we’re doing physical education at schools like the Grand Rapids Public Museum school, which has no indoor gymnasium, we have to engage kids in outdoor activity in spaces,” Helmholdt says, noting that is where public parks like Ab-Nab-Awen Park can facilitate whole new ways to engage students outdoors. 

He says he hopes that over the weekend the parents of students in the district will feel motivated to attend the open house meetings and join the discussion, seeing the process very fittingly, as anyone who deals in knowledge might, as an opportunity to learn. 

“It’s a learning experience. It’s an opportunity for children to understand the role of government, the role of public opinion, and to have a vested interest as civic leaders in what’s happening in their neighborhoods and city,” he says. “Kids can relate to a discussion about how we can improve playgrounds and really, they know our playgrounds better than any adults do…It’s important students be engaged, and recognize that they have a voice, and that their voice will be heard, and that action will be taken as a result.”

The first open house will be held at 122 Division Ave. SE on Avenue for the Arts First Friday beginning at 6 p.m., with the second held Saturday from 8-11 a.m. at the Fulton St. Farmers Market, located at 1145 Fulton St. E. Can’t make it? Click here to fill out an online survey with your thoughts or find the form using Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation website.

To learn more about cool programs like Parks Alive or the Urban Forest Project that are happening right in your collective backyard, check out Friends of Grand Rapids Parks online or find them on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation 


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West Side landmark Holiday Bar gets big upgrade for summer

One of Grand Rapids’ oldest establishments, The Holiday Bar, announced today major exterior renovations, as well as an expansion of staff to accommodate a new concept launch in early summer 2016.

While relatively recent renovations of the 111-year-old bar included floor-to-ceiling windows, a ramp, and updated doors to restore the building to its original historic look and feel, the latest investments by owner Todd Wawee include the transformation of existing storage space into a state-of-the-art kitchen.

“We are excited to be launching a full menu and Bier Garden in summer 2016,” Wawee says. “The new menu will include hand-formed burgers, salads, gourmet sandwiches and homemade soups as well as a few special dishes that include throwback classics, such as mushroom caps filled with escargot sautéed in garlic butter with gourmet cheese and house made bread crumbs served in a cast iron skillet.”

The new patio beer garden, which is scheduled to open May 21, will host approximately 125 people and include a full service bar with a focus on canned and craft beers.

“My mother’s family has been on the west side since they migrated from Poland and I have an incredible tie to Grand Rapids – it’s home to me,” Wawee says. “It is our goal to continually evolve with our neighborhood and to build on the exciting development happening on the West Side.”

For more information, visit www.theholidaybargr.com.

GR seeks public input on $1.65 million upgrade to Michigan Street

With some plans already underway to resurface areas of Michigan Street between Monroe and Ionia Avenues and to repair concrete between Ionia and Barclay Avenues, the city of Grand Rapids is now considering a $1.65 million upgrade to Michigan Street. 

While concrete work begins this year, the resurfacing project is set for this fall or next spring, and both will have impact on travel of the Medical Mile during construction. 

Michigan Street improvement projects include resurfacing the road between Monroe and Ionia, repairing concrete between Ionia and Barclay, removing the westbound lane on the south side of Michigan that connects Ionia and Ottawa, removing the bus lane on the south side of Michigan between Bostwick and Barclay, and straightening alignment of travel and turn lanes on Michigan, among a few others. 

Approximately $703,000 from the Vital Streets Capital Fund; $677,000 from the State Urban Transportation Program; and $275,000 in State Transportation Economic Development Funds will support the project.

City officials will share the concept design and request public input at a May 5 public meeting held at 6 p.m. inside the Grand Rapids Development Center at 1120 Monroe NW. 

“This is an exciting time for Michigan Street,” says Grand Rapids spokesperson, Steve Guitar. “The design at this point is simply a concept not set in stone. We look forward to sharing a Michigan Street vision as a starting point. We encourage input at our public meeting, which will influence the final design.”

Updates on all Grand Rapids Vital Streets projects are available at grcity.us/roadconstruction or by calling 311. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Planting the seeds of community: Urban Roots helps grow food justice in Grand Rapids

With a Master’s degree in community sustainability and ecology food and farming systems, experience in bio-intensive and organic growing, and a certification in permaculture design, Levi Gardner is no stranger to the concept that community gardening can be a potential game-changer.

He’s actually seen his fair share of different groups try their hand at small-scale efforts, but the trouble is that most of the time, he says, it doesn’t really end well. 

"We recognize that it's not a lack of interest, people or land, but a lack of tools and agricultural knowledge," says Gardner, who founded the nonprofit Urban Roots initiative with the intention of using community-driven agricultural growth to help address issues of food justice, unemployment, and community place-making. 

After the donation of a new community farm plot and education center by LINC Community Revitalization located at 1316 Madison SE, Urban Roots more recently launched a new mobile classroom initiative that aims to tackle issues of access to adequate tools and knowledge by bringing those educational elements to to people and places with a growing interest in educational gardens, including schools, churches and other organizations.

Supported by a recent awarded YMCA grant related to urban farming efforts, Urban Roots was able to purchase a retired ambulance vehicle to serve as the new mobile classroom, and the group is currently re-outfitting its interior in preparation for the upcoming growing season. 

The launch of the classroom comes nearly a year after Gardner first began piloting the concept, filling the bed of his own truck with as many seeds and fertilizers, hand tools and hoses as he could manage, bringing his collection of physical resources alongside his skill set to those who requested his assistance.

“To run a successful small-scale growing operation, whether it’s 100 square feet or 10 square feet, you need certain tools and implementations and skills to do it well, and we want to help people learn how to do it well,” he says. “We want to help people experience the rewarding upside of growing instead of just the discouraging downside.” 

In essence, the new mobile classroom offers struggling — or more often just curious — community gardeners a chance to familiarize themselves with the tools, required skill set, and best practices of a deceptively complicated ecosystem that can result in a costly blow to morale if executed improperly. 

“What we said was, what if we could come up with something that could seize those assets people bring — because land, interest and need are all assets — but then augment them with the tools and the skills and the kind of connections we have to be able to transform what they hope to see happen into a reality?” he says.

The mobile classroom is part of a series of exciting events happening at Urban Roots. Over the course of the last six months, the nonprofit has established its board of directors; began developing a community farm and education center in the Madison Square neighborhood at 1316 Madison SE, where they now have CSA shares available for purchase; formed community partnerships with various local organizations; overhauled its website and online presence; and received grants from both the YMCA and Slow Food to facilitate the purchase and operation of the ambulance re-outfitted for use as a mobile community classroom.

Inspired by a TEDtalk called “Leaders Eat Last,” which posits the idea that people don’t follow what you do, but rather why you do it, Gardner has committed the past year of his life to building the grassroots effort and has put a lot on the line to make Urban Roots a reality. 

The sense of certainty that pulls him forward, he says, has much less to do with confidence in every aspect of running a nonprofit organization, but instead has more to do with why he’s doing it and who he hopes to affect as a result.

“I’ve lost a lot to be able to make this happen, and I’m not going to say I’ve never doubted myself because I have definitely doubted myself — but yet I’ve always trusted what this is as a larger idea,” he says. “…We say in our tagline that we’re just a group of people trying to become fully human, trying to celebrate all of what it is to be alive and be human, and that’s a reality that permeates what we do and why we do it.”

Over the next year, Gardner says Urban Roots’ most important goal is “to know and be known” by its surrounding community and establish itself there as both an available resource and community asset, beginning on May 14 with a plant sale and resident open house for Madison Square area neighbors from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. 

From there, Gardner wants to extend that goal of connecting and establishing Urban Roots as an available resource and community asset beyond the nonprofit’s home neighborhood and into the larger Grand Rapids community. The group will continue operating with the goal of alleviating issues of food injustice and socioeconomic inequality by meeting people where they’re at with whatever tools they’ve got — even if sometimes all they need is a little bit of optimism. 

“I think at the end of the day, all of us want to be able to hang our hat on some optimism, and there are very few things more optimistic to me than growing something and planting a little seed and then having faith in this thing you have absolutely no control over.” 

To learn more about its May 14 open house or how you can get involved with the new mobile educational classroom, visit www.urbanrootsgr.org or find Urban Roots here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Levi Gardner/Urban Roots 
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