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Transformando West Michigan helps Latinx restaurants achieve more than a delicious menu

Grand Rapids’ authentic Mexican restaurants serve some of the most delicious cuisine in the area. Traditional recipes, authentic ingredients, and highly seasoned culinary skills are evident in every bite. However, it takes more than good food to make a restaurant a profitable endeavor. Business savvy, marketing know-how, and financial management expertise are important ingredients, as well.

The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is stepping in to provide those skills — in Spanish. Thanks to up to $94,628 in support from the City of Grand Rapids’ Economic Development Corporation (EDC), “Transformando West Michigan Phase I: Feeding Minds, Mouths and Pockets” is currently working with 21 representatives from 11 existing food businesses to provide essential skills for a successful business owner.

“Our support of this program aligns with the City’s commitment to collaborate with entrepreneurial support organizations to serve entrepreneurs at the neighborhood level, create new businesses, and increase the diversity of business types downtown,” says Kara Wood, the City’s managing director of economic development services.

Food businesses participating in the program include El Desayuno Loco, El Globo Restaurant, El Granjero Mexican Grill, El Jalapeño Food Truck, El Toro Bravo, La Casa del Pollo Loco, Lindo Mexico, Mi Casa Restaurante, Tacos El Cuñado Bridge St., Tamales Mary, and Taquería El Rincón Mexicano.

As part of the first phase, Culinary Cultivations will teach ServSafe food safety certification.

“It’s not just business owners but cooks, managers, those who wanted to be a part of this first food safety certification,” says Guillermo Cisneros, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber. “These programs focus on established businesses that have been struggling for years with no access to capital, no processes, and no systems in place.”

Cisneros shares that of the 11 restaurants currently enrolled, 80 percent don’t even have a financial strategy.

“They are excellent at cooking. Their food is amazing. But, they don’t know how to grow their businesses. The beauty of this program is that all of the knowledge we are bringing is in Spanish. Ninety percent of the participants in these programs feel more comfortable in Spanish. Sometimes these concepts are hard to understand even in your own language. If we want them to grow and implement processes, they need to fully understand.”

In subsequent phases of the Transformando program, consultants and volunteers will share information about accounting, human resources, marketing, and technology. Having these skills and strategies will also enable the businesses to find financing for building improvements and expansion.

“In order for them to get a loan, they first need to put their systems in place and be organized internally. There's no way for them to get loans because they don’t have a financial statement,” Cisneros says. “It’s is not a racism thing. The businesses are not prepared.”

Cisneros has great gratitude for the partnerships that make the program possible. Funds from the Wege Foundation allowed the Hispanic Chamber to hire a bilingual and bicultural program manager, Ana Jose, to coach all of the program participants. Brewery Vivant, Martha’s Vineyard, MeXo, Restaurant Partners, Inc., and Terra GR are providing volunteer mentors for program participants. Principal Financial is flying Spanish-speaking teachers in from Phoenix, Arizona at no charge. Gordon Food Services and Varnum Law are providing financial support and in-kind services. In addition, the Grand Valley State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is sending a professor and business students to help participants write business plans.

“We are bringing incredible partners,” Cisneros says. “The next cohort will include human resources and customer service. Gradually, we will be bringing all of the knowledge and surround all of the businesses with experts. The mentors are volunteers but some consultants are paid. Also, the participants pay a fee in order to be a part of the cohort. It’s not free. There is commitment from these restaurants, as well.”

Launched in May 2018, the Transformando program is a first in the history of the Hispanic Chamber. Its long-standing “Talleres Empresariales,” a monthly business workshop, addresses different topics for all types of businesses on the fourth Thursday of each month. Conducted in Spanish, the workshop includes a free breakfast and one-hour presentation.

“We firmly believe that for the economy of the entire region to prosper, we need each community working at the same pace. If we have a strong Latino business community, we will see the benefits in the economy of the entire region. These businesses will contribute more taxes and hire more people — all will benefit,” Cisneros says. “That’s the main goal, that we can have everyone on the same playing field.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor.

Photos courtesy West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


Unexpected duo demolishes stereotypes with their handy-work

As West Michigan’s housing market continues its frenzy of home sales, sellers are anxious to make repairs and improvements that ensure they get top dollar. Handywoman, Kate Kaminski, and handyman, Darius Williams, are two locals doing the work.

Kaminski grew up with tools in her hands — her father and grandfather were both builders, so she found plenty of tools around. While other fathers might object to their daughters playing with saws, hammers, nuts, and bolts, Kaminski’s dad encouraged her inclinations.

“My dad taught me everything. He never told me ‘No,’ that I couldn’t do something,” she says. “I remember as a kid, I’d go in quietly, take the tools, some nails, and go out and build forts and stuff. Dad would be at the window, watching what I was doing, making sure I was okay, but never stopped me.”

After finishing a bachelor of fine arts that focused on sculpture, Kaminski operated a Boyne City gallery shop that featured her own jewelry as well as work by local and international artists. As a next step, she moved to New Hampshire. When her parents disclosed that her father was in the last stages of cancer, she offered to come back to the Grand Rapids area to help. Her mother suggested she move into her grandmother’s empty house and fix it up so they could put it on the market.

“When the Realtor that my mom chose saw what I could do, she told me, ‘I can keep you really busy.’ I thought about it a little bit, decided I could use some work, and it kind of took off from there,” Kaminski says. “We do all that little handy stuff, pound a nail here, put up a door there.”

Work took off so well that Kaminski brought another person on board to help. Darius Williams rounds out Kaminski’s skill-set quite nicely. As a team, they can tackle a very wide range of home fix-it and remodel projects. They are staying so busy that Kaminski has plans to hire a third team member in the spring.

“We do painting, sanding, trim work, laying floors, and tile. We just did some concrete work in a basement,” Kaminski says. “Darius has the same kind of experience that I do. He can do a little plumbing and electrical — he’s a little more knowledgeable than I am with those.”

The duo refers any major or complex electrical and plumbing chores to technicians licensed in those trades.

When Kaminski and Williams knock on a door, some customers are surprised to be face-to-face with a white woman and African-American man. However, once they see their level of expertise, the surprise turns to gratitude and stereotypes dissolve.

“The clients I have been working with have been pretty cool. Most of them are surprised when I come in through the door. On one job, it was so funny watching peoples’ expressions. We kind of surprise them. Once we start doing the work, we get compliments,” Kaminski says. “I’m sure I probably don’t look like the typical handyperson, which kind of goes along with Darius, too.”

Don’t try to find Kaminski online or via social media. She’s too busy working — and finds plenty of work by word-of-mouth.

“I like that every day is different, that I am not in an office building. If I had to sit in front of a computer all day, I’d be drooling on the keyboard,” she says. “I love the different challenges to fix something, improve something. I love seeing the outcome. It’s almost instant gratification.”

If you’d like to get in touch with Kaminski or WIlliams, email the RGM development news editor, Estelle.Slootmaker@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy Kate Kaminski.


Grant dollars increase local LGBT older adults' access to care and resources

The Grand Rapids Pride Center and the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM) are taking action for older LGBT adults thanks to a Michigan Health Endowment Fund grant. SAGE Metro Detroit, in partnership with the ACLU of Michigan, is leveraging the $400,000 to launch a statewide LGBT and Aging Initiative.

In Grand Rapids, the Initiative will support developing a directory of gay and supportive businesses, healthcare providers, and resources that specifically targets older lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender adults. In addition, the Grand Rapids Pride Center will offer trainings at area businesses and healthcare facilities so more LGBT-friendly resources will become available. Trainings have already been held at Arbor Circle, Meijer, Kent County Friend of the Court, and Farmers’ Insurance. The Grand Rapids Pride Center has provided a LGBTQ Resource Directory for all ages since 1988.

“With this program, there is very specific information for older adults,” says Larry DeShane Jr., center administrator of Grand Rapids Pride Center .

In addition, the grant is funding a campaign, “Today is THE DAY,” that encourages older LGBT adults to pick up the phone and call Grand Rapids Pride Center for help connecting with the services they need.

“This initiative really fits inside of our mission of ‘Empowering our LGBTQ community through supportive services and awareness,’” DeShane says. “Sometimes you need directed services. I’ll be 46 years-old this year. I’ll need this — very soon.”

DeShane shares that older LGBT folks face phenomenal hurdles here in Grand Rapids. For one, the State of Michigan offers limited legal protections from discriminatory treatment. While the Michigan Department of Civil Rights recently expanded protections through the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, as soon as it was defined for enforcement, Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a formal opinion stating that its protections do not extend to LGBTQ persons.

With many living isolated lives, Michigan’s aging LGBT population often lacks access to appropriate medical and mental health care and other needed resources. Older LGBT folks lived through harsher times. Marriage was not an option. So, many lack the support that a family or partner bring other aging populations.

“They could never hold a partner’s hand in public. Marriage was never even a thought. Thanks to them, I have more,” DeShane says. “Eighty percent of care for older adults, in general, is done by family members … Many LGBT people from this older generation do not have children. If they do, they are four times more likely not to be involved with those children’s lives.”

Because they reasonably fear discrimination, LGBT people often hide their sexuality from their doctors. Therefore, the elderly among them may not get the health screenings that they need.

“We find that many LGBT older adults do not feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and reach out for support only when they are enduring a health crisis,” says Jackie O’Connor, AAAWM executive director. “Not feeling accepted by your local community or personal healthcare provider increases the isolation experienced in LGBT seniors, leaving them at risk for serious health concerns.”

“Also, you’re less likely to tell your doctor the truth,” adds DeShane. “I have a gay doctor because I don’t have to educate him on my needs as a gay man.”

While Pilgrim Manor has recently been reaching out to the LGBTQ demographic, DeShane points out that most local assistive living and long-term healthcare facilities have religious affiliations — and no track record of working with the LGBTQ population. The costs of residential care are often too steep considering that most LGBTQ people are economically disadvantaged, as well.

“If you’re going in, you’re going into the closet,” he says. “I’ve heard accounts of nurses still double gloving and double masking when working with patients with HIV. I heard another account of a [gay man’s] roommate who got violent, screaming that he ‘didn’t want to share the room with a fag.’”

Homebound elderly LGBT people fear repercussions, as well. Many fear for their safety when home healthcare or home repair workers come into their homes. As Grand Rapids has a rising number of housing violations stemming from landlords refusing to rent to LGBTQ tenants, another fear is homelessness.

“A lot of time, they go back in the closet. They have to de-gay their homes,” DeShane says. “It’s quite rancid — to only live openly out for a third of your life and be safe. [Going back in the closet] leads to depression, suicide, suicidal ideation, riskier sexual behaviors, the potential of not protecting yourself, and higher risks for HIV.”

DeShane concludes that the entire Grand Rapids area community benefits when everyone, including its LGBTQ residents, has access to needed resources and care.

“One, you have happier, healthier, more well-adjusted older adults. Two, by reducing barriers to care, including mental health, you reduce stress on the infrastructure. Every time you make people healthier, you reduce costs for everybody. End of life is so much harder for marginalized communities. Why not work towards making it easier? That’s just the right thing to do.”

Those needing services can call Grand Rapids Pride Center, 616-458-3511, or Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, 616-456-5664.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor


Museum School high school on exhibit

On the morning of August 15th, students, teachers, administrators, local officials, and community members celebrated the opening of the Grand Rapids Public Museum School high school in the old Public Museum building, 54 Jefferson Ave. SE.

After the ribbon cutting, highlighted by remarks from 9th graders Jourdin Merrill and Haley Miller, tours and a street party continued the celebration. Those old enough to remember visits to the building when it functioned as a museum appreciated a renovation that has not altered the character of the building.

“The purpose of all the spaces is to be dynamic and used in different ways for different purposes,” says Chris Hanks, Museum School principal.

The main hall remains intact, its display cases updated for exhibits made by the school’s students. North of the main hall, the front half of the first floor is a multi-purpose space for theatre, music, and videography. A large common area and glass-walled rehearsal spaces have all the tech needed to support student projects. Retractable glass doors opening on the main hall open up both spaces for large group activities. The back half provides instructional space and labs for studying existing museum artifacts, processing new artifacts for the collection, and designing exhibits. In addition, the building connects to the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s archives building.

“The students will have a close relationship with (the Public Museum’s) curatorial staff,” Hanks says. “They will bring artifacts here. They will do research on artifacts and learn about protecting and preserving artifacts.”

South of the main hall, a small cafeteria offers limited seating as students and teachers will be encouraged to eat lunch together in collaborative spaces throughout the school. To the front, the design lab brings shop class into the 21st century.

“Design lab is an arts space, a maker space. I think of it like shop class for creative professionals,” Hanks says. “Students will do a lot of computer-based design. We have a 3D printer, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, all sorts of printing, a miter saw, and other tools. A separate clean lab maintains air quality for the 3D printers and laser cutters. We hope our students will start businesses using that equipment, serving small businesses downtown.”

Upstairs, the north wing, dedicated to English, language arts, science, and social studies, has classrooms on either side with a large, casual common space in between. The curriculum is organized for three or four teachers to co-teach 80 to 90 students in different configurations. The south wing is set up for teaching design, tech, and mathematics. Throughout the school, video displays, mics, and speakers give every student front-row access to instruction. Built-in benches along both long upstairs hallways provide further space for students to study or collaborate in small groups.

“It is a different model in the sense that we are trying to break down barriers between teachers and students,” Hanks says. “We encourage them to have lunch together, work together, and collaborate.”

The ribbon-cutting event not only celebrated the Museum School’s expansion but also applauded its status as one of ten XQ Super Schools in the U.S. The XQ: The Super School Project launched in September 2015 as an open call to rethink and design the American high school.

When the public museum was first founded, the Grand Rapids School Board oversaw it; artifacts were displayed at Central High School. When Grand Rapids architect, Roger Allen, designed the 54 Jefferson building in the late 1930s, he created a space that met visitors at street level, symbolizing accessibility and free dissemination of knowledge to all. The GRPS Museum School “utilizes design thinking techniques, an immersive environment, and real-life experiences that inspire passionate curiosity, nurture creative problem solving, cultivate critical thinking, and instigate innovation.”

Reconnecting the historic Grand Rapids Public Museum building with Grand Rapids Public School students both honors its past and continues its original mission into the future.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor


HireReach: Hiring strategy that reduces biases unexpectedly increased diversity

Michigan Works! and Talent 2025 have joined forces to launch HireReach, an initiative based on Mercy Health’s recent successes in revolutionizing its hiring practices. Mercy Health fills 3,200 positions per year, including 2,100 external hires. When the healthcare system developed an Evidence Based Selection Process (EBSP), the goal was to reduce turnover and improve job performance. After its launch in 2010, the EBSP strategy successfully accomplished those goals, in part, by eliminating biases that traditionally hamper the hiring process. With these biases out of the way, Mercy Health also reached another of its hiring goal by surprise: increased diversity. According to HireReach project manager Rachel Cleveland, Mercy Health hired nearly twice as many people of color as it had in years past.

“When Mercy Health first launched EBSP, they were looking to increase the quality of new hires and reduce turnover by finding the right person for the job. That was the focus and reason behind it,” Cleveland says. “However, we started tracking diversity to make sure there were no adverse impacts. What we found was quite the opposite.”

Cleveland agrees that the data shows that lessening personal biases helped to diminish the impact that racism played in the hiring process. Other data reflecting decreased turnover, improved customer satisfaction, and improved employee morale could be interpreted as showing racial discrimination is simply not good for business.

Mercy Health developed the EBSP to “complement the skills and experience of talented recruiters and hiring managers with data-driven methods and analysis.” EBSP evaluates candidates’ skills, knowledge, and abilities while eliminating unconscious bias by removing markers like names and appearance from most of the selection process.

“With EBSP, one of the things that really is valuable is its compensatory approach,” says Jacob Maas, CEO of West Michigan Works. “It uses assessments, two interviews, and a reference check and takes the results of all of those to come up with one score. EBSP looks at the candidate holistically instead of cutting them out because of one arbitrary score.”

By organizing open positions into job families with specific competencies, the process screens candidates’ cognitive and character features before they interview. This reduces reliance on personal impressions, which often reflect unconscious bias.

While providing employers the benefits of a more diverse workforce, reduced turnover, improved performance, boosted employee morale, and increased customer satisfaction, EBSP also benefits job seekers and new hires because they are happier doing a job that fits their skill-set and personality traits.

“EBSP ensures they are a good fit. That’s where we see the dual benefit,” Maas says. “It’s all about the job seeker being a good fit so they can grow and be successful in that organization.”

To introduce West Michigan employers to the EBSP initiative, HireReach is hosting four Employer Awareness Workshops: August 22 at Herman Miller in Zeeland; September 12 in Spring Lake; October 3 at ADAC Automotive in Muskegon; and October 31 at Mercy Health St. Mary’s in Grand Rapids. The free, three-hour workshops will provide an EBSP overview, an introduction to HireReach, a panel discussion with Mercy Health, and structured table discussions to help participants plan next steps. For information, email Rachel Cleveland or Whitney White at info@hirereach.org.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos Courtesy Talent 2025, West Michigan Works!


SpringGR launching local entrepreneurs who have ideas and little else

In 2015, Stephanie Dolly and her children flew from Atlanta to Grand Rapids to live closer to family. She did not have a job waiting for her — all she had was an idea and $40 to invest. SpringGR empowered her to take her idea for a custom cake and sweet treats bakery, Dolly’s Delights, from dream to reality. According to Arlene Campbell, the grassroots nonprofit’s chief creator of opportunities, Dolly is now known as the “Willy Wonka of Grand Rapids.” In April 2018, Start Garden chose Dolly as one of its 100 finalists in its “100 Ideas” competition, earning her $1,000 to invest in her business.

 

“She basically had everything against her, no money, nothing,” Campbell says. “She is a great story of drive and tenacity. She didn’t allow obstacles to hold her back.”

 

Dolly is also a great story of SpringGR’s approach to launching Grand Rapids area entrepreneurs into successful small businesses. Its 12-week business training experience teaches people with ideas, like Dolly, who want to start and succeed in their own businesses. The coursework relies on the CO-STARTERS curriculum developed by a similar entrepreneurial training program based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to meeting one evening each week, each participant meets one-on-one weekly with a business coach who helps them dial in on the specifics of their own business idea.

 

“We’re a grassroots business training program,” Campbell says. “We teach the foundations of business, finance, and marketing, and we pair each student with a business coach.”

 

In the five years since SpringGR was founded, 313 area entrepreneurs have graduated the course to establish 206 businesses and create 257 jobs.

 

“We work with people who are at the beginning level. Generally, programs help a more mature entrepreneur — you need a business plan, numbers, a prototype,” says Attah Obande, director of dream fulfillment. “At SpringGR, the only requirement is to have a business idea. If you’ve got an idea, come to us. We will help you move it forward.”

 

Obande notes that a third of the past year’s Start Garden’s 5x5 Night winners were SpringGR graduates, as well as 14 of its 100 "Big Idea" finalists.

 

SpringGR offers continuing support to program graduates through a five-week alumni course and promotion of graduate businesses on its website. In addition, alumni form strong relationships that provide an enduring connection for support and networking. For example, a group of eight SpringGR graduates came together to host a successful, minority-focused wedding expo, “Tying The Knot,” at the Richard App Gallery in October 2017.

 

“It’s really fun to watch them support one another, network. It’s grassroots for sure. It just kind of happens,” Campbell says. “They come in not knowing each other and leave as friends. They learn that ‘I really need to surround myself with other like-minded entrepreneurs so I can have the support I need to move my business forward.’ It’s exciting.”

 

SpringGR is still accepting applications for its two, 12-week fall business training courses. On Monday evenings, the course will take place at The Goei Center and Wednesday evenings as part of the Restorers, Inc. programming at Madison Square Church. The course costs $100. Dinner and childcare are provided.

 

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
 

Photos courtesy SpringGR

 


From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center finds new home in old neighborhood

One of Grand Rapids’ most venerated studios, From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center has found a new home among the treetops on the City’s northeast side at 776 Leonard St. NE. Rick Powell taught the first class—advanced tai chi—in the new second-floor space on July 16. He and his wife, Behnje Masson, have been teaching under the name From the Heart since the mid ‘90s when they met at the Dominican Center on Marywood Campus, where both were teaching classes for its holistic health ministry.

“Marywood provided a great way to introduce yoga to the community and for me to begin teaching in a sacred space,” Masson says. “So many people came through that location that were interested in yoga.”

In 2000, they moved From the Heart into its first brick-and-mortar location on East Fulton street. “We were one of the first storefront yoga studios in the city,” she says.

In 2010, From the Heart moved to 714 Wealthy St. SE with hopes of becoming partner-owners in the building. When, for various reasons, that didn’t work out as planned, they began looking for another location. After three years of searching, Powell noticed the Leonard building and its seemingly vacant second floor as he drove by one day. He did some digging to find the building’s owner, Tommy Schichtel, and messaged him to inquire if the space above his Goon Lagoon Recording Studio might be available.

“He said, ‘Funny you should ask. My wife and I were just thinking about it.’ We met three hours later, went to look at the space, and made a connection,” Powell says. “He needed to have quiet from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. We teach 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then, evenings. It’s a perfect fit.”

Powell and Masson love the old building’s earthy feel, hardwood floors, high ceilings, abundant natural light, and welcoming layout.

“It’s up in the trees, which is a different perspective. The stairway leads to the greeting area, a large studio, a room for talks, a deck, and bathroom. The space flows really nice. It’s gorgeous,” Powell says. “The whole space feels gracious. It’s kind of a homecoming because both Behnje and I were born on the Northeast side.”

Both Powell and Masson have certifications as E-RYT 500 Hatha yoga instructors. Powell began studying Kung Fu and Tai Chi with Master Yen Hoa Lee in 1984. He continues to study with Sifu Lee, whom he considers a father figure, and also assists at classes Lee teaches. “When I was younger, I was quite frequently sick with allergies, circulation issues, and asthma-like symptoms,” Powell says. “Tai chi changed my health. I got extremely strong and healthy. There are also deeper benefits, the feeling like your connected to a flow [of] something larger.”

Powell teaches Tai Chi Jeung, a style that originated in northern China’s Daoist temples. All Tai Chi methods combine the breath, meditation, and movement to find the middle, the center—balance. Finding physical balance helps Tai Chi students feel more centered, grounded, and stable mentally and spiritually as well.

“You flow with things better,” Powell says. “The more rooted you are, the less things knock you over.”

Tai Chi can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression; increase aerobic capacity, stamina, and energy; improve flexibility, strength, balance, and agility; relieve sleep issues and joint pain; and reduce blood pressure and risk of falls.

Masson took her first yoga class 30 years ago. She had been a dancer and wanted to find another way to express herself. While many yoga classes today focus on physical fitness, she sees yoga as a way of life.

“It’s not a trend. It’s a lifestyle. We honor and pass on the traditional arts and honor the countries and cultures that they came from,” Masson says. “We really want to keep the focus on the whole person and how it cultivates you as a human being. That’s why we chose the word ‘center’ not ‘studio.’ It’s about living a well-rounded life and staying connected to something bigger—nature, consciousness, the divine.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center


By Juliette: A stitch in time saves precious memories

A lifelong passion for needle and thread has led local entrepreneur Juliette Cowall in a new direction. Past endeavors have included 20 years as an editor, publishing Grand Gardens magazine in the 2000s, and certifications as a master composter and cannabis specialist. She continues to work as a marketing professional through her own firm, Guided Communications. Today, when not ensuring a client’s website places first in a Google search, her start-up, By Juliette, breathes new life into heirloom garments and textiles.

“My tag-line is ‘Stitching generations together.’ What I do, I take garments that have sentimental value, like wedding dresses or military uniforms, and create something new from them,” Cowall says. “I get them out of the closet and back into people’s lives.”

For example, three siblings had their grandfather’s century-old, Soo Woolen Mills’ red-plaid wool hunting clothes in storage. Last fall, they commissioned Cowall to transform the jacket and three pairs of pants into a messenger bag, knitting tote, two pillows, two Christmas stockings, a lap robe, and a cell phone tote to share among them.

Another customer brought Cowall her late grandmother’s chenille bedspread. As a child, she had spent summers at her grandmother’s home and took naps on the bedspread with her. Cowall turned it into a cozy bathrobe.

“It was sitting in a closet and she didn’t want to let it go. Now, she gets to have her grandma wrap her arms around her every day,” Cowall says. “Sometimes, the family knows what they want and sometimes, I get to be creative.”

As one of nine children, Cowall learned from a mother who spent a great deal of time mending and repurposing garments for the family. Cowall began sewing her own clothes as a teenager—and estimates that 60 percent of her current wardrobe is homemade. She sets Mondays aside for mending, guaranteeing customers that, no matter when they get a mending job to her during the week, she’ll have it back to them on Tuesday. Since launching By Juliette, she has sewn wedding dresses into satchels and ring-bearer cushions, t-shirts into quilts, and men’s shirts into bib aprons.

“The aprons are great for a family who has lost a grandfather or father. Most men have a collection of button front shirts. I cut the sleeves and back off and add ties. Everyone in the family can now have an apron,” she says. “Those same shirts, I use the sleeves for little totes.”

Cowall starts every new project off with a conversation about the garment. What is it? How old is it? What is the customer’s idea for its repurpose?

“Most of the time they have their own ideas,” Cowall says. “You just never know what people are going to hang onto—and what we can do with them.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Juliette Cowall


Biodigesting beer wastes brings City closer to renewable energy goals

The City of Grand Rapids has been recognized as a green city and a beer city. Now that Founders Brewing Co. is sending brewing wastes to the City’s new biodigester, those designations are converging to literally energize the city. Each day, the two-mile-long, 10-inch waste transmission pipeline under Market Avenue SW will deliver approximately 140,000 gallons of water discharge carrying highly concentrated brewing wastes from Founders to the City’s Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF) at 1300 Market Ave. SW.

“Most people know how beer is made. You put hops and water in a tank with yeast,” says Mike Lunn, City of Grand Rapids utilities director. “The biodigester heats the wastes from the process to 98 degrees for 15 to 18 days. Bacteria and microorganisms break down the waste and make biogas and you end up with less solids [to dispose of].”

After treating the biogas—gaseous fuel, especially methane, produced by the fermentation of organic matter—the recovered methane will fuel a generator to produce electricity. Lunn calculates that the biodigester will produce 15- to 16-million kilowatts of energy a year, “a good chunk” of the 23-million kilowatts a year used to operate the WRRF facility. As the City adds more biodigester customers, Lunn expects it to provide 100 percent of the WRRF facility’s electricity by 2023, including the energy required to heat the biodigester tanks. This is two years ahead of the City’s goal to provide all energy for City facilities from renewable sources by 2025. The City expects the biodigester project to reduce operating costs mainly by lowering solids volumes by 20 percent and producing electricity savings of $600,000. This Youtube video demonstrates how a biodigester works.

“We’ll also have ability to bring in liquid industrial byproduct that will help,” Lunn says. “The biodigester project is addressing growth in the region. We have a much larger plan. We’d like to start out first year with ten trucks a day and work up to maybe forty or fifty trucks—10,000 gallons each of waste.”

While Founders is the biodigester’s first customer, SET Environmental, also located on Market Avenue, is in line to be the next. The City plans on receiving wastes from additional business customers located along the pipeline.

“It’s been great working with the City of Grand Rapids on the biodigester project,” says Brad Stevenson, Founders' chief production officer. “This coming together of the public and private sectors in the name of sustainability will have a positive impact on the future of our brewery and our city.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development news Editor
Photo courtesy City of Grand Rapids


Former Red Lion site to offer attainable housing

Hot diggety dog! Thanks to investment dollars from Michigan Community Capital and a $330,000 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) grant award to the City of Grand Rapids’ Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the former Red Lion restaurant site at 449 - 499 Bridge St. NW will become a red-hot housing destination for people earning less than 80 percent of the area median income.

 

When Ann Arbor-based real estate development firm, 3 Mission Partners, first considered the site, the plan was to do what the company usually does: historic preservation. On closer inspection, 3 Mission partners Liz Marek, Rob Eisman, Jon Carlson, and Greg Lobdell found that restoring the old building would be impossible.

 

“When we got in there, we realized the building was sitting on unstable soil. Its back corner had sunk 15 inches. So, there was not the opportunity to do a historic preservation,” he says. “Another thing happening—a zoning transition allowed us to build a taller building. When we looked at the neighborhood, with the new Meijer store and the New Holland Brewery apartments, it clearly appeared that the best use of the site was to do an infill project with retail on the ground floor and residential above.”

 

The MDEQ grant will help cover the demolition, transportation, and disposal of the contaminated soils. 3 Mission Partners plans on breaking ground for construction in July 2018. In addition to developing real estate, the company owns restaurants and breweries throughout the state.

 

“We have 1,100 employees throughout the state that work for our restaurants,” Lobdell says. “It’s impossible for our people that work at the restaurants to find housing. We understand that firsthand.”
 

In Michigan, the average salary for a server is $8.52 per hour, which is 13 percent below the national average. Line cooks come in at the national average at $11.67. Chefs average $13.23, 16 percent below the national average. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calculates the living wage in Michigan at $10.87 per hour for one adult. For a single parent raising two children, that amount jumps to $27.77.

Tenants in 55 percent of the new building’s 44 apartments will pay an “attainable” rent of $930 to $965 a month for studio and one-bedroom apartments.

 

“That number is amazing when you consider the costs. We had to acquire the property, then we had to do a lot of ground work and get a construction company to build it. We had to work really hard to get that 55 percent number.”

 

Designed by Grand Rapids' Concept Design - Grand Rapids Architecture & Interior Design, the five-story structure will feature a black brick façade for the MASH bar/lounge’s ground-floor retail space. Large windows will look out on a completely renovated streetscape that will include sidewalk seating area and new street trees. Upper floors sheathed in metal panels will sport balconies projecting from the building.

 

“The apartment interiors will have a very warm industrial-modern feel—wood floors, wood shelving, tile, stainless appliances,” Lobdell says. “There will be a small, shared green space for residents at the rear of the building.”

 

Michigan Community Capital, a nonprofit organization, lends and invests “in income diverse, race diverse, and occupationally diverse communities to counter gentrification and create upward mobility and wealth building opportunities for underserved individuals and families in Michigan.” The project is expected to create 20 full-time jobs and 35 part-time jobs with wages ranging from $15 to $30 per hour as well as 40 to 50 temporary construction jobs. An estimated $11.4 million in private investment will also fund the development.

 

Though based in Ann Arbor, Lobdell is excited about being involved in a Grand Rapids project that will result in attainable housing. “We spend a lot of time in Grand Rapids—we like Grand Rapids a lot,” Lobdell concludes. “We’re really excited about this growth of the West Side. It’s an up-and-coming, nice neighborhood. We met with neighborhood groups, got good comments and feedback. The city of Grand Rapids has been great to work with, very encouraging.”

 

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Design and rendering courtesy of Ghafari // Concept Design


AMS renovation supports collaboration, reflects its culture, and lets the sunshine in

Mechanical contracting firm, Allied Mechanical Services (AMS) recently completed a 4,673 square-foot renovation that included nine private offices and two workstations at its Grand Rapids site, 3860 Roger B. Chaffee Memorial Drive SE. Custer Inc., a provider of workplace design, office furniture, integrated technology, and interior remodels, oversaw the project. To better support its upbeat, collaborative culture, AMS asked for a design that would open up space, bring natural light to every workstation, and integrate technologies that allowed them to livestream meetings with its Kalamazoo office. Custer interior designer, Heather Harrington, says that the AMS remodel reflects a trend among West Michigan industries that are finding creative ways to utilize a limited footprint.

“Creative solutions in the industrial sector are becoming increasingly evident as company real estate shrinks along with multiple generations trying to work together,” Harrington says. “This means allowing people the choice to work in a space that encourages focus/heads-down work with little distraction or open collaborative work with access to quick conversation and feedback.”

Factors impacting those design decisions include budget, available real estate, potential for growth, the company’s generational make-up, and building codes.

“The spaces in which people work, along with furniture and technology, should work in harmony to empower people to do their best work,” she says. “Based on a company’s goals for growth and success, there is a need to specifically design space to help influence productive behaviors.”

Constructed with glass walls and no ceilings, AMS’ private offices face each other so that staff find it easy to catch a fellow team member’s attention. A central, open area provides collaborative space. Before the remodel, some AMS offices had no windows. The redesign brings sunshine to every office in the building.

“Access to sunlight can make a large impact on productivity. The sun influences our circadian rhythms, which ties into our mood and behavior,” Harrington says. “Access to daylight is a great way to provide employees with stimulation and helps reduce stress levels. You can see how this would translate to employee health with the potential for decrease in illness and overall happier workers.”

Another important facet of the project, integrating technology into the redesign, not only considered how content would be shared within meeting spaces, but also incorporated sound-masking to reduce noise levels throughout the office.

“When integrating technology into an office or workspace, it’s important to consider how the space is going to be utilized and what the user is trying to accomplish,” Harrington says. “Is it a formal or informal meeting space, is content being shared, is audio important? Does the space need to encourage a more active meeting? In that case, we would want to influence brainstorming and potentially the means to save that type of behavior digitally.”

While Custer handled the renovation, Harrington notes that AMS staff played an active role in the project. AMS directed Custer to use pipes, like those used in the mechanical systems they sell, as elements in custom cupboards and shelving. In addition, AMS built its own custom metal conference table.

“Allied Mechanical is on the leading edge when it comes to construction technology and we wanted our office to reflect our commitment to innovation. The Custer team did an excellent job incorporating design elements that reflect our company’s values,” says Steve Huizinga, president of AMS. “We are proud of our company culture, so it was also important for us to design a work environment that supports collaboration and employee engagement.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Tara West, Custer Inc.

 


Fulton Street Farmers Market "Summer Night Series" headlines market upgrades and improvements

The Fulton Street Farmers’ Market kicks off its 2018 summer season with additional parking, nine new bike racks, upgrades to bathrooms, and improved wayfinding signage. Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters is also taking over coffee service with new brewers and grinders, as well as eco-friendly cups. And, from June 13 through August 22, through a collaboration with GR Loves Food Trucks and the Midtown Neighborhood Association, the market will host a Summer Night Series from 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.

“We’ll have six food trucks, farms, and artisans sprinkled throughout, [with] games and live music,” says Rori Weston, executive director and market manager for the market. “It will be a nice, fun night market series, a little more interactive and fun for the whole family.”

The market has also signed on more than 15 new vendors—farmers, artisans, and cottage foods vendors selling items like baked goods, jams, and preserved relishes.

“We’re welcoming new vendors, that was not done openly in the past,” Weston says. “We’re expanding into the market’s head house to accommodate more vendors.”

One of those new vendors, Jennifer Machiele, launched her baking business, Jen’s Cookie Jar, at the market this spring. A former pastry chef for Charlie’s Crab and Louis Benton Steakhouse, Machiele grew up in Muskegon where her grandmother ran Tyler’s Home Bakery in the 60s and 70s.

“By the time all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren came along, she no longer had her bakery but she had a home business in her breezeway,” Machiele recalls. “I always loved playing bakery.”

Machiele bakes the cookies and scones she vends at the Downtown Market Incubator Kitchen. Though the chocolate chip always sell out first, she considers her pecan hora her signature cookie.

“It is a recipe that my grandma passed down," she says. "I love that cookie! Grandma baked them for us for every year at Christmas. Every time I bake them, my daughters say, 'It smells like Christmas in here.'"

Other market perks include a rolling book-cart—a portable lending library of cookbooks and gardening books—and Friday cooking demos with the YMCA. The market accepts all food assistance programs, participates in Double Up Food Bucks, and employs a student navigator to assist those shopping with SNAP/Bridge Card benefits.

The Fulton Street Farmers Market's regular hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Come for the cookies but stay for the fresh produce, meats, dairy products, baked goods, flowers, and plants. (A full list of vendors is available on the market's website.) On Sundays through September 30, the Artisan Market features local artists and crafters from 11 a.m. through 3 p.m.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Fulton Street Farmers Market and Grand Rapids Downtown Market


Grand Rapids seeks WHO age-friendly community designation

The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about older adults. Its age-friendly community designation initiative is one way the international body is addressing that concern. The City of Grand Rapids plans on earning that designation. In early May, the City Commission unanimously approved the first step by creating an Age-Friendly Advisory Council. Their goal will be to develop a community action plan that makes Grand Rapids a great place for older adults.

Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly brought the idea back to the commission in 2015, after hearing about the initiative during the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Livable Communities National Conference.

“Ruth Kelly said, ‘We’re already doing this in Grand Rapids so we should talk about it more,’” says Ginnie Smith, Age-Friendly Communities coordinator for the City of Grand Rapids. “Last fall, our local AARP chapter, the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, and various city, nonprofit, and neighborhood leaders put together 23 listening events involving 300 older adults.”

The events garnered more than 2,000 responses from intentionally diverse demographics concerning four of the eight domains that the WHO initiative addresses: housing, transportation, communication and information, and outdoor spaces and buildings. Survey methodology included engaging participants in a specially designed board game, GrandyLand.

Mayor Rosalyn Bliss showed her support of the initiative by naming Where We Live – Communities for All Ages as her 2018 Mayor’s Book of the Year.

“This is an exciting next step in our journey to becoming an age-friendly community,” she says. “We need to make sure our seniors are living healthy, productive lives and that they have a voice in how we do that.”

According to WHO, “An age-friendly world enables people of all ages to actively participate in community activities and treats everyone with respect, regardless of their age.” From this perspective, American society does not gain high marks. While other societies confer special status on elders because of their wisdom and experience, here “seniors” are routinely stereotyped as cute, comic, cantankerous, helpless, or obsolete—especially in popular media. The WHO’s age-friendly initiative not only addresses ageism but also serves as a platform for cultural change.

The other four areas that WHO addresses transcend the built environment to include social participation; respect and social inclusion; community and health services; and civic participation and employment. Concerning the latter, older adults who want or need employment find that ageism is hard to beat. Despite research confirming that older adults offer more experience, confidence, dependability, and loyalty, the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics has documented age-discrimination in hiring, especially for women and those older than age 64.

“Not all (elders) are wanting to retire but they don’t want to work 70 hours a week, either. They are looking for part time, flex-time, or to work seasonally,” Smith says. “We’re seeing a lot of overlap between what older adults want and what millennials want—in services, access to transportation, and having community connections.”

Because millennials are in queue a few decades behind the baby boomers, joining in to make Grand Rapids an age-friendly city is equally as important for them as for their parents and grandparents. A community where everyone can grow up and grow old with expectations of equity and respect, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or age, is a community that’s healthier and happier for all.

Written By Estelle Slootmaker, Development Editor
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids


Artist, designer debuts Kindel Furniture collection at High Point

Throughout a career spanning more than three decades, Jeffery Roberts has expressed himself through fine art, interior design, fashion design, and furniture design. In April, Kindel Grand Rapids debuted its Jeffery Roberts Collection at the High Point Market, the largest home furnishings industry trade show in the world. While Roberts has long included furniture design in his repertoire, this occasion marked its first availability to the marketplace at large.

“High Point was awesome. The collection was well received. We got great input and we even got some orders,” he says. “It’s been a real positive experience to be able to work with a manufacturer that understands luxury and high-end manufacturing—it’s American-made, it’s local. For me, those are all strong attributes of what I want my furniture to be about.”

Roberts’ residential and commercial commissions have earned him a loyal international clientele. As co-founder and principal designer of Robave, a Chicago-based lifestyle business, he provided designs to more than 200 boutique and specialty shops nationally. Roberts’ work has been featured in The New York Times Style Magazine, American Craft Magazine, and many other publications.

Roberts approaches furniture design like he approaches any other medium, from an artist’s viewpoint, i.e., creativity expressing a message through execution.

“In various ways, in furniture it shows up with the execution of finishes, the style, and design of the pieces, from, for example, an architectural point of view, a reclaimed point of view, or scale and exaggerated size of some of the components to express a feeling,” he says. “I think for me, (furniture design) is another very logical avenue of expressing my art and what I see as a continuation of my design career.”

Kindel Grand Rapids’ Jeffery Roberts Collection includes soft goods like sofas and chairs, end tables, side tables, cocktail tables, an antique-inspired library table, and a long, hall console with architectural origins. Roberts’ reverence for history and nature is inherent in his designs.

“I’ve started a collection that’s very much about emphasizing lifestyle versus pieces or individual components. It’s about expressing the Jeffery Roberts lifestyle,” Roberts says. “You can mix and match pieces or use them individually. Definitely, there’s an eclecticism that allows you to have an eccentric mix of finishes and styles that keep it from looking like you bought a ‘set’ of furniture.”

While his furniture collection is not yet available in any Grand Rapids retail locations, the High Point Market has introduced it nationally. Those who would like to purchase it locally can contact Roberts directly.

“I’m my own dealer,” he says.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos and video courtesy Jeffery Roberts Design.


Corridor Improvement Authority takes on South Division, Burton, Hall, and Grandville Avenue business

Those old enough to remember South Division Avenue between Hall and 28th Street in the ‘50s and ‘60s recall a vibrant business destination. People from Grand Rapids and Wyoming went to movies at the Four Star Theatre, shopped the Woolworths five-and-dime, or had lunch at Kewpee’s Restaurant. The area’s current business and property owners are working to make it a destination once again through the establishment of the South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority.

In 2005, the Michigan Legislature established Public Act 280 “Corridor Improvement Authority Act” to prevent deterioration in business districts, encourage historic preservation, and promote economic growth in districts with roadways designated as corridors. The City of Grand Rapids has five areas that meet the requirements for establishment as Corridor Improvement Districts (CID). On the north side, one CID includes Creston, Chesire, and a portion of North Monroe neighborhoods. The West Side CID includes Stockbridge, West Fulton, Bridge, and Seward areas. East Michigan Street comprises a third CID while the Uptown, East Fulton, Wealthy, and Eastown neighborhoods form a fourth. Being designated as a CID allows a business district to organize and receive City funds for improvements that provide economic opportunities.

“These districts have been a big success. They have a formal organizing authority, so they now have the ability to realize revenue from the City. The City makes that contribution annually,” says Kara L. Wood, managing director, Economic Development Services for the City of Grand Rapids. “Some of the successes have been in marketing and promotion of the district. Others have been in building public infrastructure like bike racks and trash receptacles. These dollars have also funded events for the businesses to generate traffic.”

Earlier this month, the city commission established the fifth—and Grand Rapids’ last—area designated as a CID. The South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority encompasses an area between Hall and 28th streets and the Grandville Avenue business corridor between Wealthy Street and Clyde Park Avenue, with both corridors connected by Hall and Burton streets.     

Prior to establishing the new CID, the City formed a small leadership team that included business and property owners from the district. Through a year-long process that included a series of visioning sessions and three public input meetings, they built a framework for work on an area specific plan that describes how they want their district to look and feel. These stakeholders believe having a Corridor Improvement Authority will bring about of a safe and walkable corridor, improved and enhanced public infrastructure, and thriving locally-owned businesses. The City hopes the CID will prevent further infrastructure deterioration, encourage neighborhood economic growth, and preserve the area’s unique identity.

“They want it to feel welcoming for all businesses and be an exciting place to do business,” Wood says. “The focus of these authorities in on the business aspect as opposed to residential, as a foundation for improving the district.”

Now that the City has established the new Corridor Improvement Authority, the city commission can seat its actual board members, who will then meet to set plans in motion. Ideas for improvement discussed during the public input meetings included improved lighting, art and murals, bilingual wayfinding signs, traffic calming measures, improved walkability, more parks and green spaces, roofed benches at bus stops, and trash receptacles.

“Hopefully, the CID will attract new businesses who are willing to invest long term and give back to a community investing in them while building unity,” says Synia Jordan, CID steering committee member. “Utilizing the CID is one way our business district might leverage beautification efforts, which will attract the attention of visitors who may be willing to spend money in our area on a continual basis.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photo courtesy City of Grand Rapids


Women dominate retail spaces at 1 Carlton Ave. SE

Fulton Square, a mixed-use development project at 1 Carlton Ave. SE in Eastown, recently welcomed its final retail occupant, MODRN GR. The urban home furnishing boutique joins two other woman-owned businesses, Ada Mae, women’s apparel, and E+L Salon, as well as anchor tenant, Danzon Cubano Eastown, a Cuban street food eatery opening in June. All 47 of the building’s residential units have also been filled.

The three unique, woman-owned businesses hope that the corridor’s walkability and proximity to other shops and restaurants will support their success and the Eastown business district’s continued growth. They also enjoy the synergy of having “fellow” women, business owners as neighbors within the same building.

“To me, that was a huge selling point. I was determined to be on either Fulton Street or Wealthy [Street],” says Katie Lyons-Church, owner of MODRN GR. “My friend owns the salon next door. Knowing that Ada Mae was also woman-owned was completely appealing. It definitely makes us a force to be reckoned with.”

“Oh my gosh, I think it’s awesome! It feels really good,” adds Jessica Smith, owner of Ada Mae Apparel. “It’s cool to have three, woman-owned businesses right in a row—and probably unusual. I love being a part of that.”

In addition to sharing an address, Lyons-Church and Smith also share aspirations of using their businesses to promote hyper-local products and the makers who create them. Along with new and vintage home furnishings that exemplify many facets of modern style, MDRN GR will feature affordable, original art by local artists.

“I think a lot of people in their 20s and 30s are scared off by galleries,” Lyons-Church says. “I really want to get college students who are fresh in an apartment or single, working people to buy from a local artist instead of going to Meijer or Target to buy ‘art’ that everybody else has.”

Along with unique, quality, handmade clothing, Ada Mae not only sells jewelry crafted by local artists but also has hosted “Meet the Artist” pop-up shop events.

“There are not many largescale, local clothing designers but the thing that has been easy to find is jewelry makers in town,” Smith says. “If I can find it here, why would I not? I would way rather support somebody I know, have met, or lives around the corner. It’s been really fun.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy
Colliers International | West Michigan


Long Road Distillers enlists new partner to distribute liquid assets

Warning: all puns intended.

To celebrate its new relationship with distributor, Imperial Beverage, Grand Rapids’ own Long Road Distillers is releasing its Straight Bourbon Whisky statewide on Sunday. If you’re going to sin, you might as well sin locally—the two-and-a-half-year-old whisky was distilled from grain grown at Heffron Farms in Belding and Pilot Malt House in Byron Center. Now that’s a spirit-ual experience!

“We opened almost three years ago. About that time, we made the whiskey we’re releasing now. It’s made with all West Michigan grains that we milled onsite at our Leonard Street location,” says Kyle VanStrien, owner of Long Road Distillers. “Bourbon’s a funny thing. People like it because of the sharper edges but we also have a pretty heavy dose of red winter wheat that contributes some really nice vanilla, butterscotch toffee taste to the bourbon. But, it definitely has that nice sweet corn flavor and aroma. It mixes really nice. lt sits really well.”

Because more than 800 Michigan bars, restaurants, and retailers purvey Long Road’s spirits, they are easy to find (and even easier to drink). With the new distributor on board, even more thirsty Michiganders will be able to wet their whistles with local whisky, vodka, and gin. Grand Rapids’ teetotallers in remission can taste these along with a handcrafted collection of cocktails and foods at the Long Road Distillers' tasting room on Leonard Street.

Throughout the state, Imperial Beverage has established itself as a premier purveyor of craft beer, fine wines and ciders, and a growing selection of artisan spirits. A longstanding member of the Michigan beverage distribution community, Imperial was established in 1933 after the repeal of prohibition. It has grown from a one-county beer distributor to a top ten wholesaler employing 330 people at four locations: Kalamazoo, Livonia, Ishpeming, and Traverse City.

“It’s really nice to be able to partner with a Michigan-owned, family-owned distributor,” VanStrien says. “We can drive down to Kalamazoo to meet with them. Their door is always open to us.”

And, hopefully, so is the bottle.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Long Road Distillers


Mary Free Bed expansion makes rooms at "The Inn"

As the final phase of its $66.4 million expansion and renovation project, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital recently opened 10 additional new rooms at the Inn at Mary Free Bed, a lodging alternative that provides a practical solution to two challenges facing Mary Free Bed’s longer-term rehabilitation patients. One, the Inn provides a home away from home for their family members. Two, patients who no longer need nursing care, but aren’t ready to go home, can stay with their families at the Inn while they continue rehabilitation. In 2017, more than 3,700 people stayed at the Inn. Mary Free Bed plans on adding another six rooms to the Inn, for a total of 22 rooms.

“Ten years ago, we did pilot of six rooms to see if there was a need,” says Kent Riddle, CEO, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. “Many of our patients are from all over the state, as well as Indiana and Ohio. They stay here on average for two-and-a-half weeks—sometimes eight months. Families want to be here on campus, connected.”

Like a well-appointed hotel, the spacious, fully accessible suites not only have perks like flat-screen TVs, wireless Internet, and kitchenettes, they also provide universal access features such as seating and tables that raise and lower and open bathrooms featuring walk-in/roll-in showers with seats and grab bars. Also, accessible hallways connect the Inn to the Mary Free Bed Professional Building; an accessible skywalk connects lodgers to the main hospital and the Outpatient Therapy Center. Like a bed and breakfast, the Inn serves a complimentary continental breakfast every morning.

“The rooms are really decked out. They can accommodate every imaginable configuration of family members,” Riddle says. “For rehabilitation patients, moving to the Inn makes sense—lower costs, greater value. They continue to get their therapy every day and have access to a nurse and physicians.”

Riddle notes that having family members present supports patients’ recovery and rehabilitation. In addition, because many family members will take on the role of caregiver when their loved one comes home, they can attend therapy sessions and learn how to accomplish caregiving tasks—for example, helping transfer from wheelchair to bed at night.

“Having the family around motivates patients to work harder and get better faster,” Riddle says. “It’s also easy and convenient for families while they are going through one of the toughest times of their lives, too.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital

 


The Blueprint Collaborative takes coworking to an entrepreneurial level

After working for 15 years for a large, local construction firm, Brent Gibson decided to strike out on his own. He founded his own construction company, Construction Simplified. His work kept him busy, too busy, in fact, to allow him time to network and make vital connections to grow his business. He came up with an idea—a collaborative work space that brought others involved in the construction, design, and real estate industry together with entrepreneurs servicing those industries.

In June 2017, the Blueprint Collaborative opened at 859 West Fulton. Gibson renovated a car mechanic’s garage, that had sat idle for a good long while, into a highly innovative work-space. He chose the location not only because he lives on the WestSide, but also because of the nature of the businesses he sought to bring together—a vibe he describes as being “a little more blue-collar, a different work ethic.”

“Our coworking and incubator space is full of industry-specific entrepreneurs and small businesses in the construction, design, and real estate industry,” says Kim Reed, Community Connector for the Blueprint Collaborative. “We are a small business full of small businesses. Our passion is to help people build their businesses and grow the entrepreneurial spirit of Grand Rapids.”

For $150 a month, drop-in members can access the space 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They can access all amenities, find a space to work at the co-working table, and use the conference room for meetings. To lay claim to a dedicated workstation—a permanent desk, lockable storage cabinet, and personal locker—the price rises to $495 and grants 24/7 access. Members who also want a large team room of their very own pay $1,250 each month.

“As a small business, the number one goal is to work full-time. It’s hard to connect and to build relationships,” Gibson says. “I used backwards engineering. Now, when I’m sitting at my desk six or seven hours a day and doing the work, three or four connections are walking in the door. That’s what the space really does.”

The Blueprint Collaborative extends free drop-in membership to college students in fields aligned with its industry mix. For example, two Grand Valley State University students working on inventing a mask for people working in deep freezers have used the space and its connections to evolve the product for construction workers spending long hours outdoors in cold temperatures. Another student entrepreneur is working on a heated tool box.

“Those are the golden nuggets I like to find,” Gibson says.

Gibson also wants West Michigan to push the envelope on what entrepreneurial means. He notes that the word commonly brings to mind a 20-something nerd at a computer inventing a new app. He believes that bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to any industry can take it to the next level. The Blueprint Collaborative is a space where professionals and students in the construction, design, and real estate industries can nurture that spirit.

“Most of the buzzwords these days are not focused on a tangible industry where you go out every week and build something. That shouldn’t limit the thought of entrepreneurship,” Gibson says. “I wanted to be surrounded by people in similar industries who have the same passion that I do—and want to build a business.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy The Blueprint Collaborative


619 Wealthy St. SE renovation brings more upscale retail to popular corridor

The redevelopment (some may say, gentrification) of Wealthy Street, from downtown Grand Rapids to Eastown, is practically complete. Originally anchored on the west by Wealthy Street Bakery and on the east, until it closed in 2012, by Sandman’s BBQ, the corridor’s development, which started in the early 2000s, now boasts a bounty of upscale eateries, bars, and retailers. Supporting these businesses’ success, an insurgence of customers has flocked to Wealthy Street, changing both its financial footprint and demographic.

For more than 15 years, the storefront building at 619 Wealthy Street SE remained vacant, a state that some of those patronizing the area might call an eyesore. In 2014, Jim McClurg, owner of Wealthy Street and Hall Street Bakeries, his wife Barb McClurg, and a silent partner bought it and announced plans for an extensive makeover that would include the addition of a 2,200 square-foot, second story apartments addition over the existing retail structure. However, they elected not to move the plan forward, which made the building available again.

In 2017, Eric Wynsma, owner of Terra Firma Development, bought the property for $525,000. For years, he had driven by the empty building every morning on his way in to his office. Despite the fact that his firm concentrated on much larger industrial and manufacturing spaces, the neglected, little building piqued his interest more and more.


“I remember going there when I was in high school to get beer. There was a little party store and a restaurant, the Sunshine Golden Grill, where you could get a catfish sandwich for three dollars,” he says. “I looked at their (McClurg’s') plans, but couldn’t really make sense out of it from a cost perspective. The prospect of adding another story onto the roof would have been quite expensive — and probably would place an unrealistic income expectation on the rooftop residential units that were proposed.”

With design input from Lott3Metz Architecture, Terra Firma’s development manager, Andy Molesta, oversaw the renovation. Because the space had always been local retail, Wynsma was determined to keep it that way. Tenants began moving in the last week of March.

“We closed on the building the end of October. The very next day, Andy Molesta was on site with his demolition team and just got after it. We did a complete, full-on renovation, full demolition of the interior, and basically started over–footings, foundation, windows, doors—to get everything code-worthy,” Wynsma says. “We made sure that we were designing the new storefronts to meet neighborhood approval and be consistent with the historical nature of the building.”

When fully occupied, 619 Wealthy will house four businesses. So far, the mix includes Fox Naturals, a skin care retailer; Wealthy Studios; and a florist, Jordan Fisher. One 800-square-foot space remains available.

“The tenant mix is really important. We didn’t want someone like a national cell phone chain. We didn’t think it would be appropriate to have neon, flashing lights,” Wynsma says. “Parking is also a consideration so we hand selected tenants with low impact, from that standpoint, that fit in with the small, local retail vibe that happens along that street.”

Terra Firma Development also has plans for renovating 650 Wealthy St. SE.

In retrospect, the development of the Wealthy Street corridor over the past 15 years has resulted in an astounding improvement in building stock and upgraded infrastructure that has made it a destination neighborhood. In a sense, 619 Wealthy is a capstone piece. The challenge remains, how can the City of Grand Rapids revisit this corridor from an equity perspective, making it a place where more minority-owned businesses can thrive and people of color living nearby feel welcome?

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Terra Firma Development


Housing NOW! Recommendations fall flat under public criticism

As part of Rapid Growth's continued coverage on housing, we bring you this updated information on the Housing NOW! recommendations. Read the first article on this topic published in February, here.

Standing room was scarce at last week’s March 27th City Commission meeting, during which Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and the Commission heard public comments on recommendations 3, 6, 8, and 9 of the Housing NOW! zoning ordinance changes proposed by the Bliss-appointed Housing Advisory Committee. Public comments on the recommendations lasted nearly two and a half hours, during which the city heard over 40 citizens express, with few exceptions, strong concerns for recommendations 3, 6, and 9.

Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear set the tone for the meeting before the Housing NOW! recommendations were on the floor for discussion, in response to Planning Director Suzanne Schulz’s presentation of the Planning Commission’s recommendations regarding Text Amendments related to the sale of alcohol for off-premises consumption:

“Can you help us to understand the rationale behind the Planning Commission repeatedly making recommendations that are contrary to what the commission has already vocalized as their preference?” Lenear pointed to a larger problem. “We’ll make a recommendation, it’ll go to the Planning Commission—even these Housing NOW recommendations that are coming forth—are contrary to some of the information that we sent over to the planning commission. So it’s just becoming quite difficult to digest for me, personally.” Lenear asked Schultz to provide her with the Planning Commission members’ names, contact information, and term dates.

The crowd began to applaud Lenear, but was hushed by Bliss’ reminder of her no clapping or signs policy, “because I want people to feel respected in this space; that’s important to all of us.”

A handful of attendees wore matching “GR Homes For All” t-shirts with signs pinned to the back reading “OUR RIGHTS NOT BY RIGHT.” Some of the presenters brought prepared materials, or organized binders. One woman had taken a survey of 211 Grand Rapids residents, the large majority of whom opposed recommendations 3 and 9, which both allow for by-right development near Traditional Business Areas (TBA) and other areas.

Expressing support for the zoning changes was Angelique DuPhene, representing Garfield Park Neighborhood Association, which stood alone among the neighborhood associations in its support, citing “decades of lack of investment.”

“Our neighborhood has seen few new housing units, yet home and rental prices continue to rise,” DuPhene said, adding that the recommendations were “a good first step to help address the supply crisis…We anticipate positive impacts from increased density: walkable neighborhoods, more local customers for our business owners, and more options for transit.”

Yet in the most recent version of recommendation number 6, which offers developers a residential density bonus in addition to affordable housing bonus, the requirement that the development “be located within 300 feet of a transit line” was removed. In recommendations 3 and 9, the committee had also expanded by-right development from within 100 feet to within 500 feet from TBAs. This impact area was referred to throughout the night as the “blue bubble.”

Local realtor and Midtown resident Samantha Searl expressed concern over the vested interest of the Housing Advisory Committee members themselves.

“Did you know that of these [committee members]…seven to 10 live outside Grand Rapids—that’s nearly a third…five people own multiple properties…and only two homes fall within a blue bubble?”

“Grand Rapids will not build its way into affordability,” stated Eastown Community Association Executive Director Don Lee.

The following Friday evening, Mayor Bliss announced on Facebook: “Based on the overwhelming feedback and concerns shared along with the request for more community engagement, the City Commission decided to postpone indefinitely any decision or vote on the recommendations. At our April 10th Committee of the Whole meeting we will discuss next steps for future conversations and community engagement around the recommendations.”

As to what next steps the Commission will take, little is yet known. If Lenear’s dissatisfaction with the Planning Commission is shared among her colleagues—which was difficult to tell at the meeting—the failed Housing NOW! Recommendations could prompt what several residents called for during last Thursday’s public input: a house cleaning of the Planning Committee.

Yet these proceedings have shown, if nothing else, that Grand Rapids’ citizens and neighborhood organizations remain deeply invested in the future of their communities. The depth of research, expertise, and articulation of shared goals expressed by the public last Thursday demonstrate that—counter to one commenter’s supposition that the public’s opposition to the recommendations stemmed from a “fear of change”—the Grand Rapids community is ready for change, as they demand a more equitable city.

Watch the full Commission meeting here.

Rapid Growth continues to explore issues on housing in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. Check out Marjorie Steele's latest articles on the past 10 years in GR housing costs, parts one, two, and three on homelessness, and the most recent on creative solutions to affordable housing.

Roberto Clemente Park’s a natural: Two City departments collaborate on a remarkable park project

When the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services Department began planning extensive infrastructure upgrades to control stormwater runoff in the Godfrey Avenue/Rumsey Street area, they sought out an unusual partner: Parks and Recreation. Their inquiry of whether Roberto Clemente Park could be a part of their plan has inspired one of the most innovative city park renovation plans to date.

“A couple of years ago, when they asked if there could be stormwater storage in the park, lightbulbs started going off,” says David Marquardt, director, City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation. “We said, ‘yes, but let’s look at this together to build in some opportunities that not only benefit storm water runoff but also benefit park users.’”

The resulting design will make Roberto Clemente Park one of the most fun places for kids to enjoy natural play and outdoor learning. The design was inspired by Grand Rapids’ involvement as a Cities Connecting Children to Nature cohort, a program of the Children & Nature Network. Rain gardens, bioswales, and tributary streams that cleanse and manage stormwater will double as educational sites and natural play areas. Students from adjacent Southwest Community Campus school will be able to walk down the steps to new outdoor classrooms.

“We started initial public outreach with the neighborhood and got some good feedback and direction,” Marquardt says. “This is a unique and distinct opportunity for Roberto Clemente Park, not only in building in some typical park improvements for this park space but doing so, in part, with the Department of Environmental Services.”

That community feedback has inspired several of the planned improvements. The existing skate park’s new elements will include connecting skate paths throughout the park. Reconstruction of the existing soccer field will improve drainage and extend the playing season. A new picnic shelter will give families and community members a place to host meals, parties, and events. An approved basketball court and bike racks are also part of the plan.

“Community members have had a lot of good ideas,” Marquardt says. “What I always find inspiring is community members’ stories, their deep interest in these park spaces, and how they can become more relevant for them as they think about using them with their families and their friends. These ideas aren’t necessarily coming from the Parks department but from the people that use these spaces, which is always the way we prefer to do our work.”

Marquardt notes that Parks and Recreation will host an upcoming series of community meetings to gather even more input from residents living near the park. If grant funds from the Michigan DNR come through in December of this year as hoped, construction on the project will commence the summer of 2019—and will take about six months to complete. The Department of Environmental Services will provide roughly $900,000 of the estimated $1.6 million price-tag. Between $300,000 and $400,000 will come from City millage funding and the remaining funding coming from grants.

“Since the millage passed in 2013, the City has invested roughly $8 million of those park millage dollars. While that is significant, what is inspiring is that we’ve leveraged those $8 million to capture another $4 million of outside funding to support park improvement projects,” he says. “Partnerships with the Michigan DNR, the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services, local nonprofits, and private partners have really helped carry these park improvement projects so much further than we could go with park millage funding alone.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Image courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation


Neighborhood mini-grants aim to fund projects in southeast neighborhoods

A nonprofit working in Grand Rapids’ Boston Square, Cottage Grove, and Madison Square neighborhoods, Amplify GR, is funding Amp Up neighborhood mini-grants ranging from $100 to $1,000. To receive funding, projects must target an Amplify GR neighborhood, provide direct benefits to neighborhood residents, and include neighbors as leaders, planners, and implementers of the projects.

 

“We started out to listen to residents in the community, community leaders, and business owners in and around Cottage Grove,” says Willie Patterson, engagement director for Amplify GR. “We heard a lot of good ideas, many that could be accomplished with just a few dollars.”

 

As examples of potential projects, Patterson mentioned neighborhood cleanups, planting trees, and growing gardens in areas of abandoned buildings and empty lots. The target area for the grants is bounded by Hall Street to the north, Burton Street to the south, Fuller and Kalamazoo Avenues to the east, and Division Avenue to the West.

 

“We want people with good ideas that have a neighborhood focus, a solid plan, and realistic budget,” Patterson says. “...Those who don’t have the few dollars to make it happen, to do something very impactful in community.”

 

Funding facts
 

Amplify GR is funded by the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation and the Cheri DeVos Foundation. Rockford Construction is its lead development partner. Amplify GR and Rockford Construction spent $10 million to purchase 32 properties on 35 acres in the nonprofit’s target neighborhoods. Rich DeVos, co-founder of Amway Corporation, lived in one of these neighborhoods as a boy.

 

Some residents living here now fear that Amplify GR may have a hidden agenda that will lead to gentrification, rising housing costs, and neighbors being forced to relocate—as has happened in other parts of the city. In 2017, when residents continued to express these concerns at Amplify GR’s town hall meetings, the nonprofit cancelled the public meetings for the rest of the year in order to, according to its Aug. 22, 2017 blog entry, “slow down, build deeper relationships, and gather more community perspectives.” This is the most recent blog post on the website.

 

Apply now

While the public meetings have not yet resumed, Amplify GR is encouraging neighborhood residents and organizations to apply for the mini-grants straightaway—and to expect a response within 45 days. Amplify GR has not set a deadline for the program, but Patterson notes that the grants are a limited time opportunity.

 

“Every neighborhood in Grand Rapids has room for improvement,” Patterson says. “In our community engagement, we heard residents that had great ideas but many lacked the cash to implement those ideas. We just want to put cash in their hands to see what is possible. Connect with your neighbors and make this thing something we can continue to do for years to come.”

 

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
 

Photos courtesy Amplify GR


Espresso bar or comfy couch?: How a coffee shop's design reflects its clientele

Do people inadvertently design their cities to fit their needs? A look at Grand Rapids’ independent coffee shops might indicate “yes.” On every side of town, new coffee shops are springing up—almost as fast as breweries.

Two West Side coffee shops are good examples: the recently renovated Ferris Coffee – West Side, 227 Winter Ave NW, and, one of Grand Rapids’ newest, The Corridor Coffee Shop, 637 Stocking Ave NW.

“Our approach is similar for all of our locations,” says David VanTongeren, Ferris Coffee director of retail. “We look at the surrounding area and the customer base that we will be servicing. At the West Side location, that obviously has very close proximity to Grand Valley (State University) so we have a lot of students. We also have a lot of neighborhood residents and business people. We look at those customers and ask what are they there for? A small business meeting? Students setting up shop and working on a paper for the afternoon?”

Integrated Architecture designed the Ferris renovation with input from VanTongeren. Via Design contributed to the new Ferris – Downtown location. VanTongeren will be handling the renovation of the Ferris Holland location with his in-house team.

“I remember when we first opened the location. It was kind of hidden on the West Side and didn’t have a whole lot of foot traffic,” he says. “Now, I can’t even find a seat down there.”

In response to this customer need, Ferris plans on expanding seating there over the summer.

The Corridor Coffee Shop has a different ambience, a little less high style and leading edge and a little more neighborly and nostalgic. Co-owner Max Friar grew up on the West Side and has lived there most of his life.

“We didn’t do a ton of analytics. It was more of a feeling,” Friar says. “I looked at the coffee shops on each side of town. Relative to other parts of the city, the West Side was low. We felt that the location was perfect. Look at the cranes in the sky. There’s a lot of construction and economic activity.”

Co-owner Melissa Somero believes that West Side residents deserve credit for the coffee shop opening. Their wish to have a comfortable community meeting place, where they could hang out with neighbors or work away from the office, set the stage for the Corridor’s initial success.

“Our customers are a very wide demographic, not one group,” Somero says. “We’ve got students and business-people typing on laptops but also a lot of families–local residents bring their babies and kids. On Sundays, we see a lot of churchgoers. We are not one of those coffee shops where you literally gasp for air because of that pretentious feeling.”

“We want everyone to feel welcome and I think we have created that,” adds Friar.

The building has an upstairs bonus space that accommodates 20 to 30 people. Before Friar and Somero had a chance to explore how to use it, River City Church and Stockbridge Business Association asked if they could reserve it for meetings.

“We hadn’t really gone out to solicit that, but we said sure,” Somero says. “We have been so well received by the community because they did want it. Our neighbors have helped create this space.”

While experts continue to discuss whether coffee shops are a cause or an effect of gentrification, joe joints, especially those offering specialty drinks, do require a clientele with disposable income. As housing prices rise in Grand Rapids’ urban neighborhoods, those with that income are moving in. In a sense, they are the ones designing neighborhoods that include walkable destinations, like coffee shops, where community can gather. As people with less income relocate to suburbs where neighborhoods are designed for seclusion and the automobile, the challenge will be for those city planners to find solutions that enable their new residents to be mobile and build community, as well. After all, no metropolitan area is better than the least of its residents—and all should have a hand in designing their neighborhoods.

“Anytime a customer is willing to come to your location and spend their time and their resources with you in that environment, it’s really important to be in tune with all of their needs, everything that they are looking for,” VanTongeren concludes. “It’s important to know what they’re looking for and be respectful of that.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy of Ferris Coffee and Corridor Coffee Shop.


Livable transportation engineer to share place-making strategies with West Michigan communities

The new trends shaping our cities’ urban cores diverge from sci-fi visions of flying cars and stair-stepped, congested roadways reaching up through smog-obscured skyscrapers. In reality, 21st century visionaries are asking how cities can become healthier, more walkable, bike-friendly, and include more trees and green space. Additionally, severe weather events are inspiring conversations about climate change and climate resilience—and how cities can play an active role reducing the former and creating the latter. 

As part of their “Series on Sustainable Transportation and Innovative Community Design,” the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council (MACC), Ottawa County Department of Public Health, and Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department have invited West Michigan’s city planners, developers, and citizenry to join those conversations, led by nationally-acclaimed speaker and livable transportation engineer, Ian Lockwood, P.E.

Lockwood specializes in place-making: making communities more walkable, bike-able, and transit-friendly. As city transportation planner for West Palm Beach, Florida, Lockwood earned accolades for his role in transforming the mostly blighted city into a vibrant community.

“Ian speaks to a lot of different concepts related to transportation as well as smarter community design,” says Danielle Bouchard, land use planning specialist, County of Ottawa. “His messages start from the big picture and narrow down to smaller applicable increments, things you can do every day to improve walkability, economic sustainability, and that kind of thing. His message speaks towards different ways of thinking, challenging the traditional transportation language, and opening up different ways of approaching different challenges in community.”

The evening of March 12, Lockwood will share strategies on walkability and community transformation over beer and pizza at New Holland Brewing Pub on 8th. On March 13, at Hope College Maas Auditorium, his morning presentation centers on transportation language and creating authentic character in community. In the afternoon, he will discuss how to get developments, streets, open spaces, and people to work together for a shared vision.

“Cities and communities, in general, should be designed for people not for cars,” Bouchard says. “It’s good to have those other routes for people who not are able to drive—or just to have that sense of community where you can walk outside, get from point A to point B, have things in close proximity, and feel safe.”

Sponsors of the event also include the City of Holland, Lakeshore Advantage, West Coast Chamber of Commerce, several Lakeshore businesses, and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Michigan Chapter. Lockwood’s articles are featured on the CNU website. According to the website, CNU’s 18 local and state chapters “help create vibrant and walkable cities, towns, and neighborhoods where people have diverse choices for how they live, work, shop, and get around. People want to live in well-designed places that are unique and authentic. CNU's mission is to help people build those places.”

Bouchard cites Lockwood’s presentation at last year’s CNU conference as inspiration for the event. 

“We are really excited about this event,” Bouchard concludes. “We want to make sure that Ian’s message can be reached in many communities, the City of Holland, the City of Grand Rapids, and West Michigan’s rural townships.”

The Ian Lockwood Series

March 12 at New Holland Brewery Pub on 8th

  • “A Casual Evening with Ian,” 6:30 – 8 p.m. Cost $20.

March 13 at Maas Auditorium Hope College

  • “Good Inputs, Design, & Outcomes,” 8:15 – 11:30 a.m. Cost $25.
  • “Making It Real & Sharpening Your tools,” 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. Cost $25.

Attend both March 13 sessions for $40. AICP credits available.

 

Register at Eventbrite. For information, contact (616) 738-4852 or plan@miottawa.org.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photo courtesy Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department


Check it out: Kelloggsville High School brings new library home to students and neighbors

In January 2018, Kelloggsville High School's new, two-story, 6,000 square-foot media center became the newest Kent District Library (KDL) branch. During the school day, only students access it. (Of the 800 students that signed up for new library cards, 394 used them before the end of January.) Three days a week, after school, and alternate Saturdays, the Kelloggsville KDL branch opens to the public. During the summer, the library will be open during staggered hours, six days a week.

“Kelloggsville High School students now have this amazing library full of KDL’s collections right in their school. This enables them to connect to all the resources available at KDL. They can have any book in the KDL collection put on hold and sent to their library,” says Lindsey Dorfman, director of branch services and operations for KDL. “It also gives them access to the Michigan Electronic Library and opens up a world of resources, for example, all the databases that KDL subscribes to.”

The new branch also benefits Wyoming’s Kelloggsville neighborhood, where many residents don’t have transportation to the Wyoming or Kentwood libraries. “This branch gives them easy access to everything KDL has to offer—resources and activities—and it provides a safe space to go hang out and connect,” Dorfman says.

The library’s grand opening took place January 17, 2018 during the district’s monthly “Rocket Family Night.” According to Dorfman, 30 community members who did not have library cards signed up for one during the event.

“We had a wonderful turnout with parents, students, and community members,” she says. “Everybody had a really good time exploring the space and learning about all the resources.”

Local librarian led the way

Jim Ward, a Forest Hills Public Schools librarian for nearly 40 years, was instrumental in bringing the KDL branch to the school. When he was a kid in the 60s, the Kentwood Library was located in the Kelloggsville Public Schools neighborhood, just east of Division Avenue near 44th Street.

“My mom used to take me to that library. It was the first one I ever went into,” he says. “Now, most suburban libraries are in more affluent areas. When I presented the idea to KDL’s executive director, Lance Werner, I said this gives you the chance to serve an urban community.”

Ward remained in the district. He and his wife, Jane Ward, sent their three daughters through Kelloggsville schools. After the girls graduated, the Wards continued their involvement there. Jane Ward serves as a trustee on the Kelloggsville school board. In 2014, the district asked Jim to consult on the school’s new media center.

“When we were looking at designing the facility, we went to Thornapple Kellogg High School. They had a (Barry County) public library in their school. I said, ‘Let’s try to do this,’” Ward says. “Kelloggsville, like much of Wyoming, is becoming more and more urbanized. For kids to go to the public library three miles to Wyoming or five miles to Kentwood, there is not a direct bus route. This allows them to have access to all of the services, which is major.”

“It’s more than books”

For students who can’t afford computers, that access plays a huge role in their success at school. They not only use the library’s eight terminals, each loaded with word processing and other software, they can also check out iPads.

“It’s more than books. Having access to books online and information through the library’s connections pushes the door wide open,” Ward says. “If students can check out a device that gets them more access, then boom!”

KDL and Kelloggsville Public Schools are sharing the cost of employing Courtnei Moyses, the branch’s youth and school librarian. A third partner in the project, the Steelcase Foundation, awarded a $250,000 grant that will help fund the project over the next three years.

“One of our main goals at KDL is to make library use easy and more convenient for everybody,” Dorfman concludes. “We thought this was a fabulous opportunity to do that.”

KDL Kelloggsville Branch
Kelloggsville High School, 4787 Division Ave. SW, Wyoming, MI 49548. Bus Route 1.

School year hours:

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday: 3 p.m. – 8 p.m.
  • First and third Saturdays: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

June 18 - August 17, 2018 hours:

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday and Thursday: 12 – 8 p.m.
  • First and third Saturdays: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Kent District Library


The Atrium at Mazzo: Ledyard Building accommodates Uccello Hospitality Group event venue

In 1978, when few made downtown Grand Rapids their dining destination, Faro Uccello opened the first of eight successful area pizza shops in outlying areas. When he and his family moved back to his native Sicily in 1990, he sold the chain. But, he didn’t stay in Italy long. In fact, by 1996, he had returned and opened Uccello's Ristorante Pizzeria & Sports Lounge on the East Beltline.
 

While downtown Grand Rapids grew into a vibrant locality, so did Uccello’s family of restaurants. Under the umbrella of Uccello’s Hospitality Group, Faro Uccello, his son, Sergio Uccello, and son-in-law, Mario Piccione, have opened eight local restaurants: five Uccello’s Ristorante Pizzeria & Sport Lounges, two Herb and Fire Pizzeria locations, and Mazzo Cucino D’Italia, a farm-to-table eatery located within Downtown’s historic Ledyard Building.

Executive Chef Clark Frain oversees the creation of contemporary Italian dishes for Mazzo’s restaurant and its three event facilities: Chef’s Table, Mazzo Lounge, and, now, the Atrium, which accommodates up to 200 guests.

“We want to be that place where people come and have a celebration of life and enjoy themselves,” says Brittany Knoch, marketing director of Uccello’s Hospitality Group. "Chef Frain’s specially crafted food menu features top of the line, beautiful, decadent dishes. The other great part, we are right on Monroe Center in the heart of downtown, across from Rosa Park Circle.”

On Saturday March 10, the Atrium at Mazzo invites the public to help launch the space with an open house featuring a cash bar, sampling from the banquet menu, and live music to demonstrate the space’s exceptional acoustics. The venue’s newly appointed event coordinator, Juliane Mulcahy, plans to display different table settings at each uniquely decorated table. Guests can enter a raffle to win a 10 percent-off certificate good towards their first event at the Atrium.

“In the Atrium, we’ll have tables all decked out with an assortment of full settings to show off the versatility of the space. On a smaller scale, we’ll have the Chef’s Table and Mazzo Lounge staged as well,” she says. “The open house says, ‘Hi we're here! And, here’s what we can do.”

“We’re getting the word out, showing the public that we’re here,” adds Knoch. “We’re excited about what we have to show off.”

Open House: The Atrium at Mazzo
125 Ottawa Ave. NW
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday March 10
Menu sampling, live music, and cash bar

Photos courtesy of Uccello’s Hospitality Group.


Natural lifestyle brand gears up for new retail location on Wealthy

"I've always been fascinated by people who run their own careers," says Chicago transplant turned natural products entrepreneur Patrick Stoffel. Passionate about his soaps and lotions, brilliant presentation, and above all investing in one's city, Stoffel is about to open a retail store for his lifestyle company Fox Naturals.

In 2012, Stoffel began experimenting by making his own soaps and "kind of just goofing around with it," he says. While perfecting his recipes and receiving heaps of compliments from his friends on his products and presentation, Stoffel honed in his focus on all-natural ingredients. "It was a good way to learn about natural products. At the time it wasn't a big thing yet. So it was easy to learn how to make something and use it and try it out for friends," he says.

In the mean time, Stoffel became interested in Grand Rapids while visiting his brother. While grabbing a beer at local favorite Brewery Vivant, "I think I fell in love at that moment," says Stoffel. He and his husband soon moved to Grand Rapids for our city's "Good beer. Good food. Cheap living," he says.

Living in GR and working retail management full time for pretty much every big company you can think of," he says, Stoffel officially launched Fox Naturals in 2015, offering free local delivery of everything from body soaps to hair and body oils to shampoos and conditioners. Focused equally on skin and body as well as health and wellness, Stoffel began partnering with other locals like designer and DJ AB and businesses like Mokaya, Lamb Bride, and the Downtown Market to host pop-up events where he could promote his brand and reach more customers. "It was amazing the response that we got for doing those," he says.

Soon, Fox Naturals was blowing up, and Stoffel quit his retail job to pursue the business full time. Out growing his and his home office, the two stumbled upon a fairly new development at 619 Wealthy, right across the street from Wealthy Street Bakery. With hard work and serendipity combined, Stoffel decided. "It's now or never. And Wealthy Street is just the perfect location," he says.

Excited about a petite store front that will maintain the original charm of the building with a fresh, updated look, Stofel will open Fox Naturals this April. With a book and mortar presence, new customers will have a chance to walk in and experience the products, while others will still have the opportunity to order online (and also pickup in store). Starting out with just himself and his husband behind the counter, he is open to growth, and knows he is in good company.

"The best part of being in Grand Rapid is that there's so many people who support local," says Stoffel.

Photos courtesy of Leigh Ann Cobb for Fox Naturals.

Housing NOW! recommendations draw community concern

The Affordable Housing recommendations put forth by Mayor Bliss’ Housing Advisory Committee (branded as “Housing NOW!”) are receiving pushback from community members who are concerned that proposed zoning changes could exclude community input from development projects. The eleven recommendations aim, according to Housing NOW!’s website, “to create housing choices and opportunities for all.”

Yet Eastown Community Association (ECA) warned its newsletter readers on January 24th that the Committee’s “proposal eliminates community input into neighborhood development in residential areas adjacent to business districts,” citing the recommendations’ allowance for developers to develop properties “by right” in “Low Density Residential” (LDR) zones. These zones are located on corner lots and within 100 feet of “Traditional Business Areas” (TDA)—or neighborhood business districts.

This comes from Recommendation 3: “Incentives for Small Scale Development,” which states that small scale development “is referred to as ‘missing middle’ housing,” listing “duplexes, fourplexes, bungalow courts and mansion apartments smaller than a large house” as property types that “are crucial to expand affordable housing options,” presumably due to their higher occupant density. Points two and four of this recommendation provision to allow developers to build multi-family residential units up to four units by-right in LDR zone districts.

By allowing property owners to develop by-right, the recommendations remove barriers—such as gathering the approval of community and/or business associations—to redeveloping higher density units. However, ECA views the community input these barriers provide as necessary to maintaining the integrity of neighborhood communities.

“We expect that proposals for development will be subject to input from the homeowners and business interests in the immediate area through existing channels,” ECA’s newsletter stated.

The Committee attempts to address neighborhood concerns within Recommendation 3 itself, which focuses mainly on design:

“We've discussed [small scale development] with neighborhoods and heard that current standards don't protect neighborhood character. This includes lack-luster front stoops, flat facades and incompatible design. The Design Guidelines Manual will help address these concerns.”

However, the bent of resident and neighborhood association concerns were of a more concrete nature. Eastown resident Cynthia Teemstra, who spoke at the city’s Planning Commission’s meeting on January 25th, observed that between Wilcox Park users, Aquinas students renting, and residents, “we have a big parking problem now. I can’t even imagine adding that kind of density to our street. It’s not safe for the children who are in Wilcox Park...I’m concerned about the stability of the neighborhood...It’s too much.”

Other neighborhood association leaders and neighborhood residents, many of whom had already written letters to the planning committee, echoed similar concerns at the more than four-hour public input meeting.

Meanwhile, the Housing Advisory Committee itself has drawn scrutiny for its apparent bias towards development and housing organizations. Housing NOW!’s website asserts that the “Great Housing Strategies” planning initiative, which kickstarted these recommendations in 2015, involved “over 200 residents,” and represented neighbors as well as housing developers, lenders, and government officials.

However, according to local independent journalist Jeff Smith, publisher of Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID.org), a list of Committee members obtained in spring of 2017 from one of the members reveals a list comprised of “either elected city officials, city staff members, representatives of development companies and non-profit organizations.”

Smith comments that the Mayor’s Committee “is made up of housing developers and non-profit housing folks, but not one person from the affected community, which is why the proposals are weak and does nothing to address long term realities.”

This interest is evident in the Committee’s Recommendation 6: Density Bonus, which proposes extending density bonuses to affordable housing projects, combining Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) with an Affordable Housing Bonus—essentially a double subsidy system for developers of affordable housing in specific areas.

Last week, the Grand Rapids City Commission voted to adopt the low-income tax housing policy (#1), changes to the Neighborhood Enterprise Zones (#4), the Voluntary Equitable Development Agreement (#5), and the property partnership policy (#7). The remaining seven recommendations, including the density bonus, are currently up for debate.

“I believe we definitely need to slow that down. Zoning is very complicated," says Second Ward Commissioner Ruth E. Kelly, regarding the proposed zoning changes in recommendation 3. "The biggest consequence I’m worried about is further demolition of houses.” Concerned that these zoning measures are "not clear to the public," Kelly adds that “It’s best looked at in a master planning process,” instead of in the committee's current iteration.

In its letter to the Planning Commission, ECA has requested the Planning Commission “table putting forth any recommendations from the Housing Advisory Committee until there can be further analyses and more substantive community engagement.”

The committee plans to host an additional public hearing on February 20, and hopes to approve more recommendations in March. 

Welcome to the West Side: Corridor Coffee brings co-working space to new community coffee house

With opening week officially behind them, owners of the new Corridor Coffee on Grand Rapids' Westside say their introduction to the community has been “the best [they] could have asked for.”

“Lots of visits, wonderful reception from the community,” says Max Friar, who co-owns the coffee shop and co-working space alongside Melissa Somero. “It has been amazing.”

Located at 637 Stocking Ave. NW, Corridor Coffee officially opened on Jan. 22, with the tagline “Welcome to the West Side,” encompassing Friar and Somero’s vision for bringing more economic vitality and sense of community back to their neighborhood. 

Decorated with simple dark wood floors and fixtures, clean white walls, and warm yellow lighting the cafe creates something halfway between modern and familiar, with a cozy gathering space on the first floor coffee house with stairs that lead to a second floor professional co-working space. 

Individuals can have seven-days-per-week access to the dedicated co-working space for a no-contract monthly membership fee of $199, complete with free unlimited batch brew coffee, a 10 percent shop-wide discount on espresso drinks and snacks, and high-powered WiFi access separate from the coffee house.

Originally from Traverse City, Somero has spent time living on the Westside just a half a mile away from Corridor. Friar, born and raised on nearby Powers NW, attended St. James Elementary school in his youth and says he remembers riding past the old 19th century home on his bike dozens of times with friends back when the building was still dilapidated.

“At this stage in life I had the means to invest back in the community, and when I met Melissa we believed together we could make it a reality,” says Friar, who employed Jacobsen Painting for exterior repairs and hired Team Restoration for the interior build-out. “In terms of vision, we just want to stay here, be part of the growth and restoration of my favorite side of town.”

With gluten-free baked goods from Rise and a full drink menu made with Chicago-based Intelligensia coffee, Corridor Coffee is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

For more information, visit Corridor Coffee's website here or find them on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Corridor Coffee 

New Mental Health Foundation HQ lends more visibility to nonprofit mission

With a public storefront and lounge area to compliment its open plan office space in back, leaders of The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan hope their new 359 Division S. headquarters can help bring more physical visibility to an organization whose programming is already part of so many schools and communities throughout West Michigan. 

“Our services reach a majority of counties in West Michigan, but most times, people don’t realize our office is right in downtown Grand Rapids,” says Jessica Jones, promotion program coordinator with The MHF. “We’re happy we were able to keep our headquarters in the Heartside Neighborhood so we can be close to the people we educate and continue to expand throughout Kent County.” 

With an all-female team of five full-time employees, and two part-time staff, The Mental Health Foundation helps to create mental health awareness and provides mental health education within schools, workplaces, and communities through its “be nice.” and “Live Laugh Love - Education Youth about Mental Health” programs. Both programs are created and taught by The MHF staff. 

At 1,600 total square feet, the new MHF headquarters include a public lounge area and storefront—decorated with cozy fuchsia armchairs and merchandise area with a large armoire for it’s “be nice.” products in the front. 

With a table lamp and slippers placed next to each staff member's desk, the rear of the building is designated office space, but the open floor plan allows for visibility from front to back. Jones says Via Design donated their services for the interior design, while Herman Miller also awarded The MHF $5,000 for new office furniture.

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s new shop front is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about The MHF or its programming, visit www.benice.org or find them here on Facebook

“As we continue to grow, we think our visibility in the community is important,” Jones says. “Our old office was a little hard to find and our new location includes a shop front. Our mission is to be the go-to source for mental health awareness and education, and better visibility within the community will help us with that goal.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Mental Health Foundation 

Open Systems Technologies aims to redefine digital with launch of new brand

"The word digital is being redefined," says Michael Lomanaco, director of marketing and communications at Open Systems Technologies (OST). "10-15 years ago, technology was the innovation," he continues, but now, "innovation has moved toward the experience, the emotive…" In order to keep up with this rapid growth and change, revolutionizing digital for existing clients and new ones, OST recently launched Open Digital, an evolution of VisualHero, which the company acquired in 2016, to form a new digital consultancy.

Founded in 1997, OST has been consistently serving clients in West Michigan and across the country for over twenty years. Upon entering its third decade, notes Lomanaco, the company seeks to pair its expertise in IT with the "internet of things," or as he says, "the tangible and the intangible" supported by design. Most importantly, for the Open Digital team, is the "physical piece of products, intangible of experience and emotion that plays into a great digital transformation strategy."


Seem like a mouthful? Chief Designer Andy Van Solkema breaks it down. "This is really quite possibly about problem solving," he says, noting that the combination of Visual Hero's design savvy with OST's IT prowess creates a well-rounded team that can tackle any project.

Like many firms at the forefront of workplace structure, the new Open Digital will approach each problem with a "cross-disciplined group focused on value creation," says Van Solkema. "We're at the forefront of where roles were changing," he adds. "It's kind of like thinking of it as a matrix now."

At the heart of this redefinition is "our unique ability to connect both the human and technology disciplines together in ways that few others can," says Lomanaco. "That's because we have cloud architects sitting next to designers...There's something special that happens when you're able to do that."

This cross-disciplinary approach is based on human-centered design, a leading approach for designers across all industries throughout the world. "Our team at Open Digital is inherently wired to lead with the human element," says Meredith Bronk, President and CEO and COO Jim VanderMey in a letter on OST's website..

"When it comes to digital, this team sees the entire customer journey, and thrives on ensuring first that our clients are solving the right problem, and then drives to solutions that aren’t just ‘smart,' but that create an immersive experience across all digital touch points," they add.

Though in their two decades OST has expanded to Minneapolis, Detroit, and even London, the company is still proud to call West Michigan their home as they grow and evolve. "This community is really well positioned because of the momentum and growth," says Van Solkema. "This is where we make things." And in the center of GR, on the city's Westside, OST is part of the community's growing tech scene.

"Why not Grand Rapids? Why can't we?" asks Van Solkema with a smirk. "We've come a long way, we've done a lot, this is the challenge in front of us. Let's tackle it."

Images and video courtesy of OST.

Construction on new Michigan Mile 44-unit Midtown CityZen

With pre-leasing activities expected to begin soon, work is underway for Third Coast Development’s new four-story, 44-unit housing complex located at 637 Michigan Street.

TCD recently finalized financing for the new project, called Midtown CityZen, and Independent Bank and construction crews are now excavating recently demolished land to create the 40,000-square-foot building foundation. 

While the entirety of the building's 3,500-square-foot ground floor is allocated for a new restaurant that will open in fall of 2018, the remaining three floors will offer 44 residential unites priced as “affordable to individuals and families making 80 percent of the area median income.” 

“We are very familiar with the diverse demographic that works and plays along the Michigan Street Corridor, so we are trying to be intentional in providing residential options, so those individuals can also afford to live in this corridor,” says Third Coast Development Partner David Levitt.

The project was made possible in collaboration with the non-profit Lansing-based Michigan Community Capital, a community development corporation supported in part by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation through a $10 million loan facility designed to target residential development across the state to meet the needs of individuals and families making 61 to 120 percent of AMI.

While MCC has, in the past, participated in other Grand Rapids area projects through collaboration in New Markets Tax Credit—projects like the Inner City Christian Federation’s 920 Cherry Street headquarters and the Bicycle Factory—Midtown CityZen represents what MCC President Eric Hanna calls its first “ground-up” investment, accomplished without tax credits utilizing low cost equity processes. 

“We are excited to join Third Coast Development at the onset of this project and assist in bringing quality housing to hard-working individuals and families who otherwise may not be able to afford to reside in a near-downtown setting such as CityZen,” Hanna says. 

For more information on the new Midtown CityZen, visit www.thirdcoastdevelopment.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Third Coast Development 

Boop de Boom brings back bohemian funk with new Plainfield coffee shop

Though it’ll still be a while before Boop de Boom Coffee Lounge officially opens at in a renovated Creston neighborhood storefront, owners Lindsey Ruffin and Cailin Kelly are excited for plans to bring a much-needed presence to a neighborhood they’ve grown to love. 

Kelly, who owns Creston Brewery alongside her husband and two other partners, have spent a lot of time getting to know the neighborhood where she grew up, and said an old-school coffee house seemed high on the list of resident needs. 

“We heard a lot of neighbors and business owners talk about the need for a coffee shop in the area,” says Kelly, who began drafting a plan for a new coffee house shortly thereafter.

With a proposal in place, Kelly took the idea her friend and colleague of over three years, Lindsey Ruffin, with whom she’d connected through mutual work with both the Eastown Community Association and the organization Well House. The name Boop de Boom came from the pair’s mutual love of funky music and things, representative of the larger aesthetic goals of their new shop. 

“The name is fun and brings to mind jazzy funky music and fun,” Kelly says. “That's the type of vibe we want to create.”

In line with a larger, national trend of coffee houses serving alcoholic beverages alongside traditional coffee menus, Boop de Boom’s new menu will feature not only coffee classics, but also offer a limited selection of beer and wine. However, the plan is still to craft coffee-centric cocktails like Irish coffees and Hot Totties to help keep the shop’s focus, first and foremost, on creating a comfortable gathering place that feels just as cozy and warm as the coffee shops they both remember growing up. 

“I just remember when I was in high school going to coffee shops and feeling very comfortable and more of the decor and atmosphere felt more organic, while the new trend seems to be a more streamlined design,” Kelly says. “We want to bring it back old school and make it more funky and bohemian, make it comfortable enough that you want to stay and hang out for a while.” 

Located in a 1,700-square-foot space at 1553 Plainfield St. NE, they found the new building through its owner, Jeremy Stokes.
 
“{Stokes] just talked about how cool it would be to have a coffee shop there, which is part of why we decided on that location,” Kelly says. “Plus, it’s right across from the brewery and right there in the heart of the neighborhood… and with (Jeremy) as our contractor, as well, we know he’ll help us create our vision and add unique funky flair.” 

Still in the early stages of working with the planning commission to hammer out planning details and paperwork logistics -- including applying for a liquor license and proper permitting -- plans for Boop de Boom’s official grand opening are in late summer or early fall of 2018, though Kelly says they expect to go before the planning commission sometime in the next month or two for final approval on the space. 

Until then, Kelly says they’ll continue to work on renovating the interior space and listening to their Creston neighbors for help in shaping the final product, with the ultimate goal always being to bring something valuable to a deserving community. 

“We love this neighborhood… it’s such a diverse neighborhood socioeconomically and racially, with a lot of young families, a lot of young artists living here. I feel like it’s still got a historic feel and it hasn’t changed a ton in the past few years,” she says.

“We are really excited to bring something that is much desired to the neighborhood and we’ve met with neighbors at Creston Neighborhood Association that have given us lots of great ideas for what they’d like to see in a coffee shop and we hope to just really make a community gathering space, a place that everyone in the Creston Neighborhood can go to where it feels like home.” 

Visit Boop de Boom Coffee Lounge on Facebook to learn more or stay in the loop with its progress leading up to opening later this year. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Boop de Boom Coffee Lounge 

Local First announces inaugural 2018 Good for Grand Rapids awards

After a year that many Grand Rapids communities can mark by an unprecedented rise in downtown redevelopment and urban renewal efforts, it’s hard not to watch the introduction of so many new brewpubs and boutiques and wonder which of these businesses can offer something uniquely valuable, and what it takes to create the kind of venture that is, simply put, good for Grand Rapids.

Though there’s no one, simple solution to community-based sustainable growth, the Good for Grand Rapids campaign by nonprofit Local First is committed to navigating the many more complex avenues through which local businesses can help build thriving communities. With nearly 100 area businesses joining the Good for Grand Rapids campaign over the past year, the organization is celebrating those taking steps toward making a more positive community impact with its first-ever Good for Grand Rapids Awards, slated for March of 2018. 

Hannah Schulze is Program and Fund Development Manager for Local First and says that with over a decade of working with locally-owned businesses under its belt and handfuls of research studies to back it up, the nonprofit knows one thing for sure—locally-owned businesses are more likely to be vested in the way their operations impacts their surroundings. 

“We know that that locally-owned businesses tend to be more holistically sustainable than their non-local counterparts,” Schulze says. “Because if you live in the same place where you own your businesses, you’re going to steward your environment and treat your employees well and give back to that community more than if you owned a business halfway across the country and weren’t there to see those community results on a day-to-day basis.” 

As of the Dec. 1 deadline, any business to complete the 60-minute online Quick Impact Assessment became eligible for consideration to be selected as winner in any of the Good for Grand Rapids Awards categories: Best for the Environment, Best for the Employees, Best for the Community, and a fourth “governance” category for those businesses with a more mission-based approach. 

Based on the Quick Impact Assessment—which is designed to measure dozens of best practices on employee, community, and environmental impact that can be stacked up against other businesses on a national scale—the 2018 awards ceremony will select the top two performers in each of the four categories to receive an award. At the March 2018 ceremony, Schulze says Local First leaders will also talk more about what the 2018 Good for Grand Rapids campaign will look like, and encourage those businesses to retake the QIA each year so the organization can begin to build progress benchmarks that only further the shared learning experience.

While the QIA is completely free and totally confidential, businesses can opt to share their “impact cloud” information with Local First, which then aggregates that information against all of the other area businesses and subsequently builds a workshop calendar based on all of the gaps the organization is seeing where businesses need to improve. 

Schulze says every month from May until November, Local First will host a workshop based on those QIA improvement areas,  partnering with the city of Grand Rapids and over a dozen other chambers of commerce and community leadership organizations to find the right experts that help make the programming happen.

In 2017, Local First’s “Measure What Matters” series featured topics like energy efficiency, employee benefits, board of director demographics, and mission/inclusivity statements, and Schulze says in 2018, the organization expects its base of shared knowledge and support to continue to grow and create even more meaningful and valuable opportunities to engage with one and other. 

“Overall, it’s going to help Grand Rapids to continue to grow and it’s going to help Grand Rapids attract talent, which is helpful for everyone,” she says. “The goal is to grow in an inclusive way that helps build wealth for everyone in our communities.” 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Local First 

Fulton Square gears up for full house in 2018

Whether it’s the on-site parking, the low-risk rental costs, or just a fondness for the surrounding neighborhood she’s long called home, owner and operator of the new Ada Mae clothing and accessories boutique says her new retail space in Suite B of Fulton Square is fitting in quite nicely. 

“Our space is beautiful, small, and efficient, so we’re not dealing with a huge overhead,” says Jessica Smith, a longtime resident of Fulton Heights and former manager of East Hills’ Global Infusions. “…The reception has been great and I am so excited to get to know the neighborhood.”

Located at 1 Carlton Avenue, Ada Mae features a selection of unique, handmade clothing and accessories by designers from the US and Europe, with an emphasis on small independent lines, including many hyper-local brands exclusive to Grand Rapids. 

“On behalf of Orion Real Estate Solutions and our project partners, we warmly welcome Ada Mae to Fulton Square. Jessica and her, team have put in the hard work and we wish her success in her new space, ” says Jason Wheeler, spokesperson for Orion Real Estate Solutions, who says Ada Mae works with Fulton Square’s mixed-use structure and local clientele. 

Touted by Orion as a “housing solution for graduate students, young professionals, and college administration” designed to serve as a neighborhood social hub, the mixed-used development features 47 market-rate apartments — all of which have already been leased — Fulton Square also brings three ground-floor retail shops and a restaurant space to a location that almost literally straddles the line between the Fulton Heights and Eastown neighborhoods. 

“….We have great synergy amongst the incoming retailers entering the development that really breathes the life into the ground floor at Fulton Square,” says Wheeler, whose company announced its fourth and final commercial tenant just yesterday, welcoming the locally owned E & L Salon into a space adjacent to Ada Mae’s 991-square-foot retail bay. 

“We are so excited to be welcoming this healthy mix of retailers, risk-takers, and community-minded business owners to Fulton Square,” Wheeler says. “We just welcomed Ada Mae last week and now we’re preparing to move in E & L Salon into the adjacent space. This is another group of brilliant women with a vision for their business, a love for the neighborhood, and a business offering that compliments the overall offering at Fulton Square.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Real Estate Solutions 

Elliott’s News returns to downtown Grand Rapids on McKay Towers renovated ground floor

It’s been about a year since Elliott’s News was forced to closed at its former 50 Monroe Place location, driven out by extensive renovations to the building and closed for business until recently, when longtime owner Bill Bennett announced the newsstand’s reopening in the lobby of downtown Grand Rapids’ McKay Tower.

“We are excited to be back in business,” Bennett says. “I still believe there is a need for our services. It just feels natural to be in downtown. The McKay Tower folks made a good deal for me to return, so I’m eager to get back to it.”

Occupying nearly 900 square feet on the first floor of the landmark McKay Tower in a recently renovated space next to Freshii, the new Elliott’s space contains an original Grand Rapids National Bank vault from the building’s first tenants, and offers the majority of the same items sold at the previous 50 Monroe location.

Bennett says that although the new space is a little bit smaller than the previous 1,200-square-foot 50 Monroe digs, he’s outfitted the store with new magazine racks and other equipment and doesn’t anticipate the smaller footprint affecting his selection.

Still adding inventory and awaiting installation on the store’s credit card processing and Michigan Lotto Machines, Bennett says he and his team are still putting finishing touches on the space and that the store is about “65 percent stocked.”

About 150 years old in total, Elliott’s newsstand has occupied space in a now-demolished building where Rosa Park Circle sits, and was also previously located at the former Greyhound Bus terminal.

“Elliott’s has been an institution in downtown before any of us were alive and before this building was even named McKay Tower,” says Laura Miller, McKay Tower property manager. “As well, Bill knew there was still demand for his operation and retirement wasn’t yet calling his name.”

Current store hours are Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.


Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Elliott’s News


One year after devastating fire, Rising Grinds Cafe reopens in Madison Square

One year and one day after its original building at 1530 Madison Ave. was lost in a fire, Rising Grinds Cafe is reopening at its new and improved LINC space on 1167 Madison Ave. 

Described as a community-based social enterprise cafe, Rising Grinds Cafe provides job opportunities for young residents in the Madison Square neighborhood, aiming to empower young adults with these employment and training opportunities through meaningful work and community partnerships with organizations including Bethany Christian Services, Building Bridges Professional Services, Double O Supply and Craftsman, and Tabernacle Community Church.

Justin Beene is founder and director of the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, which is comprised of the organizations listed above, and says that the fire at Rising Grinds Cafe one year ago was heartbreaking for both the young people who were designing and building it, and those set to work there.

“We have faced and overcome this major setback and now are ready to move forward with the project and be an inspiration in the neighborhood,” he says. “We have added new partners, a great menu and have created over eight sustainable jobs with this venture.”

Completed by neighborhood young and contractors, the renovated kitchen and eating area features furniture provided by Steelcase, complete with free WiFi. The new space also includes a renovated outside eating area for the summer months. The new Rising Grinds Cafe features both a breakfast and lunch menu with coffee drinks designed in partnership with Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. 

All of Rising Grinds Cafe’s youth employees with receive ServSafe Managerial Certification and an additional customer services and sales credential through the National Retail Federation, and the cafe will work very closely with Bethany Christian Services to continue to provide youth with other support services. 

“We are so thankful to all the staff, partners, and community members who have supported us and who have been present with us in our time of loss, encouraging us to get back on our feet to keep this dream alive,” Beene says. “Truly, we are living our name, Rising Grinds, as we rise out of the ashes.”

To learn more about Rising Grinds Cafe or the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, visit www.rgcafe.org or www.grcct.com/about/#partners

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Rising Grinds Cafe

Swedish tech company Configura celebrates final expansion in Blue35 office space

Alongside customers, local community leaders, and executives from both its Swedish headquarters and two Asia offices, the Swedish tech company Configura celebrated the expansion of its downtown Grand Rapids offices with a grand opening event earlier this month. 

Maker of the CET Designer software, Configura was founded its original Sweden headquarters in 1990, only beginning to lay down roots in Grand Rapids in the early 2000s when company leadership began looking at cities throughout Midwest to establish a new North American presence. 

While company leaders considered locations in Wisconsin and Illinois, as well as Michigan, it was The Right Place CEO Birgit Klohs who helped them settle on Grand Rapids, touting the city’s rich history as a furniture industry capital with potential for growth into other sectors as a common-sense move toward larger goals of operational growth. 

Johan Lyreborn is CEO of Configura and says Grand Rapids is his company’s second home.  

 “We’re proud to have a major presence in this city and to be close to the world’s largest office furniture makers as well as manufacturers in other global industries,” he says. “We’ve created a space that’s a pleasure to be in –designed to attract and retain the best talent – a space that’s great for productivity, interaction and relaxation for our employees and guests.”

Led by Sweden native and Vice President Peter Brandinger, Configura opened its Grand Rapids office in 2006 with a total of just five employees -- including Brandinger, three other Swedish staff members, and two new hires they made upon arrival to the states. Operating out of an office located at 100 Grandville Ave. over the past decade, the Grand Rapids team has grown to a staff of 40 employees, prompting company leaders to relocate to a larger space with more potential for expansion last spring in the nearby Blue 35 building on Oakes Street. 

Using its own space-planning software, CET Designer, to design its new 12,000-square-foot space, the project’s lead designer Kendra Steinhaus began the planning process with a few rounds of small, casual employee meetings to give the staff a chance to talk about what kind of space they wanted to see come together. 

“Although we’re the developers of CET Designer, it’s not every day that we use the software ourselves to design and bring an entire space to life. Using CET Designer to create our new office space helped me see how our users experience the software,” says Steinhaus, adding that the software was particularly useful during those small group meetings, or “design charrettes,” because it allowed for real-time collaboration. 

With its recent expansion opening up the final two floors of the Blue35 building, the top floor of the new space is now home to marketing, sales, human resources, and finance teams along with a large communal kitchen and relaxation area. Research and development, along with training and support functions, are housed in the floor below that, and both floors feature big windows with lots of natural light afforded to the open-concept desk space. 

Configura’s new office space also features a rooftop deck on the outside, while its interior includes a large communal area with a full kitchen, soft seating, pool and ping-pong tables, a popcorn machine, darts, and a shuffleboard alongside a “quiet room” available for taking naps and for nursing mothers. 

“People need opportunities to step away from their work,” says Steinhaus. “They need fresh air and private spaces. And they need places to connect with one another we designed the new office to meet these needs.” 

For more information about Configura and its CET Designer software, visit www.configura.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor?
Images courtesy of Configura 


Related aritcles: 
Configura: A Swedish Company with a Grand Rapids Home

Swedish tech company Configura expands into GR’s Blue35 building with high-tech digs 

Custer, Inc. opens second tech-focused office on Hall St.

Last week, family-owned, full-service workplace design company Custer, Inc. announced the opening of its second office space at 320 Hall St. SW.

At 55,000 total square feet, the office will serve as the new home for Custer's audio visual technology department and a research and development lab for the AV Team, as well as offer an additional 45,000 square feet of warehouse space for the company's operations and distribution teams.

With multiple conference and collaborative settings, private offices and workstations, and a work cafe, Custer designers also made updates to the surrounding landscapes and parking lots.

Scott Custer, vice president of new ventures and investments at Custer says the new 320 Hall building demonstrates the company's continued growth and supports the expansion of its growing technology department and custom design services.

“We have been working hard all year adding finishing touches to the building and we are excited to share the new space with our employees, clients, and the community," he says.

"We want to thank our customers, employees, partners, and vendors who have all made our expansion possible.”

While Custer's headquarters located at 217 Grandville Ave. will continue to house its design, sales, and administration teams, the new Custer office building expands the company's technology capabilities to include video and audio conferencing, room scheduling, space utilization and analysis, interactive displays and whiteboards, content sharing, video walls, interactive signage, and more.

“At Custer, we make sure our clients across all industries have access to the latest workplace technology that supports collaboration and productivity,” says VP of Technology Trent Gooding. “The new office will allow us to serve even more clients, expand our technology offerings, and bring our technology team together in a collaborative space.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Custer, Inc.


 

New Wikiwiki Poke Shop and Oyster Bar brings unique flavors to quick service concept

Though the core menu feature of the new Wikiwiki Poke Shop is rooted in the popular Hawaiian poke bowl tradition, its owner Keith Allard says the restaurant’s concept aims for more versatility than just one island’s cuisine.

 

“We started out with whatever proteins we wanted to highlight and then started thinking about what ingredients are available year round and what will be the highest quality, but most sustainable things to get from our suppliers,” says Allard, who is preparing to open for business in a newly renovated space at 1146 Wealthy Street SE.

 

Meaning “to slice or cut” in Hawaiian, “poke” refers to chunks of raw, marinated fish that can be combined with a whole host of other ingredients, but is typically tossed over rice and topped with veggies and other seasonings or sauces.

 

At Wikiwiki Poke Shop, customers have the option to build their own bowl with customized proteins and toppings, or order try one of the signature recipes straight off the menu, handcrafted by the Wikiwiki kitchen staff.

 

“For example, we’d say, ‘what’s our favorite way to eat Tuna?’ and then work backwards from there,” he says. “We want to make sure the fish is always the centerpiece of the meal, but also be sure to compliment it with other flavors, too.”


 

However, the ease of customization and user-friendliness of the poke bowl is a big part of the allure for Allard, who appreciates the unique opportunity the cuisine affords in providing a quick but healthy option that doesn’t limit those with food allergies and other dietary restrictions the same way other fast-casual foods often do.
 

"You’re dealing with a product and type of food that’s naturally gluten-free and naturally dairy-free," he says, "There are so with food allergies or intolerances, or who are even just really focused on what goes into their food, in general, as a matter of health and wellness…I think (poke) is just very friendly for those who are conscious about those kinds of things, which is something that inspired me to explore this concept." 

 

Not that those kinds of foods are hard to find in Eastown. As a resident himself, Allard says he loves how robust the neighborhood’s restaurant scene has become, but saw an opportunity to create the kind of place he’s always wanted to have close to home -- a low-key lunch and dinner spot where quick and speedy service can afford customers more accessibility to the kind of versatile, chef-inspired flavors that can be harder to find among other healthy meal options.

So, when Allard starting hearing about all kinds of quick-stop poke places popping up along the West Coast and then eventually moving inward to cities like Chicago and Madison, Wisc., he thought bringing a similar concept to Grand Rapids seemed like a no-brainer.

 

“I saw it and it just clicked for me:this is the kind of food I’d love to eat and have available on a regular basis as a quick lunch or just a healthy dinner type option,” he says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it and eventually grew into a business here.”

 

A former candidate for Michigan’s House of Representatives back in 2014, Allard left behind his career in politics to chase after a career in cooking full-time, driven ultimately to choose a passion that felt more organic to him, and certainly less complicated.

 

“I always liked cooking and so aside from my full-time job, at night, I had a second full-time job just cooking in restaurants in Grand Rapids,” says Allard, eventually earning a spot as manager for a few of the venues he worked at, including Fishlads in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. “I decided I don’t like being part of politics — working in kitchens is a lot less messy — so I decided to take that up as my full-time career.”

 

While Allard says he wants some of the interior’s aesthetic highlights to remain a surprise for opening day—including the specifications of a 40-foot-long hand-painted mural stretching along the back wall of the restaurant—he did say customers won’t find much reclaimed wood or exposed beams in his new space.

 

Designed with a clean, modern edge, Allard drew his inspiration from a visit to the Shed Aquarium with his fiancé, where he was struck by a vibrant exhibit featuring a jellyfish backlit by various colored spotlights and black lights.

 

“Just the way the jellyfish contrasted with the colors and that sense of movement—those pictures are what I showed our interior and graphic designers and said I want to try and capture that,” he says.

 

Because Wikiwiki is still waiting on final clearances from the Kent County Health Department, he can’t give an exact opening date quite yet, but says he intends to hit the ground running sooner rather than later sometime this fall.

 

“In colloquial Hawaiian, Wikiwiki means ‘quick’ or ‘speedy,’” Allard says, “so we want our restaurant to be that place for people who want a fast lunch or dinner spot where they don’t have to wait long, or call ahead—we definitely want to make sure to preserve that quickness in our service.”

 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
 

Images courtesy of Wikiwiki Poke Shop & Oyster Bar

 

New Kent County nonprofit launches public-private pilot program for improving foster care outcomes

The brainchild of five private Kent county foster care agencies and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the new non-profit West Michigan Partnership for Children launched earlier this week at its new 213 Sheldon Avenue SE headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids.

Operating as a consortium under a five-year pilot program that is the first of its kind in the state of Michigan, the WMPC was at least five years in the making and forged around one central question posed by both the state’s MDHHS and the private foster care systems it partners with — how can we improve outcomes for the kids in foster care?

Kristyn Peck is CEO of the new WMPC, and says although she came aboard more recently back in April, the MDHHS and the five private foster care partners—Bethany Christian Services, Catholic Charities of West Michigan, D.A. Blodgett-St. Johns, Samaritas, and Wellspring Lutheran Services—have spent approximately five years working together to evaluate other models throughout the U.S. and look at the ways those states were able to transform and improve outcomes for children in their own foster care systems.

Unique in its consortium model, WMPC was created as a new non-profit charged with implementing the state-funded pilot program, with the private foster care agencies essentially acting as subcontractors who provide direct services while the WMPC serves its role as the fiscal agent.

"WMPC will evaluate partners agencies on performance and look at how we can bring more resources to these kids and families, whether that means identifying additional community services we can bring into the home to keep child with their parents or looking at what additional support foster parents need so they can support kids in the meantime while we’re looking at more permanent solutions,” says Peck.

She says performance-based funding models like the one being piloted by the WMPC were identified through collaborative research as one of the core ingredients to achieving successful outcomes for families and children in foster care.

“Prior to October 1, the state paid the county the same amount of money per child for each day that child was in foster care, regardless of that child’s outcomes or the length of time they were in care,” Peck says. “Now the state is basically front loading the funding through the WMPC.”

Now, the WMPC will get most of the average cost per child in the first year of care, while the funding amount dramatically decreases over each passing year, acting as an incentive for the WMPC and partner organizations to take a closer look at each child entering into their care and build strong case plans that evaluate and explore all possible ways a child can be moved into a permanent home more quickly.

Data-driven decisions making was determined as another major component for improving outcomes for kids in foster care systems. For WMPC, this means implementing new predictive analytic software, which will collect data from each child served by WMPC every night to identify recurring patterns. Based on patterns found in the data, the software can then create different kinds of algorithms that can then be used by the WMPC to aid in predicting outcomes for the kids with certain shared identifiers and create case plans accordingly.

Though Peck says WMPC will gather enough data for more personalized goal-setting for each individual agency, right now, the goal of the WMPC in the broadest sense is to decrease the amount of time children spend in child welfare and increase the number of children reunified with family or relatives whenever safe and possible. 

Yesterday, WMPC hosted its official launch party in the greenhouse space at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, hearing presentations by local leaders and celebrating the birth of a unique program made possible by what Peck calls a “true private-public partnership.”

“It’s really our chance to celebrate our launch and really thank the amazing partnerships we have in place here in Kent County and statewide that have made this successful,” she says. “It’s been a long-time coming and it’s required a lot of educating and research on best practices and advocating from Kent County to the state to be chosen as the site to pilot this great model.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of West Michigan Partnership for Children

Sanctuary Folk Art Gallery retires from South Division

Nine years before Grand Rapids’ first ArtPrize, Reb Roberts and Carmella Loftis were nurturing a blossoming art community in their Sanctuary Folk Art Gallery on South Division. Since then, the duo have represented dozens of formerly unknown outsider artists, organized countless shows and art fairs, and have completed hands-on collaborative projects with well over 100 community and nonprofit organizations. Now, after eighteen years, Roberts and Loftis are opening a new chapter—and saying goodbye to their beloved gallery space in Heartside. "It’s time for us to make way for others to create something new,” says Roberts.

Since opening in 1999, Roberts recalls being one of a very small number of businesses operating downtown. “We were down here before Cooley [Law School], before the Douglas J. Aveda School, before all those. I think San Chez was already down here—but that was it. You could literally see tumbleweeds blowing down Commerce and Ionia.”

While many things have changed since before Y2K—ArtPrize has come to town, the Downtown Market has come to Heartside, Ionia and Commerce are now booming retail corridors—others have remained very much the same. Working with the transient and homeless population that inhabits South Division has been a daily part of Roberts and Loftis’ lives for the last nearly two decades, and while they’ve watched the rest of the city boom around them, the number of homeless, transient, addicted, and mentally ill individuals who traverse South Division on a daily basis has remained the same—if not grown.

As residents of the area, Roberts and Loftis have had a firsthand view of the nuances of the situation.

“I’ve run into hundreds of [adult foster care clients] over the years,” Roberts says. “Who actually aren’t technically homeless—but they have nowhere else to go during the day. Do they have their proper meds with them? Do they have proper clothing for the weather? Not always.”

To Roberts, the barriers that keep these individuals from receiving the housing, healthcare, and social services they need are far from insurmountable. “These are all things that can change. All these things can be addressed.”

Loftis, one of the many outsider artists whose work has blossomed under the gallery’s curation over the years, has a background in mental health advocacy, which is clearly reflected in the organizations with which she and Roberts have collaborated over the years. From Wedgewood to Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, there are few mental health organizations in town who haven’t worked with Roberts and Loftis at one point or another.

Schools, likewise, have collaborated with Sanctuary Folk Art Gallery, as well as local churches, music festivals, foundations, art councils—the list goes on and on.

The gallery’s work, like its location, has relished in being off-the-beaten-path. Roberts defines his preferred “folk art” genre as going “beyond a lack of formal training. It’s this innate drive to create work. It’s people doing work for the people. It’s rural, it’s urban, it’s hand-painted storefront signs, it’s quilting—it’s the sidewalk of art. Everybody can walk on it.”

Folk art, Roberts says, taps into something primal in our humanity, which transcends the boundaries of style and technique that exist in more formal genres.

“Whether you think I’m an artist or not, it doesn’t matter,” Roberts says. “Call it naive, untrained, whatever. It’s as real as those ancient cave paintings. It gets the point across.”

Roberts sees the similarities and repeating patterns in the imagery of folk art across human history as no coincidence.

“Whether it’s quilting or cave paintings, those tribal images and patterns have travelled through history. There was something that was traveling through the ether. It started somewhere, and it traveled on the vehicle of common consciousness.”

Loftis, who recently wrapped up her first solo exhibit as a Forest Hills Fine Arts Center artist in resident, offers a nearly perfect example of Roberts’ philosophy about folk art, as her work is rich with allusion, repetition, and native imagery. Some of Roberts’ work could, on the right day, be mistaken for hand-painted business signs—and it’s easy to get the sense that he kind of likes it that way.

“When you meet those [outsider artists] you’re drawn to—their vision is always different, but the drive is there. They’ll get tired, or discouraged, but they could care less about the critics.”

After closing the gallery’s doors at the end of October, Roberts and Loftis will likely find new studio space for their own work, but Roberts says they’re not likely to find another gallery space anytime soon. Roberts and Loftis’ collaboration with local organizations, artists, and art fairs, however, isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon—which means their outsider artwork, and the spirit of folk art that they’ve cultivated, will linger here in Grand Rapids for another two decades—and hopefully long after.

Marjorie Steele is a poet, journalist, publisher, and boomerang West Michigander. Currently teaching at KCAD of FSU, Marjorie’s works can be found at medium.com/@creativeonion and cosgrrrl.com.

Photos courtesy of Marjorie Steele of artwork by Carmella Loftis.

Read Muskegon's new literacy center hopes to mark beginning of new era for downtown Muskegon Heights

Celebrating the grand opening of its Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center next week, the nonprofit organization Read Muskegon will be joined by the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce and members of the Muskegon Heights community for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Beginning at 11 a.m. on October 25, the ribbon cutting event will take place outside of the new literacy center, located at 26 E. Broadway in Muskegon Heights, and feature special guests that include Muskegon Heights Mayor Kimberly Sims and John Severson, Presidents of the Muskegon Area Independent School District, for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

With a mission to "increase the quality of life in Muskegon County through improved literacy," the new Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center will act as a countywide hub for literacy that focuses on providing programming for adult and family literacy, such as classes to increase job readiness, early literacy, and English language skills.

Other services include one-on-one tutoring sessions, literacy-based play and learn groups for low literacy parents and children ages 0-5, a six-week long literacy-based healthy cooking workshop for parents and children ages 0-5, drop-in literacy lab tutoring, and a family reading corner.

Though the literacy center has been hosting some of the new programming in the space throughout its summer-long interior renovation, Read Muskegon President Melissa Moore says next week's event not only marks the official grand opening of the literacy center, but also a larger milestone for the misunderstood and underutilized commercial corridors of downtown Muskegon Heights.

As the first organization to partner with the Muskegon Heights Downtown Development Authority, Moore says by moving its programs and administrative offices to the new downtown site, Read Muskegon also brings along its volunteers and partners, which allows them to see the city and its emerging opportunities firsthand.

"Opening a literacy center that is accessible to many of our learners with the most critical needs has been at the core of Read Muskegon's long-term planning," Moore says. "We are excited about all of the opportunities that relocating to the heart of the Muskegon Heights downtown brings with it."

The Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center is open to the public from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and from noon - 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For more information on Read Muskegon, the Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center, or the October 25 ribbon cutting, visit Read Muskegon online or find the organization here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Read Muskegon


Grain Sandwich Shops brings quick-stop lunch option to Grand Rapids’ Westside

For the better part of a decade now, Alex and Sy Wilkening have been careful to build their savings, putting away money from their day jobs as a computer programmer and career bartender/manager, respectively, to build a dream that’s been 10 years in the making. 

“It got to the point where we’d wake up and say, you know, ‘another day another dollar, back to the grind,” says Alex, who met his wife Sy in the restaurant business years back. “We just got sick of saying that, and you can only wake up and dread going to your day job for [so] long.” 

As of Oct. 7, the Wilkenings dream has finally become a reality with the grand opening of Grain Sandwich Shop, located on the Grand Rapids’ Westside at 812 Butterworth Street. 

Leasing the 1000-square-foot storefront from Bluefin Ventures, the Wilkenings partnered with Grand Apps for the their logo and website design—a clean and minimal aesthetic that matches the interior of their news digs. 

“We wanted it to feel comfortable and simple, almost like a minimalistic feel, but still very warm. There are some natural brick tones and a lot of natural wood in the space. It’s homey, industrial, and shabby chic all at the same time,” says Alex, adding that he wanted to bring a much-needed quick lunch option to the Westside neighborhood that felt comfortable, with he and Sy as the accessible owners and chefs working behind the counter in an open kitchen concept. 

“It’s designed to be very inviting and customer forward,” he says. 

After signing the lease on the space in March, they took over the interior as a “white box,” or completely blank slate, and Alex handled most of the renovation himself to cut down on costs. 

He says he and Sy chose to open their sandwich shop on the Westside not only to fill a gap in an underserved market, but also because of a kinship they feel with the residents and community members who live, work, and shop there. 

“We’ve had a bunch of experiences with the west side throughout our young lives,” he says, including a house they used to own by Richmond Park and close friends they have who have grew up on the Westside. “It’s a place with genuine people who are super friendly and super nice. There’s a Midwestern friendliness attached to them and they’re approachable—that’s what we like about it and we wanted to support a neighborhood that’s friendly and likable and would in turn support us and create that relationship with the community.” 

Serving all Michigan-made food products—including Nantucket Bread, Visser Farms produce, Sobie Meats, and Grilla Grills sauce and dry rub, the menu consists of eight sandwiches with “seasonal flare and regional flavors.” 

Alex says he also wants to be sure to recognize Two Scotts BBQ, who met with him on a few occasions to help guide he and Sy through the process of building a successful business. 

Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday’s grand opening event was met with success, with the husband and wife team pushing out around 225 sandwiches on their first operational day.

“It was really more than we expected, to be honest—the outpour of support from friends and family and the rest of the neighborhood was really quite incredible,” he says. 

For more information on Grain Sandwich Shop, visit www.eatgrain.com or find Grain Sandwich Shop on Facebook. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Grain Sandwich Shop 

Plans for new zip line to transform Muskegon Winter Sports Complex to year-round facility

With hopes of soon being transformed into a year-round facility, The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex has partnered with the Muskegon Sports Council and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to launch a $50,000 matching campaign with a deadline set for Nov. 13. 

The campaign, offered through the Michigan-based Patronicity crowdfunding platform, will support the construction of a dual mega zip line at the sports complex within Muskegon Start Park, with continued phases of developing including a canopy tour, rock climbing wall, and sports pavilion to follow. 

“For over 30 years the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, located in Muskegon State Park, has been providing recreation in the form of luge, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating,” says Muskegon Winter Sports Complex’s Executive Director Jim Rudicil, adding that the partnership with Patronicity and the MEDC provides the non-profit with a unique opportunity to extend its mission to year-round. 

The matching fund is part of the larger Public Spaces Community Places initiative, a collaborative effort between the MEDC, the Michigan Municipal League, and Patronicity which allows local residents to be part of the development of strategic projects in their communities via crowdfunding campaigns backed with MEDC matching funds. 

“Michigan residents and tourists look for recreational opportunities in all four seasons,” says Dan Gilmartin, CEO and Executive Director of the Michigan Municipal League. “Adding a zip line to Muskegon’s Winter Sports Complex will make it an inviting destination all year long.” 

Likewise, Rudicil says the new zip line will serve as an anchor for expanded facilities and programming in non-winter months as well as add an extra teaching component to the sports complex’s offerings. 

“The construction of these zip lines will also incorporate an educational component, teaching users about the unique ecosystem created by the protected dunes along Lake Michigan,” he says. “In the same spirit that built the winter complex three decades ago, we are beyond excited to partner with the MEDC and join again with the greater community to bring this exciting place making opportunity to Muskegon County residents and visitors alike.”

For more information, visit the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex’s Patronicity page online at https://www.patronicity.com/project/zip_lines_at_muskegon_winter_sports_complex#!/.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Muskegon Winter Sports Complex/AE Progressive 

WMCAT’s new HQ to act as non-profit anchor of West Side development project in growing neighborhood

As part of an ongoing $8.5 million Leave Your Mark fundraising campaign, the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT) gathered with community members at the end of last month to celebrate with a groundbreaking ceremony of their new West Side facility.

Speakers at the event included Meijer, Inc. chairman Hank Meijer, WMCAT Executive Director Daniel Williams, and remarks by students from both the Teen Arts + Tech program and the WMCAT Adult Career Training Program, which aims to offer new avenues for underemployed adults to find income security through tuition-free education and career preparation. 

During the event, guests were also encouraged to contribute messages for a hand-crafted time capsule, with an open invitation for students and community members to make their own contributions throughout the year. The capsule will be displayed in the new headquarters after its fall 2018 grand opening.

Located on the third floor of a new Rockford Construction development at 601 First St. NW, the new headquarters will act as the non-profit anchor for a block where more new development projects—including plans for Meijer's new Bridge St. grocery store—are forthcoming. 

"We could not be more thrilled to welcome WMCAT to the West Side," says Rockford Construction CEO Mike VanGessel. "Access to quality education and training opportunities is a critical part of a healthy neighborhood. This will be a wonderful addition to support our current and future neighbors.”

At 22,000 square feet, its new headquarters will nearly double the size of its current space at 98 E. Fulton Street and allow for increased support of both its teen and adult programs as well as the expansion of social enterprise opportunities offered through WMCAT’s commercial screen printing business Ambrose, where young adults can gain real-world experience in early college years through apprenticeship. 

“WMCAT is really excited to join our new neighbors on the West Side in providing equitable access to opportunity for teens and adults,” says Williams. “The project not only allows us to strengthen and grow our impact, but it positions WMCAT to make significant contribution to a dynamic neighborhood.”

To learn more about West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology programming, or its new West Side headquarters and the Leave your Mark fundraising campaign that made it possible, visit www.wmcat.org

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of WMCAT on Facebook 

Upon retirement, Joe Erhardt looks to Ben Wickstrom to lead family-owned construction co. as new CEO

In 1975, when he was just 16 years old, Joe Erhardt began working for his father, Larry Erhardt Sr.’s, contracting and construction management company, Erhardt Construction. Now, after 42 years total years of service—31 of which were spent at the helm—Joe Erhardt announced his retirement as chairman and CEO of Erhardt Construction, effective Dec. 31. 

Come the New Year, Erhardt will transition into an advisory role, acting chairman of its advisory board. 

Longtime Erhardt President, Ben Wickstrom, will take over as CEO and the largest shareholder of the company, while current vice president Taggart Town will also acquire ownership of the firm, both leadership moves part of a larger eight-year succession plan put in motion by Erhardt to transfer leadership and majority ownership to Wickstrom.

“After 42 years of active involvement, the time has come to formally step back and allow the next generation of leadership to continue to grow the company and lead it into an exciting future,” Erhardt says, adding that he “couldn’t be more thrilled” with how seamless the transition over the past eight years has been. 

“My goal through this succession has been to ensure that continued success of Erhardt Construction as a positive contributor to our community and an employer that provides good work opportunity to so many great people and families,” he says. “It’s a clear sign to me that the next generation of leadership is well prepared to lead the company for years to come.”

After graduating with a degree in civil engineering from Michigan Technological University, Wickstrom, now 42, started at Erhardt Construction as a n assistant project manager in 1998, becoming its vice president in 2006, executive vice president in 2009, and finally president of the company in 2011. 

As part of his new CEO role, Wickstrom has elevated two other Erhardt executives to join him on the new leadership team -- Ryan Formsma, project development director, and Stan Elenbaas, senior estimator. 

A licensed residential builder, Formsma has more than 23 years of experience in the construction industry and leads the company’s client relations. Elenbaas, a graduate of the construction management program at Ferris State University and LEED accredited professional, has been at Erhardt for the past 21 years and in the business for more than 30.

“I have respect, appreciation and gratitude to Joe Erhardt and Larry Erhardt for the opportunity I’ve been given over the past two decades,” Wickstrom says. “I have been blessed to work for a great company with great people. Now to have the opportunity to continue to lead the company as an owner, along with our team, is humbling and exciting.”

Based in West Michigan, the general contractor, construction management, and design-build firm services commercial, education, worship, municipal, and heath care industry clients, and is behind some of Grand Rapids’ most recognizable buildings, such as the DeVos Place, the Van Andel Arena, Van Andel Institute, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Tower, and the Salvation Army Ray Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. 

Recently having finished restoration and renovations efforts for the historic St. Cecilia Music Center, Erhardt has also been behind several Spectrum Health building renovations at both its Butterworth and Blodgett campuses, and has built $105 million in LEED projects since 2006, beginning with the Aquinas College Hauenstein Library.

Wickstrom says though there have been some structural changes in ownership, the company itself will not immediately experience any major shifts in business operations, adding that he, Town, Formsma, and Elenbaas will continue to follow the examples set by Joe Erhardt and his father Larry as they move forward in new leadership roles at the company. 

“They instilled in all of us the guiding values and principles that set us a apart…We continue to look to the future to grow our business in a way that serves our community, our clients, and our employees and their families,” Wickstrom says. “We’ll always be a family company.”

For more information about Erhardt Construction or their past and current projects, visit www.erhardtcc.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Erhardt Construction  

Align Transit Improvement Study requests feedback for the Rapid

With the goal to capture feedback from both riders and non-riders of Grand Rapids’ public transportation system, The Rapid announced the launch of an online feedback tool called the Align Transit Improvement Study. With outreach and planning meetings having taken place in May of this year, the year-long project will help the public transit agency prioritize improvements over the next decade, with the public feedback period ending on Sept. 30.

Located online at http://aligntransit.org, the study is focused on supporting The Rapid’s short-range transit plan, identifying, analyzing and prioritizing a set of transit improvement recommendations to be made to the existing transit system.

The Rapid CEO Peter Varga says officials hope the study will identify ways to add to and improve the network, recommend land use and other policies and to help grow ridership and determine the improvements the public would like to see for the system.
“Public transportation is a vital part of Grand Rapids and its surrounding communities—whether you ride The Rapid daily, occasionally or have yet to try public transportation,” Varga says. “The Rapid has helped connect thousands of people across our community for years. The Align Study is an opportunity to work together and ‘align’ for better public transit in the metro region, so we encourage the public to engage with the short online feedback tool.”

The platform, which is mobile-friendly for all devices, features a variety of interactive exercises, including ranking enhancement priorities, and an interactive map for participants to place comments that provide specific locations where those enhancements are most important.

Because the study is not tied to any specific funding initiatives, there is no guarantee any changes will be made. However, the Rapid will use this as an opportunity to collect feedback to help ensure growing demand and to keep pace with changing regional growth patterns. The Align Transit Improvement study hopes to accomplish everything from enhancing transit services that provide competitive options to congested roadways to providing safe and equitable access to The Rapid network, thus supporting urban revitalization and economic development.

“The Align study is important to The Rapid because it will hone in on service enhancements that are desired by the community, especially for our employment-based riders,” says The Rapid’s strategic planning manager Conrad Venema, who doubles as the Align Study leader.

“The Rapid realizes that as the community grows, it’s vital for our transit system to adapt to the changing needs of users. The Align study will help The Raid achieve its goal of providing safe and equitable service that connects people to jobs, promotes economic development and offers a first-class transit experience.”

Click here to provide your feedback and take the Align Transit Improvement Study.

Images courtesy of The Rapid.

Artisan Flowers in Ada leaves historic ‘Little Red Schoolhouse’ for new space

After 14 years of operating out of Downtown Ada’s iconic “Little Red Schoolhouse” in the Thornapple River Shopping Plaza, boutique flower shop Artisan Flowers has moved into suite 115 of the nearby and newly constructed building at 425 Ada Drive, located just south of Fulton.

The move, as part of a larger overall redevelopment of Ada Village, comes after the Little Red Schoolhouse was purchased by Cheri DeVos, daughter of Amway founder Richard DeVos, Sr. According to plans announced following the July 24 Downtown Development Authority meeting, DeVos plans to relocate the historic structure during construction and then return it with upgrades to the riverfront park area as a candy and ice cream store.

Daisy Rzesa, owners of Artisan Flowers, says the move from their home in they historic school house to a new location gave the shop an opportunity to stay in the village while still continuing to focus on high-end flower and event design.

“This is exciting to be a part of the new vision for Ada,” Rzesa says. “We’ve raised our family and built a successful business here that has allowed us to build incredible relationships.”

Rzesa, who relocated to Ada with her husband Scott in 2001, opened Artisan flowers in 2003. Before that, Rzesa got her start designing flower arrangements for locals and celebrities as a florist on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. There, she also graduated from the New York Botanical School of Floral and Design, completing a three-year design certification process to earn both AIFD and CFD accreditations from the American Institute of Floral Designers.

“My business has allowed me the privilege to create one-of-a-kind experiences with my floral designs and share in the lives of so many—whether through proms, weddings, birthdays, or other celebrations,” she says. “We look forward to our next new chapter.”

Artisan Flowers is open in its new location at 425 Ada Drive, suite 115 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Artisan Flowers/Daisy Rzesa


eAgile, Inc. to invest $4.3M in expanded operations, new hires at near-downtown GR facility

Earlier this month, economic developer The Right Place, Inc. and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced a $4.3 million investment by downtown Grand Rapids manufacturer eAgile, Inc.

The Grand Rapids-based Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) manufacturer, located near downtown at 1100 Hynes Ave., will spend the next three years expanding operations and making additional hires, staffing up at all levels, including administrative, sales, technicians, and skilled production labor.

“This expansion investment is almost entirely in machinery, equipment, and human resources. There will be very little building improvements made as part of the project,” says TRP spokesperson, Tim Mroz. 

The MEDC is supporting the expansion effort with the approval of a $300,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based cash grant, which Mroz says means that companies will only receive grant dollars when they meet agreed upon milestones for both new investment and jobs created. If the company does not meet its milestones, the approved grant dollars will not be not distributed.

“This is very different than most economic incentives in other states,” Mroz says. “Many state incentive programs provide large amounts of cash incentives up front in the hopes that a company’s commitment comes to fruition. Unfortunately, on those occasions when expansions don’t go as planned, those types of incentives put the company and the state on adversarial sides of the table with discussions involving ‘clawbacks’ and other legal and financial issues.” 

He says because the MEDC is a statewide organization, they rely on local entities like TRP to be a local expert in business retention, expansion, and attraction.

“Manufacturing today, around the country, is in a high-growth period,” Mroz says. “This makes our local retention and expansion work all the more important. We, The Right Place, have to continue meeting with and providing business growth support to our region’s companies to ensure they are not attracted away to another state.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of eAgile, Inc. and The Right Place 

Growing craft brewery expands into larger Ada taproom with food menu, more on-site brewing potential

Operating out of its original location at 418 Ada Drive until the end of this year, Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply in downtown Ada announced plans to relocate to a larger facility nearby when construction on the new 452 Ada Drive is complete.

"We have built a great following in Ada and look forward to helping make Ada a destination as we continue to support local events like Beers at the Bridge, Brats and Bonfires, and the Ada Chili Cook-Off,” says owner Matt Michiels, who opened Gravel Bottom in 2013. 

Located near the new Kingma’s Market on the corner of Ada Drive and Fulton Street, Gravel Bottom’s new digs will offer much more elbow room, totaling at 2,500 square feet with seating for 75 indoors and an additional 50 seats in its outdoor patio.

With an expanded on-tap selection and an all-new food menu, Gravel Bottom will also expand its hours of operation in the new building, offering quick lunches and small-plate food pairings for up to a dozen new taps. Michiels says the new space will also have extensive on-site brewing capacity, finally affording the space for equipment upgrades that will allow the craft brewers to experiment with more flavors and create new, innovative brews. 

“We are adding a small kitchen as well, which will allow us the opportunity to pair our beers with food and provide our customers with an enhanced craft beer experience,” Michiels says. 

Though details are still under wraps for plans hinting at further expansion, Michiels says Gravel Bottom is definitely expanding its operations and currently researching locations closer to downtown Grand Rapids. 

“I am excited to unveil even more details on our growing production plans in the next four to six weeks as they are put in place,” he says. “I look forward to sharing how they will enhance the Beer City experience.”

For more information, find Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply on Facebook, or visit www.gravelbottom.com.

Images courtesy of Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply

Teens design S. Division mural that will be featured in large-scale 2017 ArtPrize entry

A new mural is underway on the exterior of 106 S. Division in Heartside, the first brushstrokes made by teens from the Cook Arts Center Teen Leaders in the Arts program during Avenue for the Arts’ Aug. 4 First Fridays event. 

With the existing paint job old and chipping away, the UICA was already working with partners at Dwelling Place to repaint the wall, looking to members of the artist community there to gauge interest in help with designing something new. And when the UICA reached out to Cook Arts Center’s teen program, they jumped at the chance to do the project — as long as they could incorporate a larger aspect of community engagement. 

“We did what we always do with the teens in that program and we left it to them to decide, and they said, ‘yeah, we definitely want to do that and it sounds cool, but we want to do what we did before to make sure the people living in that neighborhood really like it,” says Steffanie Rosalez, Cook Arts Center program director, who then worked with staff from Avenue for the Arts and Dwelling Place to connect with local businesses and find ways to engage with residents both in and outside of the artist community. 

“I gave the kids context about the area and said, you know, there are a lot of artists who do live around here and will be in and out of the businesses around here, but there are also a lot of people who have lived here for a very long time in Dwelling Place apartments and surrounding areas who don’t typically have their voices heard,” Rosalez says. 

Using interactive table displays set up near the entrances to a few local businesses, the teens spent time introducing themselves and the project, getting input and hearing stories from whomever happened to walk by.

Rosalez says the time they spent in the neighborhood businesses, basically just hanging around and listening, allowed them to get a sense of the larger community as a whole without sacrificing the opportunity to connect with and hear from residents on a more individual level.

And the final design of the mural reflects exactly that — the many kinds of individuals who are strengthened by support from the community around them, sharing stories of redemption made possible thanks to the local organizations and support of those who want to help each other thrive. Depicting a colorful array of gears arching over an even more colorful and diverse group of people, neighbors also wanted to see the incorporation of symbols  to help represent the groups more specifically, with feminism, LGBT, homelessness, and disability just a few among the many. 

And while the mural, at its heart, provides a unique avenue for the group of teens to celebrate diversity and creativity outside of their comfort zones through engaging with the downtown community, a larger partnership between Cook Arts Academy and the UICA is raising the stakes. 

The final design will be printed on textiles and used as part of a larger-scale interactive art piece being entered in ArtPrize 2017 by nationally recognized visual artist Seitu Jones and the UICA. 

Titled “The Heartside Community Meal,” Jones’ time-based entry will take place on Sept. 23 and bring over 250 neighbors to Heartside Park to sit across from one another at the 300-foot-long table. There they will be served a “healthy, locally grown meal” with conversations that aim to illuminate issues of healthy food access in downtown Grand Rapids neighborhoods. 

Running the length of that 300-foot-table will be a fabric table runner featuring a print of the mural design currently being painted by the Cook Arts Center teens.

“They have been very dedicated,” Rosalez says, adding that the group stuck out three months of meetings, planning, and community outreach to get to the finalized mural design.  “It’s been a big commitment and I’ve been so impressed by them and how much they’re willing to give back to their community because they genuinely want to do something special. They’re an amazing group of kids.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Cook Arts Center

Taproot reboot: Eastown video production company rebrands

"I think there are 3 main reasons to do the rebrand," says Taproot Founder, Director, and Executive Producer Karl Koelling. After being in the biz in Grand Rapids for ten years, Koelling and company sought to double down on their boutique production company, and he outlined his motivations very simply:
  1. "We've grown and we've got more people on staff and this is a more unified direction,";
  2. it's an opportunity to broaden awareness of the company and widen their footprint, and
  3. it's "a chance to let them know that we are trying to up the game in terms of what we can bring in capabilities and client services."
Growing in staff from two to four over the past year, Taproot has grown its skill set. Last fall, Matthew Bouwense joined the team as lead editor, managing products in post-production. "[He was] was always the favorite guy," says Koelling, of this former freelancer. "[Bouwense is] great in concepts and helping develop projects, really just a core part of the team."

Koelling also hired animator Brent French, who works with the Taproot team three days per week. "Having someone in house who just fits with the team well…that can sync animation first…puts an extra layer of polish on things," says Koelling. "I don't always think animation first."

Koelling also solidified his work with Josh Carrasquillo, who joined the team as a producer, working in brand strategy and marketing. Carrasquillo, who previously worked with a smaller, social media content firm, is currently working to develop this for Taproot. "People are spending a lot more of their marketing dollars, it's so important in terms of building awareness," says Koelling.



In addition to staff, Taproot has expanded their equipment list, enabling them to complete most of their projects in house. They are also constantly improving their tech library in order to improve each video in post production.

When asked about expanding their client base or going after new industries, Koelling noted his desire to work more with universities and colleges, since they have enjoyed past working experiences in that niche. "Maybe we should chase that."

Though Taproot grows little by little, Koelling is proud of their size and capabilities. "We're not a huge company but we scale really well," he says.

New Noco Provisions offers regional classics from around the country

"We're very excited to be the latest edition of this specific corner of the city," says Patrick Kneese, general manager at Noco Provisions. Opening today, July 27, for happy hour and dinner, Noco Provisions is a new venture by Steve Millman, who heads up Northstar Commercial Real Estate.

Millman sought out Kneese for his twenty-year restaurant experience, and enticed him to move his family to Grand Rapids from Denver to craft the vision for the new restaurant. Chef Adam Watts also brings his experience to the team, having relocated from Boulder to GR five years ago. Kneese notes that the two were hired to "help contribute some fresh ideas to an already reputable restaurant and hospitality community."

Located at the former site of the Forest Hills Inn at the corner of Forest Hills Avenue and Cascade Road, the Noco team applied a "really cool, fresh design to an existing space," says Kneese, who adds that they only kept two existing walls in the renovation. "Everything is brand new," he says.

The menu is also a new creation, crafted to reflect and enhance "regional comfort classics" from around the country, like fried chicken with chorizo gravy, ahi tuna poke, and the humble burger. "Our burger is just fantastic," says Kneese. Noco will also offer vegan options like the Hoppin' Jane, a twist on the peasant dish Hoppin' John. "Chef Adam has done a wonderful take on it," adds Kneese.

Opening just for dinner at first, Noco will expand to brunch and lunch in a few weeks. With a fresh design and a focus on approachability, Knees and the team hope to fill a niche in the Forest Hills area. "We don't want to be the place you go to once a year, we want to be the place you go to a few times a week," he says.

Michigan native publishes YA beach novel

Michigan native Erin McCahan recently returned home to promote her new book, "The Lake Effect." Described as "A funny, bracing, poignant YA romance and coming-of-age for fans of Huntley Fitzpatrick, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and The Beginning of Everything," this novel is an exciting read for Michiganders or anyone in search of a fun, beachy getaway.

McCahan sat down with our editor to discuss her new book and writing career in this development news Q&A.

Tell me about your road to publishing. How and when did you publish your first book?

My road to publishing was like most people’s—long and rocky, with wrong turns, dead-ends and more than one meltdown. My very first agent turned out to be a con artist. Turns out she bilked thousands of writers out of millions of dollars and ended up in prison.

After that, it was a few years before I found another, legitimate agent, who tried for three or four years to sell a mainstream adult manuscript of mine. And I kept getting close, having small successes without the thing ever being published. It was optioned by a movie producer for a couple of years. It never became a movie, but the option was enough encouragement for me to keep writing.

Throughout that time, I was working as a youth minister, surrounded by 12- to 18-year-olds, and one day it occurred to me that I had a ton of fodder for novels right in front of me. So I wrote my first YA novel, found a new agent and sold the book in a relatively short amount of time.

Why YA? What attracts you to this particular genre?

It really was my work with teens that led me to it. Once I began reading all the really fabulous novels available—that weren’t when I was a teenager—I fell in love with it.

Do you perceive any challenges or benefits to forging your writing career while growing up in Ohio?

I grew up in landlocked Columbus, Ohio, wholly against my will. My father died young, and, after my mother re-married, my step-dad’s career took us to Columbus when I was nearly 5. Had I been accorded a vote at the time, it would have been a resounding no. Except we were Episcopalian, so that would have been, no, thank you. I’m from Grand Rapids, which is about 30 miles east of Grand Haven, where my family and I spent chunks of every summer even after we moved. My mother’s family had a cottage there. Even though I resided — and still reside—in Columbus —Michigan has always been home. It’s in my blood. Something about that lake. And for me, family and life’s experiences influence my writing more than location or anything else, really.

Any specific references to South Haven that the locals would recognize?

Yes, anyone who has been to South Haven will recognize North Beach, the snack bar, the drawbridge over the Black River, the town and South Pier Lighthouse.

What do you miss most about living in Michigan year round?

My grandparents first and foremost. Second, the lake. Every lake, but especially the Big Lake. It’s even gorgeous in the winter.

Any advice for would-be Michigan authors?

Don’t move! And please invite me up for the weekend. I’ll bring wine and sunscreen.

GR Poet Laureate & KFG Embark on National Poetry Tour

Two poets. Five months. A bevy of cities.

Utilizing poetry as the vehicle to explore the topic of mental health, recently named Grand Rapids poet Laureate Marcel 'Fable' Price and business partner and fellow poet KFG are about to embark on a nation-wide spoken-word poetry tour. Named, "The Unpacking Tour," the two poets aim to perform their poetry for audiences interested in mental health, spreading a message of self-confidence and self-care and inviting everyone to increase their mental health awareness.

"It's a pretty broad journey," says KFG, who notes that the tour will begin on the East Coast, and reach to Washington State. But why this specific message for such a broad audience? Excited to kick start another poetry tour (this is Price's second), but wanting their art to communicate an important message, the two poets sought a common thread.

"The two of us are different in very many ways," says KFG, but despite their differences, they are also very similar. The poet notes that they both had tumultuous childhoods, and were raised under various forms of abuse, leading them to experience mental health issues. "This is something that we're both really passionate about," says KFG.

KFG also feels that discussing these issues honestly is very important for both poets and the diverse groups they represent. "To have that kind of visibility for him as a black man, a biracial man and to have me as a queer, non-binary person to be translucent with our experiences [is important]," the poet adds. "Often have to keep those things shoved down just in order to survive."

KFG and Price will begin their tour in early August. Though they have settled on most of their performance locations, they are still seeking to fill a few gaps in the schedule. Most notably, KFG is excited to perform at the Green Mill in Chicago in September. "That is one of the longest standing, most historical spots for poetry…where poetry really began in America," the poet adds.

Finalizing plans for the trip and continuing her fundraising efforts, KFG can't wait to reach audiences with a positive message about mental health.

Most importantly, the poet wants to communicate, "There is strength through vulnerability."

To stay up to date on the tour, visit KFG or Price's Facebook pages.

To donate to their GoFundMe campaign, click here.

GVSU announces new medical building, warm design

Grand Valley State University is staking another large claim on Michigan's medical mile, with a recently approved $70 million expansion to their downtown Grand Rapids health campus. The building with saddle up to the existing Grand Valley's Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, providing a pair of state-of-the-art facilities.

"Demand has exceeded our ability to accept highly qualified students, and these two new buildings, right in the middle of the city's vibrant medical community, will provide exceptional opportunities for more students to attend Grand Valley and benefit from the unique combination of liberal education with professional training," said Provost Maria Cimitile in the July 14 press release. "This combination makes our graduates highly employable by area hospitals and medical facilities."

As the demand for medical and health studies increases, so does the competition. Right next door, Michigan State University hosts students at its College of Human Medicine, and just down the road, the completion of MSU's brand new $88 million Research Center is imminent. Universities with medical programs and health professionals are flocking to Grand Rapids, all to be part of the bourgeoning health scene.

With this new building, GVSU demonstrates its commitment to the field, and their prominence in the Grand Rapids area. What sets the university apart is the design of the new building, shown in the most recent renderings. In stark contrast to the existing Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, this new structure will exude a warm, inviting look. Sources at GVSU comment that this differing design is aimed at fitting the structure into the Midtown community, unlike the typical design of cold, sterile glass.

This attention to detail is particularly important in the neighborhood of Midtown, which has experienced a dizzying amount of development and change in the past few years.

And commitment to community is important, especially with $70.1 million, a total of 18 percent of GVSU's funding, is coming from the state of Michigan.

"It's incredibly gratifying for the Legislature to again recognize Grand Valley as the state's most efficiently managed university and our investment in our students and their promising medical careers," said John Kennedy, chair of the Grand Valley Board of Trustees in that same press release. "And the university achieves high performance while still keeping tuition lower than the majority of other public universities in the state. Students are graduating and employers are recognizing their talent. They're staying in Michigan and giving back to their communities."

New owners kick off what hopes to be a vibrant second act for DT Muskegon’s Smash Wine Bar & Bistro

When the original Smash Wine Bar & Bistro closed for business in August of last year, it wasn’t clear what would be done with the now emptied space it had occupied since October 2013—a storage room turned restaurant located in the basement level of downtown Muskegon’s historic Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts.
 
Although ownership of the restaurant changed hands shortly after its summer 2016 closing, President and CEO Chris McGuigan of the Muskegon County Community Foundation, which currently owns the Frauenthal Center, decided she wasn’t ready to give up on Smash quite yet. 
 
“She spoke with the new owners who then came up with a proposal for reopening Smash with some minor changes so that we could bring it back to downtown Muskegon,” says Annah Crow, marketing director for Smash Wine Bar & Bistro, which held a successful grand re-opening event on July 7 after testing the waters with a soft opening a few days prior on July 5.
 
Originally built in 1929, the Frauenthal Center for Performing Arts in downtown Muskegon is home to not only the historic Frauenthal Theater, but also the Beardsley Theater, Clark-Cannon Gallery, several meeting rooms, two rehearsal halls, and now in its basement level, Smash Wine Bar & Bistro.
 
Operating out of a basement area space originally intended for storage, the new Smash Wine Bar & Bistro has had a facelift since its first iteration. New owners at CNK Management have not only given the space an overall aesthetic makeover, but have also created more outdoor patio seating with additional seating available in the Frauenthal upstairs lobby on non-show nights. 
 
Crow says much of the renovation had to do with opening up and modernizing the space, installing things like a ceiling-to-floor water feature, blue-hued LED lights that run in a wave pattern along the length of the wall beside the staircase that leads down into Smash’s dining room, and a giant picture window between the kitchen and the guest dining area. 
 
“We installed a giant picture window there to try and help open up the kitchen space and connect it to the rest of the basement there, and it’s more interactive because you can see the chefs working and get a peek at all of the behind-the-scenes action,” says Crow. 
 
Crow says she is also excited about the addition of new Head Chef Char Morse, a Culinary Institute of Michigan graduate from the Muskegon area who is well-known locally for teaching classes at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market incubator kitchen, Kitchen 242, and her appearances on WZZM 13’s morning news show.  
 
Morse handcrafted Smash’s new menu from scratch using her own recipes, hoping to create fresh twists on old favorites, allowing customers to explore new flavors in something that feels more familiar. Menu options range from blackened shrimp tacos, glazed salmon and seared Ahi Tuna to prime rib and chicken pesto pasta, along with a full cocktail, beer, and wine menu.
 
“Bringing (Morse) in was huge for us because it’s one thing for us to create a new menu from pre-made stuff, but it’s a whole other thing to have a handmade, chef-inspired menu,” Crow says, adding that these updated classic dishes are also a great way to make the world of fine wine and dining more accessible to everyone.
 
She says while Muskegon is and always has been a destination city for its proximity to the lakeshore and it’s other unique qualities, it’s got a little bit of catching up to do when it comes to its food scene. 
 
“(In Grand Rapids) there are a lot of different choices and places to go, but here in Muskegon…we don’t have a ton of those nicer or more experimental restaurants in the area and we are really trying to fill that gap,” says Crow. “We want our restaurant to be an experience, to be somewhere that you can learn something new at every time you come in.”
 
Now officially open for business, Smash Wine Bar & Bistro’s summer 2017 hours are Monday-Thursday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, visit Smash Wine Bar & Bistro on Facebook or online at www.smashwinebar.com
 
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Smash Wine Bar & Bistro

TowerPinkster forges ahead with first-floor expansion of historic Heartside office space

Since 2013, when TowerPinkster moved its operations to the second floor of the former Junior Achievement building at 4 East Fulton Street, the architecture, engineering, and interior design firm poised itself with plans to grow. 
 
It didn’t take long for the TowerPinkster team to develop and implement its own three-year strategic plan, aimed at fostering the growth of everything from clientele, markets, and services offered to acquiring and retaining talent, as well as expanding its team into the Grand Rapids community. 
 
From there, it only took about a year to double the size of its staff and take over the remainder of the building’s second floor, and with the firm’s overall growth holding steady throughout 2015 and 2016, TowerPinkster found itself on the cusp of the 2017 new year poised once more to expand.
 
While still remaining in its existing second floor office suite, TowerPinkster showcased the newest addition—the south side of the Heartside building’s first level—at an open house earlier this month attended by Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. 
 
“I want to thank TowerPinkster for really reimagining this space, which sat empty for so long and bringing it back to life,” she told community members during the event. “I’m so excited to see that they are growing and doing so much incredible work in this community...In addition to all of the work that they do in this community, they are attracting incredible talent to our city, which we all know is crucial to the success of our city.”
 
TowerPinkster provided the architectural design and engineering services to building owners at Locus Development, who brought on Pioneer Construction as the project’s general contractor.The interior office furniture and workspace equipment was provided by Interphase Interiors and Haworth, Inc. 
 
Bringing the first-floor of the old building into the 21st Century, workstations feature cool tech like electric sit-to-stand desks, large collaborative spaces, private conference rooms, and the latest in-video conferencing technology. 
 
“We have opened the first level suite in an effort to continue the vision of the company to strengthen the firm and its presence in the Grand Rapids community,” says TowerPinkster President and CEO, Bjorn Green. “We aim to support the community at large, bring talented employees to the West Michigan area, and support our clients in everything that we do.”
 
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of TowerPinkster 

Eightyfive Miles celebrates all things Great Lakes with new lifestyle, apparel brand

As founders of their own lifestyle, apparel and accessories brand, Eightyfive Miles, siblings Carey Potter and Brian Schwartz think that when it comes to business, making profits and doing what’s right don’t have to be mutually exclusive goals.

“It’s so important for us to do the right thing, and that’s why all of our branding, design branding, design and printing is done right here in West Michigan and why we are dedicated to giving back a portion of our profits to Great Lakes conservation,” says Schwartz , who co-founded the new Great Lakes inspired brand alongside his sister, Carey Potter, in December 2016.

Inspired by the fact that from any point in the state of Michigan, you’re never more than 85 miles away from a Great Lake, the West Michigan startup clothing and accessory company features “high-quality, casual and youthful lifestyle apparel,” for which co-founders went through an intensive branding development process to finalize.

“Eightyfive Miles will do more than offer t-shirts with Michigan logos on them. Our style is best defined as ‘preppy, classic, youthful and fun.’ We are dedicated to providing high quality products with a style that is not only affordable but also uniquely Michigan and Midwestern,” Potter says.

Right now only available on their website via the Eightyfive Miles online store, initial product lines include a wide array of short sleeve and long sleeve t-shirts, a first-edition ‘Stars ‘n Stripes’ t-shirt, baseball caps, stickers, stainless steel water bottles, coasters, can coolers and more.

While there are definite plans to establish a brick and mortar boutique in the near feature, Schwartz says right now, the brand is still getting its sea legs, so to speak, but still remains committed to focusing on keeping things close to home.

“We just literally launched on Saturday and we are actively establishing our brand, but what's important is that all of our brand establishment, legal and product development has taken place in Grand Rapids,” says Schwartz, adding that local companies like Reagan Marketing and Design helped with Eightyfive Miles’ logo and branding, Public Thread’s Janay Brower helped with the ad-hoc sewing and Jennifer Puplava and Mika Meyers did the brands trademark work. Additionally, Schwartz and Potter recently hired another local, Kirsten DelVecchio, to help with retail chain development.

“So, we are keenly focused on Grand Rapids,” he says.

Dedicated to fair labor practices and giving back locally, Eightyfive Miles owners try to ensure all of their product manufacturers are Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) certified and have pledged to donate 3 percent of all profits to Great Lakes conservation efforts.

“We want our customers to feel good about our products,” Schwartz says.

For more information about Eightyfive Miles or to shop new products online, visit www.eightyfivemiles.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Eightyfive Miles


Green Giftz prepares for grand reopening in custom-designed Ottawa Avenue office space

With a ribbon cutting ceremony set for September 21, family-owned specialty product designer and manufacturer Green Giftz is gearing up for its grand re-opening in a recently refurbished office space at 532 Ottawa Ave. NW.

Specializing in eco-friendly, sustainable and custom promotional products, Green Giftz calls itself a “branded merchandise dealer,” based in West Michigan while serving an international client base.

After outgrowing its old suite, a smaller space in North Monroe’s Brassworks building, Green Giftz owner Karen Scarpino partnered with Custer Inc. to redesign the 2,700-square-foot offices, designing the new space to meet the brand’s existing “industrial charm” with a modern sophistication in a more expansive space.

“We designed their new space with that same character in mind and used a sophisticated, neutral palette that better reflects their brand,” says Alex Genzink, interior project designer at Custer Inc, adding that the new building’s interior, which will serve as Green Giftz showroom, office space and entertaining venue for the Green Giftz family, includes elements that include mixed materials, light woodgrains and vintage inspired lighting.

With large open windows that allow for ample natural light, the new open floor plan features collaborative desks, a new kitchen and open work cafe area, fireplace and entryway sofa.

“As a business owner, I often spend more waking hours at our office than in our home, so I see our office as an extension of home and our employees and customers as family,” says Scarpino, who operates the business alongside her husband and daughter. “Custer helped us design a space that works for our employees and inspires them to do great work. The design offers so many positive benefits for our employees, including abundant natural light and team work spaces.”

With old rustic warehouse windows repurposed as wall accents, and reclaimed barn wood worked seamlessly into the updated design, Custer Inc. designers also incorporated raw materials from Green Giftz inventory, giving new life to fabric used to make table covers by refashioning it into noise-absorbing ceiling treatments over the office conference table below.

“We wanted a space that was open, warm, inviting and collaborative, and also reflected our values,” Scarpino says.

For more information about Green Giftz, visit www.greengiftz.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Custer, Inc.


New “active lifestyle” franchise launches first Michigan location in Grandville with fundraiser

Following its grand opening on June 9, the new CoreLife Eatery is now open for business, the first Michigan location of the growing franchise that brands itself as an “active lifestyle” restaurant.

 

Located at 3158 44th Street, CoreLife Eatery offers a menu dominated by greens, grains, and broth-based dishes, with additional customizable options -- all crafted with ingredients free of trans fats, artificial colors, sweeteners, other additives, and GMOS.

 

“First and foremost, [CoreLife Eatery] is a restaurant that focuses on healthy eating alternatives, but ones that are also quick,” says Stephen Donnelly, spokesperson for CoreLifeEatery. “People always want to eat healthier, but they don’t have easy access to it, or it’s not affordable, or just not quick enough. So what we wanted to do with the creation of CoreLife eatery is to have a brand that would allow people another option for healthy eating that is also quick.”

 

Alongside handcrafted fruit drinks like beet lemonade and tropical green tea, CoreLife Eatery’s menu features “green bowls,” “grain bowls,” and “broth bowls” in pre-made recipes, with a fourth create-your-own option. The chicken and steak used in CoreLife bowls are sustainably raised without hormones or antibiotics, and the restaurant’s bone broth is slow-simmered each day.

 

“People don’t typically get excited about [health food]… so we wanted to make sure we combined a lot of great flavors in our menu,” says Donnelly. “Beyond that, CoreLife Eatery is also really big on making sure people not only eat healthier, but also live healthier.”

 

Prior to its June 9 official grand opening, CoreLife Eatery Grandville hosted a “pay what you want” day, where guests were invited to dine from the new menu for a donation amount of their own choosing. Following the pre-opening event, 100 percent of the proceeds—a total of $7,173 —was donated to Special Olympics of Michigan.

 

Donnelly says that events like this are common practice for the CoreLife Brand, which at each of its new locations makes an effort to partner with local health clubs, fitness groups, and yoga studios for community events and fundraisers that promote healthy lifestyles and economic growth in their communities.

 

“Any new community we go into…we partner with local businesses to put on events not only to encourage people to eat healthier, but also to live healthier, as well,” says Donnelly. “…those events are really important for us, and we do those for every market. One of the things that is important for us is not to just say we want to be involved in the local community, but to actually demonstrate it.”

 

Since launching its flagship location in Syracuse in 2015, CoreLife Eatery has opened nearly a dozen new franchise locations in in New York and Ohio, with a dozen more scheduled to open throughout the year. CoreLife Eatery Grandville marks the opening of the first Michigan location for the franchise—a deliberate move for the growing company based on the results of extensive market research and review.

 

“Anytime we go into an area we really look at what is the makeup of the area is and what the community looks like,” says Donnelly. “We do demographic studies to find out more about the population, what the ages are, what the occupations are, what the makeup of kids versus adults is. From what we analyzed, Grandville, in particular, was a really good area for us to be in.”

 

As one of the cities on the outskirts of the arguably oversaturated downtown Grand Rapids restaurant scene, Donnelly says Grandville presented itself as an opportunity for CoreLife to establish its brand early in a city that is poised for its own growth spurt in the coming years.

 

“From our perspective, we felt like it was a market that was very synergistic with the brand, somewhere that the brand could thrive,” he says. “We’re excited to be in Grandville, the market has really excited us and welcomed us with open arms and so we’re looking forward to being a part of the local community and giving back to it where we can.”

 

For more information on CoreLife Eatery’s menu, active lifestyle concept, or upcoming community events, visit www.eatatcore.com or find CoreLife here on Facebook.

 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of CoreLife Eatery

 

Local First workshop encourages local businesses to establish equitable business practices, invest

About a year ago, employees at the nonprofit organization Local First started setting aside some time out of each staff meeting to be reserved specifically for discussion and debate.

 

Led by a different staff member each time, employees volunteer to bring in an article or video about a wide range of topics that are somehow related to issues or ideas surrounding things like inclusion, diversity, equity, and cultural competency, and then for about 10-15 minutes, they just listen to each other.

 

We discuss those articles and learn from the different perspectives and I think it’s helped us to shift our own perspective,” says Elissa Hillary, president of Local First. “…(We) have more empathy for others and all of the different kinds of experiences people can have.”

 

She says these discussions have changed the way her organization thinks about its own programming, a constant reminder to consider all of the different kinds of perspectives or circumstances that can shape a person’s experience, and to try harder as an organization to be proactive in removing any potential barriers for equal opportunity.

 

“With this most recent street party event, it prompted us to make sure we had barrier-free access for people with wheelchairs or strollers so they could get to the front of the stage to see the show, and make sure all of our signage was bilingual,” says Hillary. “When you have a heightened awareness, all kinds of things can spring from these conversations.”

 

And while honest dialogue is a necessary catalyst for any kind of advancement seeking a more inclusive and equitable culture, so is knowing how to create actionable steps that implement real change. During the most recent installment of the 2017 Measure What Matters workshop series, panelists taught participants how to do just that.

 

Hosted at the offices of LINC Community Revitalization at 1167 Madison Ave. SE, the workshop titled “Implementing Policies Promoting Inclusion and Equity” explored the importance of supporting an inclusive local economy, providing its participants—largely members of local and small business community—with the resources to develop and implement equitable and inclusive practices under their own roofs.

 

During the workshop, a panel of four different diversity and inclusion experts offered insights into creating ethical business practices that promote access and inclusion for people with mental and physical differences. Participants learned not only how to create official value statements and written inclusion policies for their businesses, but also ways to implement company-wide policies and encourage conversations among employees.
 

“Small businesses are uniquely poised to be in contact and in relationships with their communities, and we see that both in the services and things they offer,” says Hillary says. “But that can also be true in the way they hire and recruit employees from the neighborhoods in which they are located and those surrounding neighborhoods.”

 

While having a concrete statement for a businesses inclusion and equity policy can definitely help an organization define itself externally, Hillary says its even more valuable when it comes to internal decision making.

 

“There are a multitude of ways that having a specific [inclusion and equity] statements or policies around diversity, inclusion, and equity can make a difference,” she says. “It can affect the way an organization thinks about hiring, the way an organization thinks about procurement and purchasing, the way an organization thinks about any number of things.”

 

When it comes to what kind of business practices fall under that umbrella of diversity, inclusion, and equity, Hillary says it’s a pretty wide range and oftentimes varies depending on the specific needs of a business’ employees or community.

 

“For example, if your business is hiring for people within walking distance, think about whether or not those people might need access to public transportation, or if they are able to walk or bike to work. Then, as an employer, create policies that can help support that,” she says, adding that another example would be business trying to make a real effort to foster a workplace that is friendly for all types of employees, whether that means creating policies that help support working parents or support diversity and inclusion efforts.

 

“Basically, it’s making an effort to meet people where they are in a really human way to ensure they have a great work experience,” says Hillary. “And in turn, you’ll benefit from having a really talented workforce.”

 

Local First is hosting its next Measure What Matters event at The Greenwell in East Hills on June 26 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The networking mixer will gather community members and decision makers to socialize and discuss ways to use business as a force for good. To learn more about Local First programming and upcoming events, visit Local First's event page or find it here on Facebook.

 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Local First

 

GRPS Launches Rebuild Sigsbee Park Crowdfunding Campaign

At $8,315, the crowdfunding campaign to “Rebuild Grand Rapids’ Sigsbee Playscape” is about halfway to its June 30 matching fund deadline of $29,500 (the first $10k earned will be matched by an anonymous donor)—which, if met, will earn the project an additional $29,500 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Public Spaces Community Places initiative.

Also known as Southwest Academic, the building space next to Sigsbee Park used to be part of the Grand Rapids Public School district and is now home to a number of community programs including the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative for preschoolers and the Spectrum Baby Scholars program. The adjacent playground—or Sigsbee Park—is now what’s classified as a “school park,” making it a community park of choice open to the public and members of the surrounding Eastown neighborhood.

“In the heart of every great community is a place where neighbors gather. Sigsbee Park and Playground is that place,” says Grand Rapids Public School Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. ”We are eager to partner with the community to realize a shared vision of a bright and appealing new playground for the children, students and families of Eastown Neighborhood to play and thrive."

However, with playground equipment well past its peak beginning to fall into disrepair, plans to remove it are slated for this summer, threatening to leave a partially empty lot in its place and prompting organizations including The Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, Carter’s Kids, Lake Michigan Credit Union and Grand Rapids Public Schools to partner with the MEDC to raise funds for its reconstruction.

The refurbished playground will include a new swing set, a play structure with a slide and climbing area, dragonfly and stock cary play pieces, outdoor learning benches, and a new safe, engineered wood fiber surfacing.

“Sigsbee Park and Playground has clearly been loved by Eastown Neighborhood families for many years,” says Dan Gilmartin, CEO and executive director of the Michigan Municipal League, one of the organizations behind the Public Spaces Community Places initiative alongside collaborators at the MEDC and Patronicity.

John Helmholdt is spokesperson for the GRPS, and says though some members of the Eastown community have expressed concern over the lack of communication between organizers of the project and community members, it was all a matter of timing, with funding falling into place and the project taking quick steps forward in order to finish construction before the preschool re-opens to students in the fall.

“We’ve been talking about Sigsbee and other parks for quite some time. We got a call from ELNC in the spring saying their federal licensing came in and some of the equipment is out of compliance and it needs to go, so at the point, it began to expedite things and we said, ‘this is happening sooner rather than later, before the summer,’” says Helmholdt, adding that shortly after, LMCU reached out to the organization offering to donate $65,000.

“It all happened very fast and we weren't sure how much money was available or whether we would be eligible for the state matching dollars until literally a few weeks ago,” he says, adding that GRPS has been in contact with the Eastown Community Association and its parks and greening committee more recently on the project, and so far has received their full support.

Right now, Helmholdt says GRPS is fighting a past record of negligence on the property, making some neighbors worry they may lose their voice in the matter as they felt they have in the past. However, he also says this GRPS—the one who met with the ECA’s greening committee, LMCU, ELNC, and the city’s parks department last night to discuss neighborhood engagement opportunities—is a much different GRPS than the community might be used to.

“GRPS sees Sigsbee as truly an opportunity to right some past wrongs and to re-engage with the neighborhood to redevelop this site as a school yard and neighborhood park,” he says. “We have been 100 percent transparent and forthcoming and will continue to do so. We certainly own and recognize how this property has not received the attention it needs nor have we been the best neighbors in the past. But that was then and this is now.”

To stay tuned about upcoming engagement opportunities for Sigsbee’s rebuilding, visit the Eastown Community Association online or here on Facebook. For more information on the project, or to make a donation before the June 30 deadline, visit the Rebuild Grand Rapids Sigsbee Playscape’s project page on Patronicity.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation

Harmony Brewing plans summer 2017 expansion, addition of delivery service to Eastown location

Scheduled to go before the city planning commission later today, owners of Harmony Brewing in Eastown have announced plans to expand their Lake Dr. location with two major goals in mind: the first, to expand indoor space for more carryout capacity and eventually delivery service, and the second, to expand indoor and outdoor seating.

Co-owners Barry Vandyke and Heather VanDyke Titus say that although they lease the current smaller outdoor patio space from the owner of the adjacent Subway building at 1540 Lake Dr., they’re hoping to close a deal on the entire Subway building by mid-June.

“Right now we want to take half of the Subway building and make it into more seating for Harmony, with the other half planned as expanded carry out,” VanDyke Titus says. “Then we hope to add delivery…and eventually expand the outdoor seating, add more of a beer garden.”

 

Though it’s early enough in the process that owners are still running the numbers for renovation expenses against their budgeting for the expansion project, VanDyke Titus says one scenario has them converting the space between the two buildings into a four-seasons room, with another more conservative plan turning the space into a more simple hallway.

 

She says right now the priority is expanding into a second kitchen space to allow for carry-out and delivery services, hoping to tackle the outdoor seating expansion as a sort of second phase. Either way, once they close the deal on the Subway building, she and her co-owner are excited to bring a little more visibility to Harmony Brewing’s Eastown location --  a move that will put them on the corner of a major Eastown intersection.

 

VanDyke Titus adds that there are no major plans to expand Harmony’s menu because rather than overextend, they’d rather keep “what’s working, working.”

 

“One thing we’re excited about is  it will allow us to keep doing what we know we’re doing well, but just have more room to do it in,” she says.

 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Harmony Brewing Eastown

 

New Madcap location opens in attached Fulton Heights roastery space

Hosting its grand opening on June 2, Madcap Coffee celebrated the addition of its third Grand Rapids location, located on Fulton St. in the space attached to its existing roaster location.

Trevor Corlett is CEO of Madcap coffee and says part of his company’s goal is to connect people with luxury coffee in a way that’s engaging and more approachable.

“With our third Grand Rapids location we hope to provide the community with a fresh coffee experience by building off of our original location and maintaining our core values of quality coffee, service, and creative thinking,” he says.

Located in Fulton Heights, the newest Madcap location is housed in a former auto garage that was originally built in the 1930s, lending a unique character to the modern Madcap aesthetic. Corlett says the design team also drew on the craft beer industry in creating the indoor seating space for the new Madcap, which features lots of bar seating for quick drink and snack ordering.

“The new café will function as an extension of our first café in that we continue to stand by our high level of quality and exceptional service that Madcap has become known for,” says Madcap Co-Founder and Director of Coffee, Ryan Knapp.

With on-the-go options for hot coffee, sparkling cascara, nitro-cold coffee, and made-to-order waffles and spreads, the new location will also feature Madcap’s seasonal signature drink menu. For more information, visit Madcap online or find them here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Madcap Coffee Co.


Historic home of Stone House Recording restored with recent renovations and interior upgrades

On the heels of a new partnership that brought together the company’s founder Peter Fox and new co-owner Josh Kaufman earlier this year, Stone House Recording recently wrapped up renovations on the interior of its West Side studio space. They then partnered with local record label dizzybird studios for an afterparty with live music and cocktails by Grey Skies Distillery.  

Located at 731 Front Ave. NW, Stone House Records is housed in the historic Eliphalet H. Turner House, which was originally built in 1846 and still considered to be the oldest building in Grand Rapids still resting on its original foundation.

While the exterior facade of the old building has more or less stood the test of time and survived decades' worth of past tenants and changing tastes, Kaufman says it took a bit of work to catch the interior space up to speed. 

“The stone is beautiful on the outside but on the inside it was covered by plaster and a bunch of drywall, so we took off the drywall and plaster and refinished the stones, cleaning and re-grouting them,” says Kaufman, who joined Stone House Recording founder Peter Fox as new partner and co-owner about a year ago. “So the main project was to expose the original stone, which dates back to the 1800s.”

Because of the building's proximity to a nearby highway, Kaufman added, they also placed extra inset panes of glass over the windows to create better soundproofing without losing access to much-needed natural light. 

“We just decided the control room space just needed to have more comfortable vibes, so we added new flooring, ripped up all of the old carpet, and just made it more comfortable for bands to come in and make music,” Kaufman says. 

For about six years, Stone House Recording was operated as a solo-mission by its original founder Peter Fox, who was the sole engineer and producer until Kaufman signed on as his new partner last year. Specializing in music production and engineering, Stone House additionally offers services in audio for film, TV, and radio as well as voice-over recording. 

“When Peter started the business, he was already kind of a staple of the music scene in Grand Rapids and had done tons of regional and local bands and he had his base gear, so when we partnered up we decided we wanted to try and expand our tool pallet,” says Kaufman, listing new equalizers, compressors, monitors, and microphones alongside the larger purchases, including a 1970s era tech console from Denver and a 1925 Baldwin grand piano among the half dozen of other new instruments and tools made available to visiting artists. 

“They’re tools for the artists who come in to town to feel like they can let go of their inhibitions and go wild when they come into the space,” Kaufman says.

With sights set on continued growth for Stone House Recording, Kaufman says he and Fox would eventually like to expand into multiple studio spaces. With this in mind, the two are right now exploring the possibility of converting the second floor of their building into a few recording booths with a smaller local control room.

And though Kauffman and Fox say they will continue to keep the focus of their studio on recording albums for musicians and bands, they are also looking for creative ways to broaden their reach into new industry areas, hoping to introduce new services like audiobook recordings and some business-to-business options to help bring on more commercial clients. Most recently, they even established an internship program with Hope College. 

“We’re trying to expand our vision from the studio and this year, after the big renovation, is going to be all about that kind of growth,” Kaufman says.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Anthony Narkus 

Apothecary Off Main leaves the downtown MoDiv for a suite in The Morton this June

Currently located at 40 Monroe Center in the downtown Grand Rapids retail incubator MoDiv, boutique general store Apothecary Off Main announced plans this week to relocate to a larger suite in 76 Monroe Center's The Morton,, with its reopening slated for early next month. 

From hand soaps and bath and body items to gourmet kitchen supplies, aromatherapy and candles, and specialized products for men, Apothecary Off Main features a variety of “general store” items handcrafted by new and growing vendors and other local artisans. 

“It has been amazing to be able to be a part of MoDiv, and we could not be more delighted to grow into a new, larger space in the heart of downtown,” says Jill Devan, Apothecary Off Main’s store director. "As our city has grown, we have been able to welcome so many people to our shop. As our client base has increased, we began looking at a larger space that will allow us to continue to grow the number of products we offer.”

While retail incubators like MoDiv offer flexible retail spaces that help new startups and entrepreneurs eliminate some of the risk associated with building a new business or growing a brand, the eventual migration to a more customized, independent space is exactly the point, says Mike Mraz, managing partner of Real Estate at Rockford Construction, which runs MoDiv. 

“Apothecary Off Main joins a growing list of businesses who start in a small suite, and grow into their own retail storefronts,” Mraz says. “MoDiv offers a unique opportunity to lease a space in a great location for as short as one year, providing flexibility and low startup costs to new businesses.”

With its very first location originating in Vista, Cali., Apothecary Off Main’s relocation to The Morton represents both the growth of its own business operations and the larger growth of retail in general throughout downtown Grand Rapids, something Devan and her team credit largely to the culture of the local community. 

“People living in and visiting downtown seek out shopping,” she says. “Offering unique products in a location that is easy to visit is key, and we enjoyed being in a shared space as we established the store.”

And although The Morton might not offer quite as close of quarters as its former shared space at MoDiv, it affords Apothecary Off Main a larger place to grow without sacrificing the sense of community it has come to value.  

“We are looking forward to not only being in a bigger space, but also being in the same building as more than 100 downtown residents,” Devan says.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Rockford Construction Co. 

Coppercraft Distillery in Holland reopens with full service restaurant menu

Re-opening earlier this month in its original space at 184 120th Street in Holland, the new and improved Coppercraft Distillery has expanded its location to include a full restaurant menu, keeping things local and seasonal with the addition of new head chef Kelsey Winter-Troutwine.

 

“We hired a really talented chef out with a really great pedigree out of Chicago,” says Coppercraft general manager Brandon Joldersma. “He developed a love for local seasonal cuisine that you’ve seen pop up in the big cities, but still has a way to go here in West Michigan.”

Winter-Troutwine, who graduated with a bachelor of arts from the Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, spent the past six years in Chicago working alongside high-profile chefs in the city, many alumni of the famed Chicago chef, Charlie Trotter.

 

With a full rotating menu of seasonal New American cuisine, Joldersma says Coppercraft is currently developing a whole new cocktail menu, designed and perfectly tailored to compliment its new food menu.

 

“We like to surprise people by showing how specific cocktails pair well with food,” says Joldersma. “The nice thing with cocktails is that we can very specifically tailor and dial these to the specific menu item itself, you have total control.”

 

Opened by husband and wife team Walter and Kim Catton in 2012 to create “premium, small-batch spirits by hand, using local ingredients,” ownership of Coppercraft Distillery changed hands last year, though Walter has maintained his position as master distiller.

 

“Step one for us was to re-do the consumer-facing end of our distillery here in Holland,” says Joldersma, adding that the new 56-seat dining room was revamped from the old tasting room and barrel storage area, while of the distillery equipment was upgraded to increase capacity. Phase two of the redesign, he says, will be working on building out more storage area for increased production capacity.

 

Coppercraft also opened a new tasting room in Saugatuck last September, offering samples and retail bottles of all of its spirits—vodka, citrus vodka, gin, rum, applejack, bourbon, corn whiskey and rye whiskey—alongside handmade artisan cocktails.

 

“I think (Coppercraft’s new menu) is a little bit challenging, in a good way, for some of the clientele here in Holland and in West Michigan,” Joldersma says. “I think we’re offering the comfortable and familiar things, but also trying to push the envelope for things we can’t always really find here on Lakeshore.”

 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Coppercraft Distillery

The new 250 Monroe Avenue is 'rebirth' for an old downtown space

With its massive interior renovations complete and construction wrapping up on its outdoor facade, the new 250 Monroe Calder Plaza Building connects with the street a lot different from the old site.

“The previous layout of the first floor was very set back from the street with dark tinted glass and [was] very ominous looking, so we opened up the entirety of the lobby,” says Kevin Stower, who alongside colleague Sinsa Simic is lead architect of the project from the Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson Associates (HAA).

The first significant redesign the building has seen in almost 30 years, HAA worked with building owners to gut the 160,000-square-foot building and open up the first and second floors of the lobby. They also relocated the staircase to the south end of the building and added the floor-to-ceiling window on the north and east sides of the building.

Stower says though the renovation started out small, but the task at hand quickly grew as they realized the scope of the redesign.

“Our project scope started out as barely an interior renovation, but in order to facilitate what we had thought of as making a desirable workplace, we thought we had to provide a larger intervention for the building,” he says, referring to the redesign, which also includes a rooftop garden space, HAA’s creative solution to some much-needed green space. 

“City planning really encourages maintaining green space for development projects,” says Stower. “This was an existing building so they strive to maintain at least five percent green space in the existing footprint in the building and there wasn’t that existing so we had to manufacture space into an existing project.”

In accordance with the mandate HAA added streetscape planters in the atrium and transformed the former walk-out plaza space into a walking garden for employees.

“Overall, we were trying to give an old, dingy building a new identity and rebirth,” says Stower.

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

Russo's International Market opens second location on W. Fulton

Now in its 112th year as a Grand Rapids family-owned Italian grocer, Russo’s International Market, will open a second downtown location at 241 W. Fulton. 4,500-square-foot store will feature catering, deli, grocery, delivery, curbside pick-up, and bistro on site with an indoor/outdoor bistro to boot.

 

President of Russo’s International Market, Phil Russo, says his grandfather’s mission since opening Russo’s in 1905 has always been to serve the Grand Rapids community, opening up the very first location on Division in what was then known as “Little Italy,” and later expanding into its current 18,000-square-foot location at 2270 29th Street.

 

“We always knew we would return to our roots and this second location will allow us to serve the downtown community as we once did 112 years ago,” says Russo.

 

Both locations offer catering for events and business meetings, custom corporate gifts, alcohol and grocery delivery, European deli, local Michigan and Grand Rapids products, extensive wine and beer selections, in-store educational events, private label Russo brand products, both dine-in and to-go menus, coffee, a espresso and cappuccino bar, and a gelato bar.

 

“The Grand Rapids community has been so devoted to our family-business throughout the years, and our goal is to continue to serve the community to the best of our ability,” says Russo. “We realized the lack of offerings for downtown residents, and this gave us the opportunity to return to downtown Grand Rapids and serve the growing residential population.”

 

For more information, visit Russo’s International Market online here or find them on Facebook.

 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
 

Images courtesy of Russo’s International Market

May Eats: Breakfast & Beyond

May Eats: Breakfast & Beyond

 

From all-American breakfast food and Detroit-Style deep dish to French-inspired crepes that work for breakfast, dessert, or both, these three new kids on the block have menus that promise to soon become old standbys.

 

Brown Butter Creperie & Cafe

Getting its start as a food truck back in 2015, Brown Butter Creperie finally opened up its first brick and mortar shop in an Eastown landmark on Feb. 15, located in the Windmill Building at 1436 Wealthy St. SE (the former site of Cakabakery).

 

Revamped with charming French-inspired indoor and outdoor dining areas, Brown Butter's aesthetic matches its menu, a made-from-scratch roster that includes a ton of sweet and savory crepe styles, caramelized sugar crystal-topped liege waffles, a full espresso bar, and a host of paninis and salads, to boot.

 

With most of its ingredients sourced from local producers, Brown Butter Creperie & Cafe also offers catering services, and you can still catch the original food truck at farmer's markets and events around West Michigan.

 

HOURS

Closed Monday

Tuesday-Thursday: 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Friday/Saturday: 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Sunday: 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.

 

Matchbox Diner & Drinks

Just down the road from Brown Butter at 1345 Lake Drive, the old-school style Matchbox Diner & Drinks is a tasty new option for all-day breakfast lovers and sandwich fans alike, offering thick-stacked deli sandwiches, burgers, milkshakes, and malts.

 

Made with ingredients from a list of local businesses that include Ada Beef, BLiS, The Brinery, Nantucket Baking Company, Simpatico Coffee, Grobbel's, and Gielow Pickles, Inc., Matchbox Diner offers fresh twists on familiar favorites and a dining room with cozy booths and clean bright windows that make it an instant classic.

 

HOURS

Monday–Thursday: 8am–9pm

Friday–Saturday: 7:30am–9pm

Sunday: 7:30am–2pm

 

Good Pizza Company

Though Good Pizza Co. has been testing the waters with new customers for a few weeks now at 10 Jefferson Ave. SE, today marks the official grand opening for the new downtown deep dish pizzeria. Today’s Star Wars themed event introduces the weekly feature pizza—this week's recipe called The Boba Feta for obvious reasons—and kicks off at noon with live music and entertainment that will run through 8 p.m.

 

Bringing a long-awaited deep dish flavor to Grand Rapids downtown pizza game, GCP's sourdough crust is made in-house and its menu offers gluten free and vegan options at no extra cost. Open for lunch and available by the slice, Good Pizza Co. also recently launched a delivery service available after 4 p.m., so you officially have no excuse not to try a pie on for size.

 

HOURS

Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. -10 p.m.

Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Sunday: noon-9 p.m.

 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
 

Images courtesy of Brown Butter Creperie & Cafe, Matchbox Diner & Drinks, Good Pizza Co.

New Intergenerational Care Center offers new kind of care for ‘the oldest and youngest among us’

Announcing its grand opening at the end of last month, Bethlehem Lutheran Church’s new Intergenerational Care Center hopes to offer a creative solution to quality care for both ends of the age demographic spectrum in Grand Rapids’ Heartside.

 

BLC Pastor Jay Schrimpf says that the new Intergenerational Care Center was born out of the desire to build on the church’s existing record of community care and education with its Hill Child Development Center, which was founded back in 1971 and now operates alongside the church’s Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project at 250 Commerce Ave.

 

“We decided to build on more than four decades of skills at our HCDC to care for folks on the other side of the spectrum as well,” says Schrimpf. “There’s an aging senior population needing help on a regular basis, and we can do it in a groundbreaking way—at least for this area—through cross-programming between the two.”

 

Schrimpf says a new entity all its own, the BIC now allows the congregation to “care for the youngest and the oldest among us.”

 

After receiving a $50,000 grant from the Downtown Development Authority to rework its second floor space to create a fully ADA compliant senior wing in addition to its existing HCDC, BLC created new programming that allows the two populations to spend time relationship building together in shared spaces.

 

With hours that run 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, both the child and senior care nclude meals and snacks prepared in-house, with a whole host of intergenerational activities that include everything from sharing meals and making music together to giving the elders a chance to take care of the babies and share stories with the little ones.

 

“Especially for our elderly population, it gives them a purpose and the ability to teach and have real relationships and for the children, it’s really the same,” says Sue Davidson, director of the new BIC. “They get to be taught, they get to have real relationships with people who have something to offer. We believe that everyone has skills and talents and gifts and to share them with each other.”

 

To learn more about the new Bethlehem Intergenerational Center or Hill Child Development Center, visit Bethlehem Church online.

 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
 

Images courtesy of Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Blandford Nature Center celebrates Earth Day with grand opening of new visitor venue

When Blandford Nature Center began designing its new 11,000-square-foot visitor center, it intentionally left out the kind of museum-style features often seen in more traditional nature center welcome spaces. Instead, the center wanted the space to serve a more practical role in the organization’s cardinal mission to connect more people with more nature. 

“A building doesn’t make a nature center; the nature does,” says Jason Meyer, President and CEO of Blandford Nature Center (BNC). “We settled on the idea that the the building is just one more tool in our toolbox for getting people to connect with nature, and so we didn’t really want to incorporate dead stuffed animals and a lot of those physical displays that you might see in older nature centers.” 

A crowd of nearly 400 people came out for the Earth Day ribbon cutting ceremony in celebration of the new Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center grand opening, hearing remarks from the building’s namesake, BNC Founder Mary Jane Dockeray, as well as Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

Costing $3.3 million of the total $10 million in funds currently raised in the final stretches of a larger $10.3 million campaign launched in fall 2014, the new LEED-certified visitor center includes an open interior lobby with a stone fireplace, a large auditorium, an outdoor amphitheater, and an upgraded Wildlife Education Center showcasing decorative wood features made from trees that were already harvested as part of the construction process. 

Initially built in 1968, BNC’s former visitor center was outdated, lacking in handicap accessible design and generally overdue for an update, says Meyer. The organization decided to move forward with a fundraising campaign to afford park upgrades after the center began having to turn away local school groups interesting in doing programming because of insufficient space.

With its fundraising campaign slated to wrap up this summer, Meyer says Blandford Nature Center is looking forward to turning its focus to an even bigger renovation project — restoring the 121-acre Highlands Golf Course at 2175 Leonard St. NW, which BNC purchased back in January in partnership with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. 

With the Land Conservancy of West Michigan currently heading up some of the initial fundraising, the two organizations are starting to explore how best to transform the new acreage into a public green space that enhances both Blandford’s educational programming and outdoor recreational opportunities, first focusing on restoring the lands natural habitat. 

“A lot of it is habitat restoration. We want to put types of habitat back that are gone from this part of Michigan,” Meyer says, adding that plans include the addition of new trail ways connecting back to the nature center’s existing trail system. 

Meyer says restoring an outdoor recreation space that effectively double Blandford’s outdoor green space, however, requires a bit of al lengthier process than the construction of a new visitor center, relying the slow inedibility of nature to take its course in regrowth. 

“It’s going to be a 50- to 100-year project,” Meyer says, ”And folks will be able to see that change over time that happens with nature reclaiming itself.” 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Blandford Nature Center 

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Blandford Nature Center breathes new life into Highlands Golf Course with plans for recreation space

Wellness spa takes home $20,000 in free rent, business resources as Muskegon's 321 Go! pitch winner

With sights set on bringing new retailers to Muskegon’s growing Midtown business district, Downtown Muskegon Now’s panel of five judges selected East of Eden Wellness Spa as the winner of its 321 Go! pitch competition earlier this month, with spa owner Jodi McClain taking home a prize package worth a combined $20,000. 

Hosted at Grand Valley State University’s Muskegon Innovation Hub, the April 13 event doubled as both a Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce "Business After Hours" event and a final round of the 321 Go! pitch competition spearheaded by Downtown Muskegon Now

“I am excited and humbled to be selected as every one of the other presenters did such a great job. Thanks to all who have taken a chance on me,” says McClain, a veteran massage therapist whose current practice at 3374 Merriam St. offers a variety of spa services, from the more traditional Swedish, deep tissue, and hot stone massages to more specialized services, such as cancer and oncology massages, trigger point therapy, and ionic foot detoxes. 

Pitching an expansion plan that would allow East of Eden Wellness Spa Center to expand its operations into a “destination wellness business,” the revamped East of Eden space will also offer floatation and dry salt therapy along with its existing menu of spa services. 

Citing a passionate and well-researched business plan alongside McClain’s years of experience as part of their decision to select East of Eden’s expansion plans to win the 321 Go! competition, the five-person judging panel also noted a lack of existing spa and wellness service options in Midtown Muskegon, seeing an opportunity to add a unique retailer to the growing corridor. 

As winner of 321 Go!, McClain must be open for business in the new Midtown retail space by June 2017 and will receive six months of free rent at 1144 Third St. courtesy of building owner Brad Martell. After that, McClain will negotiate a one-year lease with Martell, with prize conditions requiring the competition winner to continue operating in the space for at least 18 months after the initial opening. 

The prize package also includes a plethora of free business support services and resources, including everything from legal, accounting, marketing, architectural and design services to commitments by Downtown Muskegon Now, GVSU’s Muskegon Innovation Hub and the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce to promote and mentor the winning business/business owner.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Downtown Muskegon Now

Related articles: 
Downtown Muskegon’s 321 Go! utilizes pitch competition to incentivize new downtown retail

Waterfront Film Festival plans June 22 grand opening screening for new year-round Holland facility

After spending much of the past year revamping the former auto-body shop on Columbia Avenue near downtown Holland, organizers of the Waterfront Film festival announced the opening of a new, permanent screening and event facility with a year-round indoor-outdoor screening space. 

“We've been looking at expanding to have a permanent year-round event space, so it’s something we’v been working on for a long, long time,” says Hopwood DePree, who co-founded the Waterfront Film festival alongside his sister, Dori DePree. 

With three big rolling garage auto-bays turned theater, the 200-seat venue will also serve as a workshop and education space in the off months, with phase I of the project nearly complete. Plans for phase II include an update to the building’s exterior, and additional landscaping for an outdoor reception area. 

“In the summer months, we’re really offering a unique indoor-outdoor gathering space, and then, when it’s time to play the show, we can shut the doors and put up the black-out curtains and go,” says DePree, adding that one of the big favorite moments Waterfront Film Fest goers talk about each year is the first outdoor screening, something the new space can afford them whether it’s rain or shine. 

“We, as the organizers and volunteers, are always worried about if it's going to rain,” says DePree. “This kind of solves that problem because it’s still an outdoor indoor space, but it’s completely weatherproof.” 

The Waterfront Film Festival has set the date for the grand opening screening at the new facility on June 22, and additional ticket information will be released in May. Until then, visit www.waterfrontfilm.org for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Dianne Carrol Burdick

From Heartside to West Side: Adtegrity moves digital ad office to space above The Knickerbocker

Currently housed in a downtown office suite at 38 Commerce Ave. SW in Grand Rapids, the upcoming move to a bigger and better office space on the city’s west side makes sense for Adtegrity, the digital advertising company whose CEO, in part, defines its brand by its innovative culture. 

“Our business demands that we stay ahead of trends,” says Scott Brew, the CEO of Adtegrity who founded the company in 1999. “Our culture is one of constant innovation, and this move reflects that.”
 
Located in the third and fourth floors of 417 Bridge St. NW, above New Holland Brewing The Knickerbocker, the 20,000-square-foot office space features large windows with views of Grand Rapids' west side and downtown and a private outdoor patio facing Bridge Street.

Developer, builder, and current manager of the facility at 417 Bridge St. NW in its entirety, Rockford Construction will complete a custom build-out of Adtegrity’s new space, with Lott3Metz signed on as the project’s architect. 

“Rockford has been a great partner in helping us find the perfect location that will accommodate our growth,” Brew says. “The west side is extremely walkable and friendly, and is home to great companies. We are looking forward to being a part of the neighborhood and adding to its energy.”

Mike Mraz, Managing Partner of Real Estate Development at Rockford, says Adtegrity’s addition to the west side makes sense with other recent and upcoming developments along Bridge Street, including the new retail space of Michigan-themed apparel company The Mitten State; Asian-fusion restaurant Ando Asian Kitchen; and Rockford’s own new mixed-use apartment community, Barley Flats. 

Increasing activity on Bridge Street, Mraz says, was one of Rockford’s main goals from the start of its investment efforts on the west side. 

“To be able to welcome outstanding retail and restaurants to the corridor, add additional housing options through Barley Flats, and to work with Scott and his team at Adtegrity to create an office that meets their needs is very exciting,” he says. 

Specializing in working with small- to medium-sized agencies and businesses, Adtegrity offers managed digital advertising services and display ads that include things like banners, mobile ads, and video ads on websites and devices, with ad delivery to 97 percent of countries across the globe. 

When it opens in June, the new Adtegrity offices will be new home to Adtegrity’s 40-person staff, who operate under the organizational goal of being a digital solutions provider that “does things differently: to learn more, to be better, and to grow as a company to offer a better customer experience…By fostering a community of people who are dead-set on service — to clients, co-workers, and to communities,” its website biography reads. 

“So much of what has allowed our company to be successful is our people,” Brew says. “For our team to be in a dynamic space that supports creativity is key.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Adtegrity/Rockford Construction

Grand Rapids' first-ever African American-owned cosmetology school celebrates opening

In all of the greater Grand Rapids area, there’s only one cosmetology school that is African American-owned and operated — and it has just opened for business.

Co-founded by licensed cosmetology instructors Theresa Mosley and Summer Williams, the new Mosley Cosmetology School held a ribbon cutting ceremony April 10 to commemorate the grand opening of its new Brentwood Centre facility at 4454 Breton Road SE. 

Part of the salon and spa industry that generates nearly $40 billion in annual sales in the U.S. alone, Mosley Cosmetology School marks not only the first black-owned beauty school in the greater Grand Rapids area, but also the first time a natural hair care certificate program is being offered in West Michigan. 

“I am ecstatic to open Mosley School of Cosmetology,” Mosley says. “This has been a dream come true.” 

The new cosmetology school creates both a new option for vocational training in the greater Grand Rapids community and a necessary one, filling some of the void left behind by other “chain” vocational schools that used to have campuses in West Michigan — Minnesota-based Regency Beauty Institute, for example, whose Grand Rapids campus closed abruptly with its other 78 campuses in September of last year, just weeks after ITT Technical Institute announced plans to shut down all 130 of its locations.

With a degree in business management from Cornerstone University and a specialization in hair extensions and healthy hair, Mosley says she built her new school on the foundation of her longtime vision to create “a place where education, community and entrepreneurship build strong leaders in the cosmetology industry.” 

With small class sizes, affordable tuition payments, and curriculum that incorporates 1,500 hour of hands-on training, MCS students can choose between full- and part-time classes to complete the 350 hours of experience required to obtain a cosmetology license. Though MCS offers flexible re-payment options at zero interest to students enrolled in either of its two course programs, grants and scholarships are also available. 

“It has been my vision to bring quality education that will help students graduate with confidence, knowledge and skills to build their business,” Mosley says. 

With the capacity to serve 60 students between morning and night sessions, Mosley Cosmetology  School is open Monday through Friday. For more information about Mosley Cosmetology School, or to schedule an appointment with an enrollment specialist online, visit mosleysoc.com or find Mosley Cosmetology School here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Mosley Cosmetology School 

A decade after opening its doors on Wealthy Street, The Sparrows plans new West Side coffee shop

After 10 years of rooting itself in the East Hills community as both a staple and catalyst for growth in the Uptown business district, Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand is expanding its Grand Rapids footprint with the opening of a second location at 442 Bridge St. NW.

“We’ve always been a community space that offers really good coffee, and we thought we could do that in a second location, as well,” says Sparrows owner Lori Slager Wenzel, who initially planned on moving into another Bridge Street space owned by her friend until plans fell through. 

After a quick second round of searching, however, Slager Wenzel found the space at 442 Bridge St. and made things official, finding herself charmed by its history and likeness to her Wealthy Street space.

At 1,000 square feet, the new building space will seat up to 49 people, with renovation plans that include the installation of a new coffee bar and news rack with local and national newspapers and magazines. There will be the same menu as its Wealthy Street location, with the added offering of “cupping,” which is basically an educational process where customers can test coffee and learn about the different tastes and aromas.  

“The space itself, the front of it, is not that much different. It’s got a similar feel to our Wealthy Street location with the wood floors that opens up in back to a larger space,” she says, though its little-known history as Station A for the 1930s-era Grand Rapids Postal Service was a happy surprise for Slager Wenzel and her employees, who did a little bit of digging into the 442 Bridge St. location's past online.  

Although unfortunately the space doesn’t feature any recognizable relics from its past life, the history of the well-loved space is celebrated in its continued use by the people it was built for — the surrounding community.

“Part of what we love about our Wealthy Street building is the history of the space having been a hardware store,” she says. “We love that the Huizingas raised their six children right in the upstairs rooms.” 

Though no official grand opening event has been announced just yet, the plan is to begin construction on the interior build-out in the next two to three weeks after the city planning commission approves all of the permitting and paperwork. 

To learn more about both locations and to stay updated on its Bridge Street grand opening, visit The Sparrows online or find them here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Sparrows Coffee Tea and Newsstand 

After artist Matt Elliott's stage 4 cancer diagnosis, GreenLion Studios to host fundraiser art show

GreenLion Studios owner BJ Johnson already knew he wanted to feature Matt Elliott’s work before he found out about the illness.

Drawn to Elliott’s specific style of art — mixed medium and illustrations with an “oddball aesthetic” — Johnson says a fundraising event just made sense for his friend, who was diagnosed with stage four Lymphoma in December of last year.

“Being as I was already planning on having a show with him anyway, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to schedule that and work a fundraising angle to get him to sell some work,” Johnson says.

The official reception for “Creepshow,” an exhibit made up of a collection of Elliott’s black and white artwork, will be held from 7-10 p.m. on April 29 in the gallery of GreenLion Studios at 1444 Lake Drive SE in Eastown. Prior to the show, Elliott has already made his designs available for tattoos by Johnson as part of the fundraising.

The proceeds from each $100 “creep” tattoo go directly to Elliott in support of his cancer treatment, a gesture from his friend, Johnson. During the April 29 reception, Johnson will also be giving tattoos as a sort of performance piece, but is still offering them now in hopes to keep the fundraising strong.

“Usually when we have a show, it’ll just be original single art pieces, plates, glasses, patches, t-shirts, and stickers and things like that,” Johnson says. “Then because his work translates so well into the tattoo medium — when your friend is in a situation like that and so many people want to help, I thought this was something I could do, donate all money to him and his family to help ease some of the burden of chemo costs.”

Described by Elliott as “odd, weird, and strange lowbrow dudes,” his “creeps” represent his distinct style and voice as an artist, something Johnson says he’s always admired about Elliott’s work.

“He was able to do something that I have been unable to do throughout my career, which is create a visual language that is specific to him,” Johnson says. “You look at one of his pieces and know immediately that it’s his.”

For the April 29 reception, the gallery will be open from 7-10pm for visitors to come with their friend and family to see Elliott's artwork and chat with the artist about the show. Original art will be available for purchase, including drawings, paintings, pins, shirts, and patches. Plus, you'll be able to get a "creep" tattoo during the event. There will also be creepy-crafted cocktails and cookies.

To RSVP or just learn more about the April 29 event, visit Creepshow's event page on Facebook or see more of Matt Elliott’s work on Instagram at @matt_elliott_art.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor Images courtesy of Matt Elliott

Swedish tech company Configura expands into GR’s Blue35 building with high-tech digs

Along with utilizing the company’s CET Design software to streamline space planning and product ordering, Configura interior designer is also holding what she calls “design charrettes” with employees — all in an effort to help create a maximally inclusive work environment for the Swedish tech company’s new digs in downtown Grand Rapids Blue35 building.

A West Michigan native, Steinhaus is drawing on her past experience overseeing the design of Configura’s corporate headquarters in Linköping, and is designing both the 12,000-square-foot space and planned rooftop terrace to accommodate large groups of visitors from the company’s Sweden headquarters and Malaysia offices, as well as those visit for CET Designer software training sessions.

“It’s about creating spaces that attract and retain the best of the best,” Steinhaus says. “Working in Grand Rapids is just as cool as working in Silicon Valley or anywhere in the world.”

Along with workspaces, the two-story office space will feature a large open kitchen area, a dining and recreation space, and “plenty of soft seating,” with a rooftop terrace available for everything from entertaining guests to a relaxation spot for Configura employees.

Created by Rockford Construction as a flexible work environment for modern-age businesses, the 103-year-old building at 35 Oakes St. SW is a fitting place for Swedish tech company Configura’s latest expansion into the Grand Rapids market, says Rockford’s managing partner of real estate development, Mike Mraz.

“Blue35 was created as an innovative environment to meet the ever-changing needs of businesses, right in the heart of our city,” Mraz says. “Welcoming Configura to the building speaks to the flexibility the space offers, and the continued desire for companies to be located in downtown Grand Rapids. This is a perfect addition to Blue35, and a great fit for Configura.”

Leasing two floors at a total of 12,000 square feet, Configura’s new office space is just one fixture in the eight-story Blue35 building, whose remaining six floors are outfitted with rentable private offices, co-working spaces, or other meeting and event rooms.

“To say we’re thrilled to be investing in Grand Rapids and our team for a strong future ahead is an understatement,” says Configura CEO Johan Lyreborn. “Grand Rapids is our second home – we love being here.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Configura/Rockford Construction

New $53 million Brix at Midtown opens leasing for 287-unit Medical Mile apartments

Although it may be managed by Georgia-based real estate company RISE, The Brix at Midtown wants to try and keep things as local as possible to create a community in its new 287-unit apartment complex, located at 414 Benson Ave. NE on the corner of Michigan Street and Benson Avenue.

General Manager Angela Brookins says at The Brix’s new 627 Michigan St. leasing office, even the snacks and coffee are purchased from Grand Rapids retailers, like Ferris Nut Coffee & Nut.

“We really, really want to be a neighborhood — that’s a huge priority to us, being that we’re (based) out of Georgia,” says Brookings, who herself from the Grand Rapids area worked with RISE to bring in Grand Rapids-based Wolverine Building Group as project leads for construction and made a conscious effort to pay homage to Midtown’s history in the naming of the complex.

“It’s really important to us to be Grand Rapids based and use Grand Rapids products,” she says. “It ties back to the naming of The Brix and paying homage to Midtown’s history in the early 1900s.”

Taken from the word “brickyatt,” meaning brickyard in Dutch, The Brix is a nod to some of the Medical Mile’s residents at the turn of the 20th century — members of the Polish and Dutch communities who worked together to build up industry in what was then a still budding downtown center, which relied heavily upon the community’s brickyards to support growing demand for clay in the early 1900s.

With more floor plans to choose from than you even knew could exist in one place (28, to be exact) across a total of 287 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, Brookings says apartments at The Brix afford individual tenants a little bit of customization, using smart design to utilize every inch of square footage in a way that makes sense from a practical standpoint.

“We have a one bedroom that actually has it where you come in and you have your living room, which flows into kitchen — it’s very open concept — and has a half-bath downstairs, but then at the back of the space, there’s a spiral staircase which leads to an upstairs loft with a full-size closet and a full bathroom,” she says.

However, regardless of floor plan, each unit at The Brix features private balcony access, grant counter tops, stainless steel appliances, a full size washer and dyer, and luxury designer cabinets and vinyl plank flooring.

Outside of each unit, list goes on with a roster of community amenities that include things like a gated off-street parking deck, a two-story fitness area and yoga studio, an indoor golf simulator, pet park and wash area, heated outdoor pool, bike storage and repair area, community fire pit, and a centrally located outdoor courtyard with a 6,000 square-feet of green space among them.

“Our amenities are going to be a big deal,” says Brookings, who thinks the emphasis on shared space is fitting for The Brix at Midtown’s larger mission of creating a real feeling of community in the downtown Grand Rapids neighborhood.

“We really want to be a part of Midtown…when you talk about Grand Rapids, you know where Eastown is, you know where Heritage Hill is, where the West Side is, downtown — I think Midtown is just an undiscovered neighborhood with a lot of potential,” she says.

To check out available floor plans or find more information on leasing, email live@thebrixatmidtown.com or visit The Brix at Midtown online.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Brix at Midtown/RISE

Out with the old, in with the new: Muskegon's Plumbs Market to reopen as Great Lakes Fresh Market

Closing its doors and selling its assets to Menominee-based L.M. Foods early last month, the new owners of the longtime local grocer Plumb Market in downtown Muskegon announced plans to reopen the 80-year-old store as Great Lakes Fresh Market following a revamp of the space at 1680 Apple Avenue.

“We are excited to bring the Great Lakes Fresh Market concept to the area,” L.M. Foods President Dan Gentz says in a statement last week.

Plumb’s other two locations in North Muskegon and Whitehall are also being operated by new owners at L.M. Foods, each store upgraded with improvements like state-of-the-art meat cases for maximum freshness and a wider selection of meat, a bakery, a deli, and produce offerings to keep up with modern grocery trends.

In downtown Muskegon, the renovated Great Lakes Fresh Market space will feature the same wider selection of meat, bakery, deli and produce items, but include additional upgrades that range from more organic and specialty wine options to an overhaul of its interior decor.

Named for the store’s new primary distributors, Great Lakes Foods, Gentz also says the new Great Lakes Fresh Market will hire a customer service specialist for good measure.

“As a customer, you can expect not only high quality produce, bakery, deli, and meat cut fresh in-store, but also the highest level customer service,” he says. “ A customer service specialist is being hired to ensure our patrons are taken care of. We want to be considered leaders in our community, so you can expect a high level of community involvement as well.”

Many of the Plumb Market employees were retained in the transition to Great Lakes Fresh Market, which is now in the process of training staff members in the delivery of consistent customer service — something the company considers as an often overlooked key factor to success as a small-town grocer.

“It was important to us to take care of the folks who have been with Plumb’s and who have been loyal to this community,” L.M. Foods owner Tom Kuber says. “Everyone has maintained their seniority, wages, and benefits. They’ve worked hard, they’ve been through a lot, and we’re happy to have them as part of the Great Lakes Fresh Market team.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Great Lakes Fresh Market

Beer geeks, unite! Craft Beer Cellar aims to be a haven for unique brews in Grand Rapids

Not long before Jessica Beeby and her husband, Brian Beaucher, the owners of the newly opened Craft Beer Cellar Grand Rapids on Ionia Avenue, bid adieu to their home on the East Coast to return to Michigan, they were wondering what they were going to do for work once they were back in the Mitten State.

Both beer enthusiasts -- or, really, beer geeks, as they call themselves -- the couple knew they’d love to work together and merge their career experiences: Beaucher had been a small business owner and Beeby’s background is in administrative support. So, they took their business know-how and turned to their love of brews.

“We’d known the owners of the Craft Beer Cellar flagship store in Massachusetts for a long time, and our beer knowledge had expanded exponentially because of them, so we approached them about opening a franchise in Grand Rapids,” says Beeby, who was born and raised in Kalamazoo. “We spent a couple months training with them before we moved to Michigan. We moved here and found a space we loved.”

That space is at 404 Ionia Ave. SW, in the Klingman Lofts Building that's just across from the Downtown Market, where Beeby and Beaucher are celebrating the bottle store’s grand opening this Friday, March 17 and Saturday, March 18.

“When we were first thinking of moving to Grand Rapids, one of the first places we visited was the Downtown Market, and we immediately fell in love with it,” Beeby says. "We love that part of the city, and we’re so excited to be down here.”

The store, which employs eight full- and part-time employees, has been open to the public throughout this week, giving Beeby and Beaucher a chance to get feedback before the big debut at the end of the week. This week, they’ll mark the grand opening with a ribbon cutting and craft beer tastings from such spots as Speciation Ales and Vander Mill on Friday, and more craft beer tastings -- from Brewery Vivant, Saugatuck Brewing and others -- donuts from the Grand Rapids-based Doughrunts, raffles, and WGRD broadcasting live on Saturday.

And, of course, beer drinkers will get a chance to explore the shop, where there’s a seating area in which to drink and eat (there are locally-made snacks in house, and patrons are invited to bring in food from the Downtown Market or other nearby shops). Plus, a section of the store features a walk-in cooler (you can buy a bottle or can from there and drink it in the store), as well as rows upon rows of craft beer. At the bar, there are 20 rotating draft lines from around the globe -- and from our own backyard.

“The draft lines allow us to bring in breweries that are not canning or bottling yet,” Beeby says. “We can feature people who are pretty new and not in full distribution yet. That helps them because they can test out beers they’re making and gauge how well the public is reacting to them so hopefully one day they can do bottling or canning.”

In addition to being able to support local and independent brewers, Beeby and Beaucher say they’re thrilled to contribute to the city’s growing beer community.

“It’s really exciting,” Beeby says of the opening. “The beer industry is amazing, especially here in Grand Rapids. Everyone is so collaborative. It’s so exciting to see people want to work together and truly live up to the ‘Beer City’ name.”

Craft Beer Cellar Grand Rapids (404 Ionia Ave. SW) will celebrate its grand opening from 12pm to 8pm on Friday, March 17 and the same time on Saturday, March 18. Normal business hours will be 10am to 10pm Monday through Saturday and 11am to 7pm Sunday. For more information, you can check out the shop’s Facebook page.

Photos courtesy of Steph Harding

Downtown Muskegon’s 321 Go! utilizes pitch competition to incentivize new downtown retail

Since the closing and demolition of the Muskegon Mall over 15 years ago, the downtown business community along the Muskegon lakeshore has focused on the slow and steady revitalization of new businesses and retail in the formerly titled Third Street Business District, now referred to more simply as Midtown.

Executive Director David Alexander of the downtown business improvement district, Downtown Muskegon Now, says bringing in new retailers is the last piece of the live-work-play puzzle that has picked up speed along the lakeshore over the past few years thanks to larger collaborative initiatives between the city, its chamber of commerce, and other local economic developers and community organizations.

“We want to build a diverse downtown that is dynamic; one that has a live, work, play environment for all kinds of talent looking for a staying place, and retail is really just the last of those segments that we need to start rebuilding,” says Alexander, who recently announced the launch of a new pitch competition called 321 Go!, developed in partnership by Downtown Muskegon Now, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, and Grand Valley State University’s Muskegon Innovation Hub.

“The GVSU Muskegon Innovation Hub has very much wanted and is wanting to get involved with new business development, and to encourage its entrepreneurial class and be a strong partner to Downtown Muskegon and revitalization on the downtown waterfront and nobody has been a bigger support of downtown redevelopment in Muskegon than the Muskegon Chamber,” says Alexander, who worked with partner organizations to model the business competition off of a similar one in Sacramento, California that they came across while brainstorming ideas to kick-start more downtown retail.

“We thought, hey, we can do that here, and we’ll see if we can get the interest from people and find the right tenant to embrace the space,” he says.

With a flexible application deadline set for March 17, 321 Go! partners will select five finalists to go on to the April 13 pitch event, where each will have the opportunity to present a case for their business or business plan to a small panel of judges with the chance to win a basket of business services valued at $15,000 and six months of free rent in a Midtown retail space.

After receiving six months of free rent on the retail space at 1144 Third Street as part of the prize winnings, the winning retailer will need to negotiate a one-year lease with building owner Brad Martell, a Grand Rapids entrepreneur and property developer who began redeveloping the former Oldsmobile dealership showroom and office for new retail space shortly after purchasing the property in 2016.

The competition winner must also be able to open for business by June 2017 and continue to operate in that space for at least 18 months thereafter to receive all the benefits of the massive prize package, which includes legal, accounting, marketing, architectural and design services as well as a commitment from Downtown Muskegon Now, GVSU’s Muskegon Innovation Hub and the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce to promote and mentor the winning business/business owner.

“There is a host of business support services the winner will be able to access through our sponsors and the Muskegon Innovation Hub,” says Kevin Ricco, executive director of GVSU’s Muskegon Innovation Hub.

Alexander says any and all retailers, both for and non-profit, as well on-site service operations are encouraged and welcome to apply to be a 321 Go! finalist with the exception of restaurants/restauranteurs, who are only disqualified because the space at 1144 Third Street doesn’t have the commercial kitchen required for food service operations.

For more information on 321 Go! or two submit an application for your business or start-up idea, visit downtownmuskegon.org/321go/.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Downtown Muskegon Now

Neighborhood Match Fund to award small contracts with big impacts to resident-led community projects

With a focus on addressing and promoting equitable outcomes that support resident leaders and build stronger connections between community members and their neighborhoods, Grand Rapids city officials announced the creation of a new Neighborhood Match Fund. Approved by the City Commission with the 2017 budget, the fund is intentionally designed as a new avenue for lifting up small community-based or grassroots organizations and groups in historically marginalized neighborhoods.

Stacy Stout, assistant to the city manager, says the March 30 deadline for proposal submissions marks the first round of the quarterly award process that will give winning applicants small contracts of between $200-$2,500, factoring in the amount originally requested, project scope, alignment with NMF objectives, and balance of funds.

Once awarded with a NMF contract, contractors must “match” the money dollar for dollar, and match contributions can be made in any combination of volunteer labor, in-kind goods and services, and cash donations.

The first of two scheduled information sessions was held earlier this week at Martin Luther King Elementary School,and community members interested in learning more about the Neighborhood Matching Fund are invited to attend the second session on March 14 at 2 p.m., hosted by GRPS University at 1400 Fuller Ave. NE.

“We encourage neighbors to learn about the fund and collaborate with their neighbors to submit a proposal,” says Stout, adding that projects applying for NMF contracts must be led by Grand Rapids resident that live in the community that the project will impact.

“Through our Neighborhood Match Fund Program, we want to build resident leadership, strengthen relationships between neighbors and increase the overall quality of life in our Grand Rapids neighborhoods,” Stout says.

Click here for more information on the Neighborhood Matching Fund, including application guidelines and eligibility requirements.

For more information on the upcoming March 14 information session, visit the event page on Facebook here or visit the city of Grand Rapids’ website for the Neighborhood Matching Fund to learn more information about the fund itself, including application guidelines, eligibility requirements for submission, and quarterly submission deadlines.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Artwork courtesy of Micah Bezant

The new Embassy Suites by Hilton hopes to bring strong upscale option to GR hotel market

With demolition of the former Western American Mailers plant underway on the corner of Bond Avenue and Newberry Street, developers at Suburban Inns have officially kicked off construction for its long-awaited upscale hotel, Embassy Suites by Hilton -- plans for which first began in 2009 with the purchase of the old Belknap Lookout plant. 

First derailed by the housing crash in 2009 and then again in 2014, build-out plans for the seven-story Embassy Suites have been in limbo for quite some time, but Suburban Inns is confident about its future with its new construction managers, Pioneer Construction. The company has set the new tentative completion date for summer 2019. 

Suburban Inns CEO Peter Beukema says with those setbacks now in the past, his team is only looking forward to the hotel’s future as one of downtown’s newest major players.

“There have been a number of roadblocks on this project, but we have been committed to the project from day one,” Beukema said. “It is important to us to do this right to be a positive asset in the community.”

Located at 710 Monroe Ave. NW in Grand Rapids’ North Monroe business district, the seven-story Embassy Suites is being touted as the first of its kind — not only with regards to the brand name, but also the upscale, all-suite style option it brings to the market. It will feature 246 suites in total, and many of those units will be equipped with individual balconies to take in views of the Grand River or the downtown Grand Rapids’ skyline.

Embassy Suites amenities include the second level’s indoor pool overlooking the Grand River, a lobby bar, an indoor/outdoor spa to a banquet facility for meetings and events, and a restaurant, Big E’s Sports Bar and Grill.

“Embassy Suites is a very unique brand, and we’re happy to work with Hilton on this project,” says Peter Beukema, chief executive officer at Suburban Inns. “The value that this hotel offers makes it a destination sought out by not only corporate travelers but also weekend leisure and sport teams as well.” 

In total, construction on the new hotel is expected to take anywhere from 18 to 24 months, with its estimated completion date set for summer 2019. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Suburban Inns

Sanford House on John Street brings old house charm to modern recovery

The new owners of 221 John St. in Heritage Hill are paying close attention to detail in the rehab of the historic mansion, which was originally built in 1891 and boasts hand carved wood finishes, nine bathrooms, and seven and a half bathrooms. 

When renovations are completed this June, the home where lavish, turn-of-the-20th-century parties were thrown by the first owner, Dr. Charles Hazeltine, will reopen as an addiction recovery center for men. The incoming “Sanford House on John Street” will serve as a residential and outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center for men and will have a 20-person capacity.

“Basically every surface in that house in being touched with the idea of preservation and return to its original grandeur,” says Rae Green, a lawyer and addiction counselor who decided to restore the home and reopen it as Sanford House on John Street following the success of she and her husband’s first recovery and treatment center for women, Sanford House on Cherry Street. 

“There was a beautiful stained glass window that had started to bow because of the leaded nature with which stained glass windows were made in 1800s…it’s being taken apart like a puzzle and being put back together,” she says. “Those are the depths we’re going to in order to touch and preserve every inch of the house.”

With much of the millwork and flooring intact and restorable, an expert team of craftsmen will also work to restore all 88 windows, refinish both interior and exterior woodwork, update the landscaping, and install new bathrooms and a new roof.

“The structure and the nature of the house lends well to a residential treatment setting,” Green says, highlighting floor plans that call for a house manager office, first floor handicap bedroom and bathroom, a larger kitchen and dining room, several group therapy rooms, outdoor porches and decks, a doctor’s office and secure medication storage, and a basement fitness room to boot. 

Fitness, Green says, will be among the many techniques utilized for the couple’s evidence-based gender specific recovery methods, which she says is about giving women and, in this case, men, a sense of environmental safety and freedom required to have the kind of honest conversations with each other that ultimately lead to healing. 

“The tendency is that when men are in a group with the absence of women, they can also speak more freely, although the topics might be different,” Green says. “…There’s that freedom within a gender specific setting, the pursuit of mutual goals and concerns.” 

For more information on the upcoming Sanford House on John Street or Sanford House on Cherry Street, visit Sanford House online at www.sanfordhousegr.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Sanford House Grand Rapids 

GR tech company Envoy celebrates expansion in upgraded Front Avenue space

Located on the western bank of the Grand River, the expanded offices of the Grand Rapids-based technology company Envoy boast more than just great views of downtown from its office space at 678 Front Avenue NW. 

Renovations to upgrade the venue wrapped up earlier this month, resulting in 8,500 square feet of new open office floorspace, new conference rooms, a new reception area, and a brand-new 1,400-square-foot photography studio — all geared at accommodating Envoy’s growing content services department, which had previously operated out of separate buildings. 

“This bigger space enables us to produce even more high-volume, high-quality product documentation for our footwear and apparel clients and help them go to market with their products even faster than before,” says Jon Faber, CEO of Envoy. 

The technology company, which provides wholesale B2B software solutions, find strength in its content services — a unique product documentation services that allows clients to display high-quality photos of products across different wholesale channels, which includes everything from online product catalogs, look books, and advertisements. 

For more information, visit www.envoyplatform.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Envoy/Ghost Code Studios

Good Pizza Co. brings Detroit-style deep dish downtown with new Jefferson Ave. digs

There are a few details to work out before owners of the new pizzeria, Good Pizza Company, can set an exact date for any kind of official grand opening, but with health inspections slated for the end of this week and a menu in the home stretches of finalization, Good Pizza Co. chef Derek Copp says they’ll most likely kick things off with a soft opening in March. 

Located at 10 Jefferson Ave. SE, the 1,000-square-foot storefront was formerly home to the collectively-owned Cult Pizza, which made setting up shop an easy decision for Copp and his business partner, Alexander Atkin, owner of the upcoming Good Pizza Co. 

“It's pretty much a turnkey operation, we got a pizza oven and everything all set to go,” says Copp, who was approached by Atkin last year with the idea for the pizzeria following a major life event that inspired him to switch gears. 

“(Alex) was in a motorcycle accident last year that injured his spine, so he’s in a wheelchair now indefinitely,” Copp says. “He does brewing consultations, but instead of just doing that and going stir crazy at home and trying to figure out what to do with his home life, he’s like, ‘Well, I need to get out and do something like run a business,' so he decided to go in this direction.”

Since signing the lease with Atkin at the beginning of the new year, Copp says he’s tried out some 60-odd recipes while setting the final menu, which will include classic pizzeria items like hand-tossed pizza, bread sticks, and cheese sticks in addition to the more unique thin crust and Detroit-style deep dish options. 

Sourdough crust for the regular recipe as well as a gluten free option will be made in house, while Copp says he plans on using locally sourced ingredients in their pizzas — including weekly rotating signature flavors — and hopes to work directly with farmers and other local distributors as much as possible.

“We're using local companies for cheese and meats and try and source direct from farmers as much as we can,” he says. “We want to utilize things like local hot sauces and hope to collaborate with other restaurants, too, for special items.” 

Good Pizza Co. also recently secured a license to operate as a BYOB wine and cider establishment, with plans to offer anywhere between five to seven by-the-slice options to help bring in more of the lunch crowd and those looking for a quick bite before hitting the nearby bar scene. 

“This is a pretty good location because it's so close to downtown…We want to be a hub for pre-bar hopping and that kind of thing.” 

Though the two also have plans to eventually expand into offering a delivery service, Good Pizza Co.’s brick-and-mortar aesthetic promises something unique and sort of playful for dine-in customers, with ideas floating around for everything from allocated wall space for photos of celebrity diners and a sort of “take-a-pizza, give-a-pizza” program to more goofy murals that would feature well-known personalities like John Lennon with pizza’s painted over his eyes and the words “Give Pizza Chance” or Homer Simpson spinning out pizza dough above his head with his signature catchphrase “D’oh” nearby. 

“It’s got kind of a surreal vibe, a lot of humor and a lot of puns,” Copp says. “We’re really big into puns.” 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images by Anya Zentmeyer/courtesy of Good Pizza Co. 

From Grand Rapids' land of movies & music videos, Deano's Studios prepares for new chapter

Considering Deano's Studios is the only purpose-built production studio in West Michigan, a lot went into the construction of the site located at 2450 Airway NE in Grand Rapids. 

The brainchild of husband-and-wife team Dean Horn and Rene Anderson, who have co-owned the facility since its conception in 1998, Deano’s Studios were originally built to accommodate production around the car industry, but has since helped to create commercial, corporate television, and feature-length films in its space. 

After nearly 20 years at the helm, Horn and Anderson announced the sale of Deano’s Studios last week to owners David and Matthew Lowing of the Wyoming film production rental company Lowing Light & Grip, which plans to reopen the studio under the name Lowing Studios. 

“We’re excited to have breakfast be breakfast again—not a business meeting,” Anderson says. “The timing is right for us to step away and refocus—this is a big place to keep going—and we’ve been doing it for 20 years.”

Lowing Light & Grip President David Lowing says the investment in Lowing Light & Grip presents a unique growth opportunity to expand their product offering to clients, diversify business, and invest in new opportunities while reemphasizing his company’s commitment to West Michigan film and commercial production community. 

“We have been seeking ways to diversify our business and invest in new opportunities, and expanding into sound stages is the right fit for our business to capitalize on,” Lowing says. “We’re looking forward to carrying on the quality of management and service Dean and René have always provided.”

While Lowing Light & Grip will continue to offer equipment sales and service, expendable sales, equipment rentals, and administrative offices at their Wyoming location at 1500 Whiting St. SW, Horn says he’ll also continue to work on creative projects in the future through Lowing Light & Grip and Lowing Studios. 

“It was also important to us that we find new owners that would be the right fit,” he says.

Meanwhile, son Matthew Lowing says the new Lowing Studios will look for ways to expand and further improve on the solid foundations Horn and Anderson lay down in the production community so many years ago. 

“Our priority will first be to continue our commitment to making this a world-class environment,” said Matthew Lowing. “We will also look for ways to expand on what Dean and René have built; this expansion means we will also be hiring additional staff who will help ensure the quality service we provide the production community.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Lowing Light & Grip

Blandford Nature Center breathes new life into Highlands Golf Course with plans for recreation space

After operating for more than 100 years as a private golf course, The Highlands Golf Course at 2715 Leonard St. NW was back on the market, with the new proposed land use initially leaning toward a housing development.

However, thanks to a partnership between Blandford Nature Center and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan with support from Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit The Conservation Fund, Blandford Nature Center obtained a $3 million short-term loan to purchase the 121-acre property. With the funding, Blandford plans to transform it into a new community green space for recreation and education.

“The Highlands offers an extraordinary opportunity to foster a stronger connection to the natural world through habitat restoration, environmental education, volunteerism, and recreation—all things that will make sure that our city is a great place to learn, live, play and work for generations,” says Jason Meyer, president and CEO of Blandford Nature Center, an independent, charitable non-profit that has a mission to “engage and empower the community through enriching experiences in nature.”

Joe Engel, Executive Director of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, says moving forward, Blandford will work alongside his organization and the surrounding community to secure funding for the repayment of the loans and continue with plans for future use and improvement of the property.

“We are off to a great start, with generous grants from the Ken and Judy Betz Family, the Wege Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Cook Foundation,” says Engel, whose organization will be taking the lead role in raising funds for the project. “We look forward to continued support from the entire community to help bring this project to fruition as it transforms from golf course to natural area.”

Third Coast Development and Pioneer Construction initially obtained an option to purchase the golf course to build condominiums and homes on the site, but the companies are now working alongside both land conservationists to help financially back Blandford’s project.

“Once we started talking to Blandford about the future of the property, we realized that sometimes development needs to take a back seat to an idea that benefits our entire community,” says Brad Rosely, partner at Third Coast Development.

The project’s first phase will include land acquisition, biodiversity studies, and preparation for initial public access while working to pay off the short-term loan, at which point the Land Conservancy will take ownership of a portion of the property. After gathering input from the surrounding community, the second phase will be the launch of habitat restoration projects, trail development, and public programs.

Mary Jane Dockeray, founder of Blandford Nature Center and former board member of the Land Conservancy, says the old Highlands Golf Course represents Blandford Nature Center’s last and only chance to expand in Grand Rapids and create additional educational and recreational opportunities not available elsewhere in the city.

“The community of Grand Rapids has been waiting patiently for something like this to come along—we will be able to serve more students, families, and friends as a result,” she says.

Visit Blandford Nature Center here on Facebook, or find Blandford online at blandfordnaturecenter.org.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Blandford Nature Center

$42M Diamond Place breaks ground on Michigan St., promises more affordable housing for Medical Mile

Third Coast Development and PK Development Group celebrated alongside Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and other project collaborators for the official groundbreaking of the $42 million Diamond Place project along the eastern edges of Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile.

Located on 2.8 acres in the northeast corner of Michigan and Diamond street, the land was acquired by Third Coast Development from its former owners, Proos Manufacturing, in 2015, The company spent the better part of last year figuring out the financing and design packages for the development before demolition and environmental cleanup could begin.

“We are excited to bring this development to the Michigan Street corridor and contribute to the city’s Great Housing Strategies plan,” says Brad Rosely, partner at Third Coast Development. “The Michigan Street Corridor Association, City of Grand Rapids and State of Michigan have been terrific to work with so we are very appreciative of their support.”
 
When Pioneer Construction completes the build-out on the Diamond Place project, the new development will feature 165 total one- and two-bedroom units, with 100 of those apartments designated as rent-restricted by Third Coast Development, which worked alongside Okemos-based PK Development Group to earn tax credits for affordable housing options.
 
“The city made it clear they wanted a development along this corridor that was affordable and sustainable for people of all income levels. We hope that Diamond Place will serve as an example of how this approach can be successful,” says PK Development Group partner Pete Potterpin.
 
Design plans by architects at Progressive AE for the new four-story mixed-use also show a 240-car parking ramp and enough ground floor retail space to earmark 15,000 square feet of it for a downtown grocery store. Though no specific ground floor tenants have been confirmed quite yet, partners at Third Coast say they are hopeful to land some retailers and grocers in this coming year and plan to make those public announcements as new developments are confirmed.

“This has been one of our largest and most complex projects,” says Third Coast partner Max Benedict. “But it has been terrific working with so many partners who share in our vision of creating a vibrant Michigan Street corridor.”

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Third Coast Development 

 

The Green Well evolution: Gastropub's Rockford debut is beginning of possible regional expansion

Since opening at 924 Cherry St. SE in 2007, Essence Restaurant Group’s all-American gastropub, The Green Well, has become a staple in the East Hills community. Hoping that same balanced growth can evolve in more communities outside of Grand Rapids, ERG recently announced plans to open a second Green Well in the Rockford Promenade Building.
 
The Grand Rapids-based Honor Construction is handling renovations on the building that previously housed Reds on the River  at 8 East Bridge St. in downtown Rockford, with scheduled completion and opening for the new Green Well slated for summer 2017.
 
With enough indoor space to seat 160 people and additional outdoor patio seating for 60, The Green Well Rockford will start with the same concept as the popular East Hills original, but plans to add some fresh, local flair to the restaurant as it becomes better acquainted with the surrounding Rockford community.
 
Building owner Daniel Trierweiler of DJT Properties, LLC says he sees similarities between the growing Rockford downtown and the East Hills community, where The Green Well has been met with success for the past decade, namely an all-around growth in population and business, coupled with residents’ focus on local retail and dining options.
 
“Since the space went vacant last summer, I have been determined to find the best next tenant for this beautiful setting,” says Trierweiler, giving credit to Ben Muller Realty Company for helping him find Restaurant Essence Group, whose Victoria Mitchell assisted in securing The Green Well Rockford to a 10-year lease on the space.
 
“Essence is all about local, from sourcing local ingredients to committing to supporting local communities, so Ben Muller Realty did a fine job in securing Essence,” he says.
 
The renovated space will also include two additional retail spaces on either side of the new Green Well Rockford restaurant, with hopes to draw in more interest from upscale local retailers for potential tenancy.
 
With plans to hire 35 to 40 new employees to operate the new facility, Essence Restaurant Group Managing Partner, James Berg, says this second location is just the start for The Green Well pub brand, with ERG leaders beginning to think about the possibility of planting additional locations across the region.
 
“Our Rockford location will allow the start of future growth for The Green Well brand without diluting what we have created on Cherry Street in Grand Rapids," Berg says.

For more information on The Green Well or any of Essence Restaurant Group’s other eateries, visit www.essencerestaurants.com.
 
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Essence Restaurant Grou

The Parliament Collective launches new Ave. for the Arts boutique during February First Fridays

It may only be a few doors down from its current home along Grand Rapids’ Avenue for the Arts, but The Parliament Collective’s new local makers retail space at 136 S. Division Ave. promises an even deeper look into the creative process behind the products and workshops held within its walls.

Selling handcrafted work by dozens of local makers — products that range from leather, jewelry and other accessories to home goods, ceramics, and cards — the new Parliament the Boutique has enough space for a retail storefront and separate studio spaces for each of its three collective co-owners, giving customers the opportunity not only to see products quite literally in the making, but also participate in the community workshops that will be held there. 

At its current home on South Division, co-founder Elyse Marie Welcher  originally opened the Parliament Collective boutique in 2013 as a studio space and founding store for her brand, Littlewing Designs.

“Operating a studio separate from our shop was a necessary step for us to grow, but it wasn’t necessarily sustainable,” says Welcher, who owns the space alongside Harbinger Leather Design’s Jacob Vroon and Megan Roach of Adventure Textiles. “Finding a new space where both our studio and storefront could flourish together was an important step for the long-term existence of Parliament.”

Roach says the new space affords both the artists and their customers a unique avenue for transparency into the creative process of the products they sell there. 

“It gives us a way deeper and more meaningful way to connect with the people who love our goods,” says Roach, who is a business owner and Parliament Collective co-founder. “You can explain what a loom is and what it means to weave to a certain extent, but seeing the loom in action, that is a completely different level of experience.”

Hosted by Avenue for the Arts on as part of its First Fridays monthly gallery and shop hop, The Parliament Collective will hold a grand-reopening event of its new boutique on Feb. 3 from 5-9 p.m. The event will give attendees a chance to not only check out Parliament’s new digs, but also learn more about upcoming community workshops that will include lessons on things like basic leather craft and natural dyeing. 

To learn more about The Parliament Collective or its new boutique space, visit www.parliamenttheboutique.com or find it here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Parliament the Boutique 

GRCC’s new preschool lab sets sights on becoming early childhood hub for the area

Operating out of the First United Methodist Church on E. Fulton Street since its founding in 1974, a dedicated space for Grand Rapids Community College’s laboratory preschool has been a long time coming. 

“We are excited to open a new facility that has been specifically designed to meet the needs of two populations — preschoolers from ages six weeks to six years and the students in our child development and education programs,” says President Steven Ender.

The $2.7 million, state-of the-art new laboratory preschool, which broke ground at 210 Lyon Street NW in summer 2015, will celebrate the grand opening of the space with a community open house at 2 p.m. on Jan. 21.

Each of the new laboratory preschool classrooms boast outdoor meeting spaces, as well as individual meeting spaces, with a separate classroom, lockers, and other designated space for GRCC students in the college’s childhood development and education program. The new building also features a children’s library, multipurpose spaces to host large motor activities for the children, and an office for Child Development and Education program faculty. 

Named the Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory in honor of the person who began both of the programs within its walls, GRCC Preschool Director JaneAnn Benson says the interior weaves an ecological theme throughout and uses the textures already there as a tactile representation. 

"Different textures represent things such as forest/woodland, marsh/meadow, lake/river and sand dune/beach," Benson says. "There also are circles throughout the building representing many things, including how connected we are, bubbles in the river, bubbles that children love to play with, and our connection with the neighborhood.”

Thanks to the additional classrooms afforded by the new building, GRCC can also allow the preschool to expand its services and broaden early childhood educational support for families and caregivers in low-income Grand Rapids neighborhoods. 

GRCC received funding from the Frey Foundation, PNC Bank Foundation, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation for the creation of a new community liaison position at the college to help implement an outreach program that positions the new preschool as a hub for connecting families, teachers, and students with best-practice early education resources. 

"Early childhood care providers from the community will meet here to learn and share practices that best support children and families," Benson says. “The building will also serve to support families in the care of their children -- providing a dynamic space for their children to learn and grow, providing child and community resources, and events that support healthy family development."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Community College 

Horizon Bank launches first GR location with goal to bring community banking back

After announcing plans to launch a new location in downtown Grand Rapids next month, Horizon Bank’s new Grand Rapids market president, David Quade, says he hopes the recent signing of a 10-year lease on an space at 250 Pearl St. NW will be proof of the bank’s long-term commitment to the local community. 

“This is a strong growth market for the bank, and it helps connect our footprint between Kalamazoo and Lansing,” Quade says. “Our goal is to bring community banking back to our market.” 

Launching its very first location 143 years ago now, Quade says Horizon Bank, as an institution, has always been committed to finding ways to give back to the communities it operates in through volunteer work and financial support.

He wants to bring those values to Grand Rapids, he says, with plans to establish a community bank advisory board led by local business owners, professionals, and community leaders. 

“We’ll get feedback directly from the community on what are the true banking opportunities in Grand Rapids, and we’ll react accordingly” Quade says. “Plus, we’ll be looking for input from our clients to help guide our sponsorships and donations to local community organizations who could benefit from our support.”

The larger Horizon Bank brand also runs a host of community outreach programs alongside its Horizon-Cares Charitable Grant Program, which hooks up qualifying local nonprofit organizations with grant funding for up to $5,000.

Currently operating out of a temporary location to provide commercial and private banking products and services, Quade says the new 13,000-square-foot Pearl Street facility will house up to 15 advisors and allow them to expand capabilities to not only include products and services in commercial and private banking, but also across retail, treasury management, and mortgage. 

In an attempt to try to meet  the diverse market needs with “a well-rounded” approach, Quade says all of the advisors coming to join him in the new Grand Rapids branch have a background in banking in West Michigan.

“We’re building the best team possible,” he says. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Horizon Bank

New funding will help local nonprofit advance Grand River restoration efforts

A major financial award is making big waves for the future of the Grand River.

Last week, Grand Rapids Whitewater (GRWW), a local nonprofit, announced the award of about $4 million, with the funding made possible through a partnership with the Grand Valley Metro Council. The money will go toward advancing in-stream habitat restoration efforts associated with the Grand River Revitalization and Rapids Restoration project, an initiative founded to restore wildlife and entertainment options a long a 2.2-mile stretch of the Grand River through downtown Grand Rapids.

The restoration project, which initially began with a simple goal of creating a place to kayak and canoe the river in the summer when no one was using the river, has since expanded to a larger project thanks to public input and sediment sampling. 

“The project has moved up river toward the recently discovered head of the original rapids just south of Ann St. Kayaking and canoeing will be one recreational component of many that will enhance the river’s image and contribute to the exciting new downtown vibe,” says the GRWW website. 

The $4 million Grand Valley Metro Council award comes on the heels of an earlier $8 million funding initiative granted through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which was bestowed upon the Grand River Restoration Project in November of last year.

Federal funding for the “Lower Grand River Watershed Habitat Restoration – Farmland Conservation Project” comes through the 2014 Farm Bill’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, authored by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan). The five-year project will spend over half of the funding on restoring habitat for fish and endangered species in the Grand River through downtown Grand Rapids, while the remaining funds will be used to implement water quality improvements in the Indian Mill Creek and Rogue River Watersheds.

“This funding announcement provides a significant boost in momentum for the rapids restoration project and is a direct result of ongoing collaborations between Grand Rapids Whitewater, the Grand Valley Metro Council, the city of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., and several local philanthropic foundations,” says GRWW President Chris Muller, whose organization has been leading efforts to revitalize the Grand River and restore its namesake rapids since 2010. 

For more than half a decade, GRWW has raised over $5 million in private donations and funding and received the Urban Waters Federal Partnership designation in 2013.

“We are grateful for federal support for this important project, and we thank Sen. Debbie Stabenow and others for their work in laying the foundation for this critical funding,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said in a  press release last week. “This is a tremendous step forward as we work together to restore the Grand River and transform it into an asset for not only downtown but the entire region.”

To learn more about the GRWW and its partnerships, visit www.grandrapidswhitewater.org

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids White Water 

One Bourbon to bring world of whiskey to the West Side

Bringing 15 new jobs to Grand Rapids’ West Side, the recently announced One Bourbon will also debut the neighborhood’s first dedicated whiskey bar when it it opens this spring in the former Rocket Lounge at 608 Bridge Street NW. 

One Bourbon will feature a menu of more than 100 whiskeys and bourbons and American regional dining favorites made from locally-sourced ingredients, including fried chicken, bourbon beef poutine and vegetarian shepherd’s pie. 

At 6,251 square feet, the renovated space will accommodate at least 200 people, offering a downstairs bar and dining space, a private dining room and an outdoor patio. 

Meagan Freriks, One Bourbon partner, says the building renovation will update the interior look with a new kitchen and a steel-wrapped bar, while still maintaining the original character of the building’s outside. 

“We absolutely love the West Side community and, thanks to Colliers, we get to be part of this vibrant neighborhood and contribute to its exciting revitalization,” Freriks says. 

Colliers West Michigan Retail Advisor Mark Ansara assisted with the leasing for this project and says he’s confident One Bourbon will experience a lot of success on the West Side. 

“The West Side is booming, and it’s exciting to see new restaurant concepts like One Bourbon plant their roots in this neighborhood,” Ansara says. 

For more information, visit onebourbongr.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of One Bourbon

Safe Haven Ministries launches $4M campaign for new facility, program expansion

In 2016, Grand Rapids’ Safe Haven Ministries served 577 women and domestic violence survivors and since 2012 has watched its number of hotline calls grow by 110 percent. Additionally, the group has experienced a 75 percent growth in its support group attendance, 30 percent increase in client case management, and 20 percent increase in average length of stay.

“Rates of domestic violence are not increasing, but the demand for service and the breadth of services needed by survivors of domestic violence is,” says Safe Haven’s Executive Director Cindy Sielawa, citing the consistent growth in population in Grand Rapids as a likely factor for the increase in demand. 

“As our community grows, if those same statistics are true, you’re going to have an increase in demand and need for service,” says Sielawa, whose organization recently launched a $4 million capital campaign called Empower the Journey to raise funds for the build-out of a new, 19,000-square-foot facility that will combine both its residential and nonresidential programs under one roof. 

“Our current facility accommodates between seven to nine households depending on family makeup, and the new facility will be able to accommodate 12 to 15 households and allow us to provide service to larger families with more than four dependent children, which is a huge advantage,” Sielawa says in reference to Safe Haven’s emergency shelter.

Safe Haven acquired the land and received zoning approval in October for the 19,000-square-foot facility located on 28th Street near Breton Road. Though Sielawa says the location of its emergency shelter will eventually be public, some of the security points are still in the design phase, so the organization isn’t disclosing the specific address quite yet. 

“Even though our shelter will no longer be a confidential location, every measure will be taken by the building and the facility ourselves to ensure confidentially and privacy of clients, all of the way through architectural drawings to construction process and training our staff receives,” she says. 

In addition to nearly doubling the bed capacity of its emergency shelter, an expanded space will also allow for the development and implementation of new supportive services that include everything from counseling to new healing gardens and play therapy. Though Safe Haven’s residential program deals directly with women for crisis intervention, Sielawa says a large part of what the nonprofit does is prevention and education — programs which they can begin to grow even further in a larger space, as well. 

“The space will allow us to have more of these conversations with community members and will equip us with the space we need to be better community collaborators — we don’t have a lot of space to do that right now,” Sielawa says. “We believe that the entire community can play an active role in preventing domestic violence, and we want others to know how to respond or how to be supportive and where they can turn to get help and support.”

Click here to donate directly to Safe Haven Ministries’ Empower the Journey campaign, or visit safehavenministries.org to learn more about how you help. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Safe Haven Ministries 

Where everybody knows your name: Squibb Coffee Bar hopes to be space for coffee & wine lovers alike

On the heels of Squibb Coffee Bar’s Nov. 30 grand opening, owner and operator Mallory Squibb is looking forward to next month. It’s then that the approval for a liquor license will kick the pour-over coffee concept up a notch with the addition of a hand-picked wine menu to be served alongside its existing selection of pastries, cheeses and other shareable small plates.

Located in the 1,200-square-foot storefront at 955 Wealthy St. SE, Squibb says the idea behind her new coffee bar/wine and cheese hybrid was to bring together something familiar and something different with the two concepts, and she found their common thread in the kind of community gathering space they both inspire. 

"The concept “came from my love for coffee, wine and cheese and how those three things are the things that people meet up for and gather around or want to enjoy with other people,” says Squibb, who cultivated her love of coffee, wine and cheese while working at Babo Market in Ann Arbor and Aperitivo in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. 

“There's a reason a lot of people go to coffee shops, and it's to feel like they're not alone and not just in an office or their room by themselves,” she says. “I think bringing those two worlds together is perfect — if someone wants a glass of wine or if someone wants a cup of coffee, you can meet up in the afternoon and you can both have what you want. I also go to a lot of coffee shops where all they have are pastries, and I wanted to offer more small plate options to share.”

After considering a few other spaces in downtown Grand Rapids, including a spot near Marie Catrib’s and another on Monroe Avenue, Squibb signed the lease for 955 Wealthy St. SE last January.

The space is bright and clean, the white subway tiling creating contrast against dark wood tables in a well-lit space with an aesthetic focal point found in the sprawling wall mural painted by local artist Kelly Allen — a giant squid that stretches across the back wall of the coffee shop facing the front bar. 

“I've just always kind of been obsessed with underwater creatures,” Squibb says. “…[The mural] was going to be an octopus, but then we thought, ‘You know what? A squid is funny. My last name is Squibb and people have always called me squid,’ so I showed Kelly — who is a local artist and an amazing woman — some things that I liked, and she proceeded to watch many, many videos of squids and came back with a lot of different sketches for us.” 

Bazzanni Building Co. handled the eight-week renovation and build-out at 955 Wealthy St. and, other than a few consultants from the food service industry brought in to help design the space behind the bar, Squibb handled the majority of the interior design, looking to strike the same balance between something old and something new that her concept wants to encourage and accommodate. 

“I think it's a good mixture of new college students who want a place to hang out, but also people who have lived in the neighborhood for a while and want a new place to go,” Squibb says. “I feel like this town is very food forward, especially with all of the restaurants coming in, so I feel like people are going to appreciate this concept. 

“We love Wealthy Street…I think it's a good mixture of new college students who want a place to hang out, but also people who have lived in the neighborhood for a while and want a new place to go,” she continues. “We like the walkability of this area and how things are really developing over here, both residential and commercially, so we thought it was the perfect time to get in and get settled before it really blows up.” 

To learn more about Squibb Coffee Bar, visit www.squibbgr.com or find Squibb Coffee Bar here on Facebook. 

Visit Squibb Coffee Bar online for more information, or find them here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Squibb Coffee Bar/Rachel Liu Photography 

No victory too small: Eastown residents, ECA hope for a more welcoming Sigsbee Park

When all was said and done, it only took about half the day on Sept. 14 for volunteers to tear down the chain-link fence that loomed six feet tall around the two-acre lot at 1250 Sigsbee St SE — a surprisingly quick job for a project that was, by most accounts, surprisingly tough to tackle. 

“For the community, it was something that people had been wanting to have removed for a while because, for that part of the neighborhood, Sigsbee is the go-to park,” Marisa Sandahl, who this past fall was at the tail end of her tenure as Eastown Community Association’s executive director, says of the fence that was keeping residents from accessing otherwise useable parkland. 

Former home to Sigsbee Elementary School, the corner lot fenced both the old educational site and its surrounding playground and green space. Once the building was no longer being used as Sigsbee Elementary, the space was officially reclassified as a “school park” and renamed Southeast Academic in partnership with the Grand Rapids Public School District, leaving it open for wider use as a public green space. 

“It’s a green space that was fenced off,” says Sandahl, adding that the fencing made it difficult to tell that the space was open to the larger community, which kept the space from living up to it’s full potential as a significant public green space and gathering space for the whole community

For years, residents rallied alongside the ECA to have the fence removed, and whether due to a breakdown in communication, changes in organizational leadership, or just opposing ideas of what the space would ultimately be redeveloped for, the project was repeatedly tabled. 

Finally, Sandahl found her window of opportunity this past September, when she worked with a volunteer coordinator from United Way to bring in additional volunteers who had the manpower and heavy machinery necessary for unearthing the fence from its cemented pillars, leveraging the organization’s annual Day of Action to rally residents one last time.

“It’s really thanks to their advocacy, as well as their tenacity, [that got] it done. They lined up the volunteers, and we were able to give the green light,” says GRPS Executive Director of Communications and External Affairs John Helmholdt, whose district is operating with a renewed focus on reconnecting local schools with their surrounding neighborhoods thanks to new leadership under superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.  

“The old GRPS way was one where it was always head down, say no to everything; and I hate to say it, but that’s how we were,” Helmholdt says. “We were not community-facing in our decision making and not sensitive to needs of neighbors, so that has been a dramatic and very positive shift — one you can really see and begin to feel throughout the city.” 

And for Sandahl and other Eastown community members, having public green spaces that are readily accessible — the kind that have the appearance of welcomeness and act as a nurturing gathering spaces for all neighbors — is one of the most important needs for the area. 

“It’s a really big thing that sometimes feels small, or sometimes you don’t notice it when you’re missing it, but a lot of things within communities are like that,” Sandahl says. “They don’t feel like huge things, but when they are done, it makes a difference to the whole community. “

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Eastown Community Association

Adored Boutique opens East Hills retail space with hopes of paying it forward

As far as owner Emily Smith is concerned, the decision to open the new Adored Boutique and follow a career into retail wasn’t ever something she actively intended to work toward, but rather something she began to understand over time. 

“I was really restless in my career, and I was on a mission trip in Cuba, and the trip was really surrounded in this idea of just loving on women and reminding them that they’re not alone,” says Smith, who opened her 1,200-square-foot women’s clothing store, Adored Boutique, Dec. 1 at 968 Cherry St. in East Hills. “Every woman we connected with (during the trip) would get something to call her own that was special and feminine and made her feel good and made her feel loved…By the time I left that trip, I understood that I needed to change my career and that it involved opening a women’s boutique and over time God really just fine-tuned it in me.”

Then, almost one year ago, Smith said she was singing the hymn “O Come Let Us Adore Him” at her church’s Christmas service when she was struck with inspiration for Adored Boutique, which features contemporary apparel, shoes and home goods exclusively from vendors who are ethical manufacturers, many of whom employ individuals who were victims of human trafficking or other forms of exploitation. 

“It was really about just taking each step at a time to understand it, so I started researching ethical manufacturers — and I didn’t really know that word, ethical manufacturers, but I kept searching and finally started making connections with those vendors,” says Smith, adding that the one thing these vendors all had in common was a focus on creating employment opportunities for women who recently escaped poverty, sex trafficking, or other forms of exploitation  

After signing a five-year lease in October, Smith began renovating and moving into the space just last month, whipping the former hair salon into shape with help from her interior designer sister and longtime friend and contractor who assisted with the build-out. 

Committed to partnering with local and global organizations that have missions to directly or indirectly support the rescue and restoration of victims of human trafficking, Adored Boutique gives back 15 percent of its profits to charity partners on local, regional, and national levels. 

Now nestled on the corner of Cherry Street and Lake Drive, Smith says the revamped retail space fits right in with not only the vibe of her new neighborhood, but also with its residents and other entrepreneurs in the ever-growing business community. 

“I will say that every single business owner in this community has just been genuinely welcoming and encouraging and supportive, and I would say the same about the people who live in the area and have come into the store,” she says. “It’s such a positive atmosphere.” 

For more information about Adored Boutique, its vendors, or what charities it contributes to, visit Adored Boutique online here.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Adored Boutique 

Power to the people: WestSide Collaborative & Harmony Hall launch fundraiser for neighborhood grants

If you are looking to contribute to a local, grassroots cause this holiday season, it doesn’t get more local and more grassroots than the partnership between Harmony Hall and the WestSide Collaborative. 

For the month of December, Harmony Hall will be selling ornaments to raise funds for the WestSide Collaborative’s resident empowerment grant program, with empowerment being the key word.
 
The WestSide Collaborative is a group of local nonprofits and neighborhood organizations located in, and working on, the west side of Grand Rapids that seeks to address the marginalization of west side residents due to the concentration of power held by entities and individuals other than the residents themselves.

Sergio Cira-Reyes, of the WestSide Collaborative, says the grant program will fund programs designed by residents and for residents of the west side of Grand Rapids. “The goal is to connect residents with other residents to improve the neighborhood and build community,” he says.
 
These efforts come at a particularly crucial time, with “mom ‘n pop” shops giving way to larger developments and rents continually rising. In an article Rapid Growth published last year, Andrew Sisson, of the WestSide Collaborative, explained the tension behind the changes occurring on the city’s west side.

Cira-Reyes says this new program is open to all west side residents living in an area that is roughly west of the Grand River, north of Wealthy Street, south of Richmond, and east of Valley.  Ideas and applications for the  empowerment grants program are submitted on their website and then the neighborhood votes to see which project will be awarded up to $1,000. 

As far the types of projects that can be submitted, Cira-Reyes says it is up to the people living in the neighborhoods.  “If they want to fund a mural, to build pride, and they can get the residents energized to vote, that is fine,” he says.
 
Cira-Reyes encourages anyone submitting ideas to think of proposals that will bring the neighborhood together, whether it is, for example, a repurposing existing spaces for soccer fields or improving local parks. “It’s really about residents addressing the issues in the neighborhoods,” he says. “We want to build a culture so that if there is a problem in the community we can get together and fix it.”

Heather Van Dyke-Titus, co-owner of the west side’s Harmony Hall, says this is exactly the type of program her business believes in supporting. “The WestSide Collaborative are old school organizers,” she says. “They are raising money and working on projects that directly impact the neighborhoods.”

Harmony Hall will kick off the fundraiser with a celebration on Dec. 8. The event will feature the local band The Bootstrap Boys playing holiday music from 6-9 pm, the release of the Gingerbread Brown beer, and festive food specials. Representatives from the WestSide Collaborative will be present to share information about the grant program.

Submissions for ideas close on Dec. 16. The top ideas, as voted by the residents, will be pitched to a panel of judges, which will include people living in the neighborhood, to determine the winner of the grant on Jan. 19. Cira-Reyes says organization has a full-court press to get the word out about the grant, including meetings with students in the local middle school and Union High School. 

To learn more, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Dec. 10 opening of Pop Up Shop GR brings unique retail space to Avenue for the Arts

Located at 315 S. Division along the Avenue for the Arts, the new Pop Up Shop GR will hold its grand opening Dec. 10. The event will be hosted by Pop Up Shop owner Tova Jones. 

The new Pop Up Shop was created by Jones to encourage entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, and other independent entities to take the first leap at owning and promoting their own work. 

“I want to get e-commerce business owners, artists, and musicians excited about a space where they can come and sell their product,” says Jones.

Jones adds that because many e-commerce business owners don’t often get the opportunity to hold a space of their own outside of festivals and other tabling events, Pop Up Shop’s vision is to provide a venue that helps entrepreneurs expand their brand and have a local touchpoint with their customer base.

For more information about Pop Up Shop GR, email Jones at grpopupshop@gmail.com or visit here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Pop Up Shop GR

'A vibrant part of the neighborhood': Historic Kingsley Building renovation to include apts, offices

Doing business as Offsite Lake Drive, LLC, Maplegrove Development and Bazzani Building Co. have partnered to complete renovations on the top four floors of the 90-year-old Kingsley Building at 1415 Lake Dr. in Eastown.

Construction on the building’s ground floor retail space were completed in recent years by its owner, Bazzani. With Maplegrove Development now on board as property managers, the duo will turn its focus to the $10.7 million renovation of the remaining four floors. The project will result in a mix of new office spaces and residential apartment units and is expected to take about 14 months to complete. 

“Offsite Lake Drive, LLC is proud to be a part of the Eastown neighborhood and believes that the completion of the Kingsley Building renovation will make a once obsolete property a vibrant part of the neighborhood,” says Chief Operating Officer/Member David Emdin of Maplegrove Property Management.

At 17,000 square feet, the Kingsley Building’s second floor will house approximately 18 small offices — ranging from 200 to 500 square feet — lining the exterior of the space, with private residential storage filling in interior. 

The third, fourth, and fifth floors will transform into 41 new one- and two-bedroom apartments. With heat, air conditioning, and one indoor parking space included, the units’ rental rates are expected to range from $1,170 to $1,270 for one-bedrooms and $1,730 to $1,830 for two-bedrooms.

With plans to insert more than 100 windows around the exterior of the building, as well as small balconies for most of the apartment units, designs also call for a three-story atrium and a large rooftop gathering patio where residents can look out on surrounding Eastown neighborhood. 

With an expected grand opening in spring 2018, Bazzani will seek Gold level LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for the renovation of the Kingsley Building, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings in 2012. Built in 1926, the building was formerly home to the Grand Rapids Storage and Van Co. and Zondervan Publishing.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Bazzani Building Co. 

Juhlia to bring innovative drink menu to GR nightlife

In a design era that seems to rely heavily on contemporary angles and industrial fixtures in gathering spaces with open floor plans, Adam Wolpa and Andy Stob want their new Cheshire Village space to have an aesthetic that’s softer around the edges. 

“We’re thinking less industrial, less steel and barnwood,” Wolpa says of Juhlia, a cafe that he's co-opening with Stob at 2124 Plainfield Ave. “More vibrant, more feminine, more rounded architectural elements. We want it to be beautiful and quiet, and we want it to be comfortable.”

The plans from Wolpa, an artist and former Calvin College professor with 25 years of on-and-off restaurant experience, and Stob, a general contractor and owner of Stob Construction, for the upcoming Juhlia promise a warm and welcoming atmosphere and an innovative food and drink menu. Menu details will be unveiled at a later date.

The new culinary spot will include a variety of drinks with health benefits, and Wolpa notes it will provide different options for folks who want to spend a night (or day) out with friends.

Though work on the space is currently underway, both of Juhlia’s co-owners hold down full time jobs alongside their new joint enterprise, so Wolpa says, realistically, they’re looking at a fall 2017 opening. 

In the meantime, Wolpa and Stob have been working with architect Greg Metz to finalize Juhlia’s design and build-out plans, tapping into resources offered by Grand Valley State University’s Small Business Development Center with the intent to launch a Kickstarter Campaign as the final stage of fundraising efforts in the coming months. Plus, the two owners have been thrilled to meet their new neighbors in Cheshire Village. 

“A lot of us over there are working really hard,” Wolpa says. “…There’s a really good energy with lots of things coming together.” 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Local floral designer, Posh Petals, ups the ante on elegance with new West Side digs

With wedding season finally drawing to a  close, floral design company Posh Petals is finally finding time to celebrate the grand opening of its new 3,000-square-foot retail space at 806 Bridge St. NW with a ribbon cutting ceremony Nov. 16 at 9:30 a.m. 

Though Posh Petals began moving into the space back in July, owner Elizabeth Schenk said the wedding season kept her 10-person staff too busy for any kind of formal celebration. Now, however, Schenk, her employees and the community will have a chance to celebrate the relocation from the original shop at 2150 Plainfield Ave., which the owner says ended up being a “blessing in disguise.” 

“The building was sold and so we needed to relocate,” says Schenk, who opened on Plainfield Avenue in the former Roxy Theater building in fall 2014. “It was a blessing in disguise because we had outgrown our old space anyway, and it just made more sense to relocate.” 

With a range of services that include everything from floral design and event planning/design for weddings, corporations, and non-profits, Posh Petals also serves walk-in customers, hosts parties and group gatherings, and offers design classes and workshops, like its upcoming Thanksgiving centerpiece class on Nov. 22 and annual wreath decorating class on Dec. 6. 

“Our (classes) are more like a workshop…The way we design is just being artistic and creative and letting the flowers speak for themselves, so we try to instruct people about that,” says Schenk, who became enamoured with floral design in college. “I got into it because in college I just started working at a greenhouse, and I just fell in love with the floral design.” 

With almost 1,000 additional square feet in her new space, Schenk says she loved the new space as a blank slate and used the opportunity to add a bit of maturity to the Posh Petals aesthetic with vintage tin ceilings, custom-built design tables and cooler, and an open floor plan that features large windows along the entire facade of the building, 

“I love that it was a blank canvas. The walls are ivory; the floor is light grey. It’s a big, huge, open space; we could separate each area and customize it and it’s just really clean,” Schenk says. “Our old space we really had a fun, shabby chic look going on but this space still has that older look, but with a more elegant twist to it. We kept everything really simple, pretty and romantic.”

Visit Posh Petals on Facebook or online for more information on services, class schedules, and online ordering. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Amanda Montgomery/Arrae Photography


Related articles:
Floral shop and boutique opens in old Roxy Theatre building on Plainfield

ReThink West Michigan works to bring back young talent to region with 5th annual event

During the past couple of years that Cindy Brown has served as executive director of the West Michigan-focused talent attraction organization, Hello West Michigan, she says it has become a lot easier to convince young people who have moved away from the area that there are good reasons to come back and stay. 

“In the years I’ve been doing this, it’s done a complete turnaround where it’s easier now to target individuals (who relocated from West Michigan) and remind them of great opportunities here,” Brown says, adding that all of the recent enhancement to downtown areas — which includes everything from a plethora of new commercial retail and residential projects to renewed interest in enhancing public parks and adding bike paths — make the job much easier. 

So, with the Thanksgiving holiday just on the horizon, Hello West Michigan has teamed up with economic developers at The Right Place to host the fifth annual ReThink West Michigan event on Wednesday, Nov. 23. 

With 16 area companies and several non-profit organizations all signed up to represent career opportunities geared at attracting former West Michiganders back to the region, ReThink West Michigan offers a non-traditional “career fair” setting that skews toward a more casual networking environment. The event will be held from 5:30-8 p.m. on the fourth floor of The B.O.B. in downtown Grand Rapids.

Brown says the past four years of the event have attracted more than 460 professionals and resulted in somewhere around 40 hires — or relocations — to date. 

“This event is truly unique because it is solely for former West Michigan residents that have moved away. We’re highlighting the things people want to know about when they think about relocating: career opportunities and lifestyle in West Michigan,” Brown says. 

The event is free and some walk-ins will be available on the night of, but Brown encourages anyone interested in attending to register online prior to the event. 

For more information on ReThink West Michigan or to register for the Nov. 23 event, visit www.rethinkwm.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of ReThink West Michigan/Hello West Michigan

Longtime tattoo artist opens tattoo parlor-art gallery hybrid in renovated Lake Drive space

It took nearly 20 years of being in the business for BJ Johnson to realize what it was he wanted for his career, and his dreams are now coming true with the opening of his new tattoo parlor, studio, and retail space called Green Lion Studios at 1444 Lake Drive. SE in Grand Rapids’ Eastown. 

At 3,000 total square feet, the contemporary space’s prime focal point is the 1,600-square-foot dedicated tattoo studio and art gallery, with the remaining 1,400 square feet featuring a garage workspace where Johnson hand makes his own brand of tattoo guns, Soba One, that are also available for purchase at the shop. 

“He’s been in the business since 1997, and when he started, he wanted to know more about how the tattoos were created, so he actually started to design the tattooing machines themselves,” says Michelle Hoexum, Green Lion’s public relations representative and business consultant. “The mechanics of making these machines also led him to create small sculptures and wanting to create a gallery space for both local and national artists to come display their work.” 

Hoexum says the art on display at Green Lion isn’t limited to just tattoo art, but also will include everything from illustrations to jewelry to pottery. 

“The space itself is pretty amazing, and I think that’s a draw in and of itself,” Hoexum says. “The way he designed the space is really interesting juxtaposition in that it’s kind of sterile and clean, which you would want in a tattoo parlor, but there’s also a really warm welcoming aspect to it because it’s also an art gallery.” 

Though the tattoo parlor and retail space has been officially open for business since the beginning of September, this Saturday Johnson is hosting a “grand opening ceremony,” as both an official public grand opening and in celebration of Green Lion’s first exhibition. 

The illustration oriented collection, titled “D-Bags & Dimwits II,” will launch with the grand opening party on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at Green Lion Studio on Lake Drive. 

"I feel like I’m home in this new location, especially since I grew up nearby,” Johnson says. “After seeing the building, I knew I wanted to create something in this space. It was a labor of love, a dream for over two years. After a seven month complete interior renovation, the studio and gallery is in personal alignment, as well as in sync with the culture of growth and revitalization of the Eastown neighborhood.” 

 For more information, visit www.greenlionstudios.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of GreenLion Studios 

Neapolitan Pizza Co. franchise coming to Holland this December

The California franchise MidiCi: Neapolitan Pizza Company is coming to Holland this winter thanks to a Grand Rapids couple who will open the traditional Neapolitan pizza shop in Holland’s recently redeveloped Shops at Westshore this December. 

“From the moment we stepped foot in MidiCi, we fell in love with the concept – from the food, to the people and ambiance, to the very values of the brand, it was just the right fit,” says Lisa Hartt, who is opening the new franchise alongside her husband Zachrey Hartt.

At over 3,600 square feet, construction and renovations on the restaurant space at 12371 James St. is currently underway, with the scheduled completion and official opening slated for mid-December. 

Designed as an upscale dining atmosphere with a menu loaded with traditional Neapolitan cuisine includes personalized pizza and signature selections, as well as gourmet appetizers, artisan burratas, salads, and a variety of craft beers and wines. 

The new restaurant will create 30 new employment opportunities, and the Hartts are currently hiring for everything from salad chefs, concierge, and baristas to quality assurance, kitchen, and dining room staff. 

More information about MidiCi: The Neapolitan Pizza Company, including applications for hire, is available online at www.mymidici.com

“We know the quality food and inviting atmosphere is something people in West Michigan will enjoy,” Hartt says. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of MidiCi: The Neapolitan Pizza Co.

Longtime yoga lover opens first 'mindful Vinyasa' hot yoga studio on GR's West Side

It didn’t take long for Lauren Morse to fall in love with yoga. She spent the past few years of her life as both a daily practicer and an assistant teacher at a local studio, all the while urged by friends and family to seriously consider opening her own space. 

“My mom was always telling me to open a studio and I thought, ‘Yeah, of course, one day I will,’” says Morse, who finally decided to take the leap about a year ago after losing her mother to stage four breast cancer. “After she passed away, I thought, ‘Rather than keep putting this off, I’m going to take the big jump.’” 

Last April, Morse found a vacant space on Grand Rapids’ west side, where the new West Side Hot Yoga held its grand opening last weekend. 

“The west side is a great place to be … and this building is just gorgeous,” she says. “It just has the perfect feel of a yoga studio — I was inspired the second I walked in.” 

Morse opened the 1,400-square-foot studio, located at 769 Seward Avenue NW, with help from investor Brian Prevost, who has worked alongside her as a partner since the beginning. 

“His goal is to find people who have these inspirations or desires to start a business, but would have a hard time coming up with investment or just don’t have the means to do it themselves,” she says. “He’s helped lead the way with the funding of the project and it’s been an amazing opportunity to work with him through all of this.” 

Morse did a lot of the renovation work herself and was able to partner with several local vendors,  including Stella & Dot Jewelry, PURE Haven organic personal care products, LulaRoe clothing, and doTerra essential oils to host a sneak peek preview last week, prior to Saturday’s grand opening. 

With her own background in mindful Vinyasa, Morse says West Side Hot Yoga is a modern spin in a classic space, the first hot yoga studio on the west side to offer a state-of-the-art Reme Halo air-filtration system that purifies the air to a hospital-grade health standard.

“West Side Hot Yoga offers a refreshing atmosphere for all, from beginners on their mat for the very first time to the veteran yogi who is looking to take their practice to a whole new level,” Morse says. “We are so excited to open the doors and get flowing.”

For more information on West Side Hot Yoga or to view a full menu of services, pricing, and class schedules, visit West Side Hot Yoga online or find it here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Lauren Morse/West Side Hot Yoga 

Park Crawl: Grand Rapids celebrates re-opening of four neighborhood green spaces with public tour

In celebration of the recent completion of $2.5 million in renovations to four Grand Rapids parks, city commissioners and officials, park contractors, neighborhood leaders, and students from Sibley and Mulick elementary schools will gather today, Thursday, Nov. 3, for a grand reopening tour of the revamped green spaces.

Starting with Douglas Park at 301 Lexington Ave. at 9:15 am, the tour — which is also open to the larger public — will then caravan to Dickinson Park (1640 Willard) at 10 am, Mulick Park (1632 Sylvan) at 11 am, and finish the tour with Camelot Park (2230 Rowland SE) at 11:45 am. The tour will stop to explore and check out new features at each park. 

“It’s wide open to the public, and there will be a number of school children attending the Douglas and Dickinson Park tours,” says David Marquardt, director of Grand Rapids’ Parks and Recreation Department. “The schools were really gracious and good about working with us to bring some kids to this grand opening and be part of the excitement.” 

Among the new park features include new picnic shelters, restroom facility improvements, playground enhancements, new walking paths, new landscaping, ball field upgrades and new site furnishings, including benches, bike loops, drinking fountains, and trash cans.

Funding for the $2.5 million renovations was made possible by the 2013 Yes! GR Parks millage, which was approved by 60 percent of voters and generates about $3.8 million annually for park improvements. 

A number of renovations on other public parks, including Cherry and Wilcox parks, have already been completed and include water fixtures like splash pads, to boot. 

“All of this results from the 2013 citizen passed and approved tax millages for the parks,” Marquardt says. “ It’s the whole reason we’re here now, and it’s the community input that brings forth all the ideas we’re unveiling during this next round of park openings.” 

For more information, visit the Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation department online or find them here on Facebook

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



Related articles: 
Yes! GR Parks millage passes

Dream green: What do Grand Rapids parks need?

Ground breaks on eight neighborhood park renovation projects with 'watchful eyes' on progress

Parks with benefits: How neighborhood identity factors into planning a socially productive park
 

Very Sweet: The Cakabakery moves to expanded space on East Fulton this fall

After outgrowing its current location at 1436 Wealthy St., the Cakabakery announced plans to close its Eastown site and expand into an even larger 2,500-square-foot space at 919 E. Fulton Street.
 
“We really love the Uptown business districts and neighborhoods, so we wanted to make sure we could put down roots in this area,” says Jason Kakabaker, who co-owns the space alongside Peter Jacob. “This building is an investment in Cakabakery’s growth, and it will allow us to expand our offerings and serve more customers.”
 
The 2,500-square-foot building will allow The Cakabakery to increase production and expand operations, specializing in a variety of desserts, specialty cakes, custom cupcakes, cake pops, cookies, cheesecake and caramel corn.
 
When it opens at its new Fulton Street location on Nov. 23, the revamped bakery will have walk-in cooling units and freezers, as well as a larger kitchen that will offer more room for dessert tastings.
 
“We feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to find a permanent location in this neighborhood, and we are grateful for Colliers West Michigan’s help in finding this building,” says Jacob. “With this larger space, we’ll now be able to open earlier on Saturdays and serve up new desserts such as cinnamon rolls, more last-minute cakes and decorated cookies daily.”
 
This is the final week that the bakery will operate at its Eastown locale. Until the new site opens, Cakabakery will set up a pop-up shop at the Bluedoor Antiques shop at 946 E. Fulton Street.
 
For more information on expanded hours or to see a full list of menu items, visit thecakabakery.com.
 
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Cakabakery/Colliers International 

From Second City to Beer City: These GR comedians plan to open improv comedy venue

Grand Rapids comedian Joe Anderson knows that when it comes to opening an improv, sketch and experimental comedy venue and cocktail bar in downtown Grand Rapids, failure is not an option.

“We want to come out swinging because unless we do that, we can't open,” says Anderson, who has worked for the past two years alongside fellow comedian Ben Wilke to draft plans and garner support for The Comedy Project. The two recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for the venue, and its $25,000 funding goal is growing steadily within reach.

“Even with the Kickstarter, we could have done it for more money, but the worst thing that would have happened would be not meeting that Kickstarter goal because we need everything to be a win,” he says. “In the same way, there are so many people — whether it's a restaurant, but certainly a theater and comedy — so many people have had enough bad experiences or just mediocre experiences that they're not excited to go back… So, we need to make sure that anyone who comes, the first time they come, they're just like, 'Oh my gosh, this is great. I could do this once a month.’”

A Western Michigan University graduate, Second City alumnus, and seven-year board member of the non-profit Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Anderson began working with Wilke — a Chicago native who also has roots in the Windy City’s famed Second City comedy troupe — began working more dedicatedly on The Comedy Project two years ago.

The goal of the space, Anderson says, is to be a kind of “repertoire comedy place,” with a small group of six to 10 performers who are on stage performing both improv and sketch comedy shows regularly,  with scheduling wiggle room for other comedians and improv troupes to host their own shows.

“There would be this core group of people doing the ‘heavy lifting’ of the performances, but then there would be an unknown huge amount of other people putting shows on, putting shows on the other nights, stepping in when for some reason someone else can't do the show — kind of building this stable of performers,” he says, adding that although they are open to hosting some alt stand-up comedians for special event shows, they’re avoiding the more traditional comedy genre in favor of the more experimental.

In addition to daily improv shows, The Comedy Project will offer improv and sketch comedy classes geared at career development and innovation within professional organizations, using the tenets of improv to help people in all walks of life sharpen their communication skills.

“There will be an 18-year-old kid who just thinks he's funny, and then the 35-year-old mom who also does improv and then some 65-year-old executive at a company who’s also trying to learn how to talk more extemporaneously, how to seem more approachable or be more open to other people's ideas, since those are all things that happen in good improvising,” Anderson says.

Though the duo are still waiting to finalize details on the space, they’ve already solidified a few very important partnerships, including working with Matt Smith, owner of PitStop BBQ & Catering, to bring a full menu to a space with only a prep kitchen in its plans.

Anderson and Wilke have also received support from Michele Sellers, who was instrumental in the launch of local establishments that include Stella's and Hopcat, and like Revue Holding Co.'s Brian Edwards has been consulting on the project and plans for the future space -- which promises something just as unconventional as its performances.

“In our minds, we want this space to look like the comedy place cobbled together after some kind of apocalyptic event happened, and everyone just grabbed whatever they could to make this place seem like a theater — but they did grab the best things they could,” Anderson says.

There are a few logistics and funding hurdles to clear before solidifying any concrete timeline for opening, though ideally the The Comedy Project would be fully operational this spring for LaughFest 2017.

In a city that just keeps growing, Anderson says he’s confident he and Wilke have come to Grand Rapids at a time when something like The Comedy Project has a real shot.

“It’s just what's happening right now in Grand Rapids. It's the same reason why there's all these restaurants and all of these new developments; there's a Trader Joe's, and there's another brewery,” he says. “I think people just feel like they've been given permission to try things, and I think that applies to us as well. Looking at the kind of climate here in Grand Rapids right now it's like, ‘Yeah, we gotta do this. Grand Rapids can pull this off.’”

Click here to learn more about The Comedy Project’s Kickstarter campaign, which is open through Nov. 11, or find The Comedy Project here on Facebook.

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

Spoonlickers to open fourth self-serve frozen yogurt shop in GR's west side Fulton Place

With a grand opening scheduled for Nov. 4, the locally-owned dessert parlor Spoonlickers will open its fourth location on the ground floor of Fulton Place at 616 W. Fulton Street. The new shop is part of Rockford Construction’s mixed-use residential and retail space on Grand Rapids’ west side.

The newest 1,300-square-foot location will feature the same self-serve frozen ice cream, custard, gelato, and yogurt flavors using the all-natural products that has made its Ada, East Beltline, and Wealthy Street locations so successful.

David Darling is the founder and CEO of Spoonlickers and says after crunching some numbers afforded to him by extensive demographics research, adding a fourth west side location just made sense.

“What I found is that the demographic of the west side — and particularly in that neighborhood  — was almost an exact match to our store in Eastown with regards to the number of families, the median income, student population, number of households with children…those are all of the real critical indicators we look for when we place a store as strong as Eastown,” Darling says. “Especially with GVSU being right there, the location seemed to have a lot to offer.”

As a self-described “big brand management guy,” Darling says the new location will have an aesthetic consistent with his other three stores. “We offer a tremendous product at a very fair price that lives up to some very high standards in terms of quality and taste.”

Darling says the new Fulton Place Spoonlickers is hoping to add about 10 full- and part-time jobs,  and he is currently looking for qualified people.

“We’re excited,” he says. “It’s a great, up-and-coming neighborhood, and we’re happy to part of what equates to or what feels like a revitalization.”

To check out a full menu online, visit www.spoonlickersgr.com.  

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Spoonlickers/Rockford Construction Co.

Mary Free Bed extends patient care in MI and beyond with unveiling of rehab hospital expansion

Marking the completion of the second phase in a $66.4 million expansion and renovation project, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital is hosting a grand re-opening celebration today, Thursday, Oct. 13 at 10:30 a.m. on its campus at 235 Wealthy St. SE  in Grand Rapids. 

With the second phase of the renovations focused entirely on updating the original hospital building, the medical site’s revamped three-story atrium now features a Biggby Coffee bar, day lockers for patients and visitors, and a patient library, with additional support like valet parking, mobile check-in, and a dedicated greeter aimed at “enhancing the patient experience.” 

The new ground floor of the hospital is largely dedicated to outpatient services, featuring a new Activities of Daily Living (ADL) apartment with two new therapy pools for outpatients to practice home-life skills, but also includes the new location for its Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports department — one of the largest in the nation — where both inpatients and outpatients can register for adaptive sports clinics or teams, and try specialized sports wheelchairs or check out the adaptive equipment on display. 

There is recreation therapy on the second floor, and the hospital’s third floor is home to the private room pediatric inpatient unit. Also on the third floor, there is an additional 15 private rooms available for pediatric and adult speciality services. 

The hospital celebrated the opening of the renovation project’s first phase in March of 2015, a $42 million upgrade to the building the houses Mary Free Bed’s orthotics and prosthetics and bionics department, its OrthoSEAT and the Driver Rehabilitation program, and its assistive technology and augmentative communication department. The project’s first phase brought the total number of private inpatient beds at the Grand Rapids campus to 167, and new features included specialized therapy gyms with high-tech features like ceiling-mounted gait and balance training systems and robot-assisted walking therapy. 

Kent Riddle, the CEO of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, says recent facility upgrades have transformed the rehabilitation hospital from a regional provider to a national provider. 

“The technology and robotics, the electronic simulations and therapeutic equipment and lift systems that up make up this new facility is just about as technologically rich as any facility in the world for rehabilitative care,” Riddle says, adding that its combined new and existing programming puts Mary Free Bed at first in the nation for the number of rehabilitative programs under one roof while its patient volume alone earns it a spot in the top five. 

“We really tried to stretch beyond the norm to make (this space) the best, so it’s an exciting day because we’ve been planning this and looking forward to this for about four years now.”

He says that while, currently, patients from every Michigan county come through the hospital’s physical front doors, richer telehealth programming will further extend Mary Free Bed’s reach. 

“When we really assess the gaps and the need for rehabilitative care throughout Michigan, we expect that many more (patients) will be coming through that front door from all around the state,” he says.

For more information on the new facility and Mary Free Bed’s full host of rehabilitative care programming, visit www.maryfreebed.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital 



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Mary Free Bed packs more features, specialized medical programs into expansion, renovation plans

The Light Gallery & Studio creates more affordable show space for young artists on S. Division

Within 20 days of getting the keys to 317 S. Division Ave., The Light Gallery & Studio already had 11 different artists hanging on the walls during the Sept. 27 soft opening of its new Avenue for the Arts live-work space. 

“I was really pushing being able to open for ArtPrize so we could get some of that foot traffic,” says Erika Townsley, The Light Gallery’s new curator and girlfriend of the site’s owner, Matthew Provoast. 

Though the official public grand opening took place Oct. 7, Townsley worked alongside Provoast and his family members to build three moveable gallery walls, with a few extra slated to separate the private living space in back from the public gallery and storefront. 

Both recent graduates of Kendall College of Art and Design, Provoast and Townsley initially began looking for a live-work space that Provoast could use as a studio for his wedding photography business. After finding 317 S. Division Avenue through Dwelling Place and realizing the kind of creative freedom they had with its renovation, the two saw a bigger opportunity. 

“I asked him what if we had a gallery and a storefront, because you have this great opportunity with this large of a space to do that well,” says Townsley, who herself is a mixed media artist. 

“We have this great opportunity with being able to have such an affordable space because of our location.” 

Situated near the end of the Avenue for the Arts, closer to Wealthy Street, Townsley says she and Provost realized what a great opportunity they had to have such an affordable space and wanted to pass that opportunity along to new artists, whether it be college students or just artists new to the scene.  

“We really want to have an affordable space for artists, whether they’re in college or just starting out, and have a more realistic way to show their work” says Townsley, adding that they’ve been in touch with KCAD and the Kendall Photography Association and are hoping to coordinate more public and community outreach efforts once they’re more settled in the new space.

More immediately, however, Townsley says The Light Gallery & Studio are finding avenues for fostering community through its business practices, offering options for trading work and talents whenever and wherever possible -- like hiring a co-worker from Townsley's other restaurant job to cater both the soft opening and grand opening events. 

"In addition to her payment, I'm also going to design her a logo so she can start her own small catering business," Townsley says. "I really want this space to be a productive one, and to give out as many opportunities as I can."

To learn more or subscribe to the email newsletter, visit The Light Gallery online or here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Light Gallery/Erica Townsley 

Here comes the bride: Renee Austin Wedding to move shop from Bridge Street to Plainfield Avenue

After its initial opening seven years ago at 422 Bridge St. in Grand Rapids’ west side, bridal boutique Renee Austin Wedding is making the move to the Creston neighborhood, setting up shop in an expanded retail space in the Beckett Building at 1555 Plainfield Ave. NE. 

Purchased a few months ago by Renee Austin Wedding owner Maggie Feil, the Beckett Building’s 3,400-square-foot ground-floor retail space features a larger selection of both bridal and bridesmaid dresses, and includes four fitting rooms, and four bridesmaid rooms. The 1,525-square-foot second floor living unit will be rented out to tenants as a separate living space. 

“We’ve had so much growth over the past seven years,” says Feil, who also leases a space on West Fulton for her sister boutique, Renee Austin Prom & Special Occassion. “At the very beginning it was just me and one other girl, and then we needed another part-time employee and then another one and it kept on growing from there to now, where we have eight staff members…We just wanted to find a space that could be our home more long-term.” 

Though the building was initially touted as office space when Feil was first introduced, she says she saw a lot of potential despite the low ceilings and clusters of dividing walls. 

“When we got in there and started doing demolition and construction, we found windows that were covered up before and moved the ceiling up five additional feet and it all just opened up the space way more,” she says. “It was really exciting because it made the vision we had that much better.” 

Now painted in neutral hues of white, grey and gold, she says when the new space opens at the end of this month, it will still have the same boutique feel as the space on Bridge Street, but with an overall more contemporary style. 

Feil says although she loved her time on Bridge Street, recent new development along that business corridor has made it a little too crowded for a destination boutique that doesn’t rely so heavily on passing foot traffic.

“That neighborhood is just growing so much — it actually kind of reminds me of Bridge Street like seven years ago, and I love that about it,” she says. “It’s really exciting to be in a space where it seems things are going forwards.” 

Renee Austin Wedding will officially close its Bridge Street shop on Oct. 24, using the week in between then and the Saturday, Oct. 29 grand opening to move into its new Plainfield Avenue space.

With appointments already booked for its first official day in the new space, Feil says she’s been in touch with a few neighboring businesses, like Sun Title Agency, which have already made her feel at home on Plainfield Avenue.

“After meeting with them, the neighborhood instantly felt super welcoming, and it really made it feel like this was the right place for us and like it was our home,” she says. 

For more information, visit Renee Austin Wedding online or find it here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Maggie Feil/Renee Austin Wedding 





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Expansion of special needs school, Pine Grove Learning Center, debuts in Wyoming

Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Kent Immediate School District celebrated the expansion of a special needs school, Pine Grove Learning Center, last week.

Located at 2101 52nd St. in Wyoming, the 29,600-square-foot site includes eight additional classrooms, a new cafeteria, and a playground. 

“Expanding Pine Grove means that we will be able to offer more students the opportunity to learn from our talented staff in this state of the art environment, which includes a sensory room, therapy pool, playgrounds, and rooms and hallways designed to meet students’ needs,” says GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.

The KISD School Board approved $6.1 million in construction bids for the project in September, and KISD Superintendent Ron Caniff says the school is made possible through a partnership between his district and GRPS. 

“Kent ISD levies the regional property tax and it owns the center program buildings, and Grand Rapids operates these programs at a high level, as the Grand Rapids district was historically a national leader in special education services and remains so today through its partnership with Kent ISD,” Caniff says.

For more information about Pine Grove or any GRPS schools, visit www.grps.org.

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

Manufacturer Ranir purchases East Paris HQ in anticipation of future expansion

Starting out as just one small tenant occupying a space in the 200,000-square-foot 4701 East Paris building, the oral care product manufacturer Ranir has grown into the space considerably since first moving in 22 years ago. That expansion is particularly evident now, with the company recently announcing the purchase of its corporate headquarters and research and development facility in anticipation of continued growth. 

With more than 550 employees working out of 4701 East Paris, Ranir’s corporate headquarters includes office space, product development and testing labs, and an ISO certified manufacturing facility. 

Rich Sorota is president and chief financial officer at Ranir and says Ranir is still exploring opportunities for expansion at the headquarters and is committed to future growth in West Michigan. He notes the decision to purchase the building affords the organization flexibility to “renovate or realign the facility to meet its continued growth.” 

“We continue to invest in our business from research and product development to acquisitions and new talent, and felt purchasing our long-time corporate headquarters was an important move to give us complete autonomy and agility in how we operate our business and utilize our space,” Sorota says. “Our building environment is a critical tool to creating and making great products and serving our retailer and consumer partners, and this is another step toward our goal of delivering affordable, healthy smiles to millions of households every day.”

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

Hearing the music: St. Cecilia to soon debut historic building's renovations

St. Cecilia Music Center (SCMC) is wrapping up renovations on its well over 100-year-old historic downtown building at the end of next month and has its sights set on closing the final $1.4 million gap in its $5.5 million total Music Lives Here fundraising campaign

Launched last summer, the Music Lives Here campaign was created by SCMC organizers to raise money for the renovations, with the final portion earmarked as an endowed fund for continued maintenance of the space following initial construction. 

Though the building will make its first official post-renovation debut at a Nov. 3 invitation-only event, its larger public unveiling is set to take place on Nov. 10 during SCMC’s kick-off of the 2016-2017 Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Series in the newly renovated Royce Auditorium

“Concert goers will experience an intimate evening with the comfort of brand new seating to watch and listen to a great performance,” says Executive Director Cathy Holbrook. “The sound will be breathtaking and the audience will love our visual transformation of the hall, lobby, ballroom and entire facility.” 

Holbrook says the staff recently moved into the new administrative office and says though the new modern office suite is the only overhaul that completely changes the building’s original aesthetic, it’s been a morale booster for the team and a welcome change from the cramped room they all shared during the summer’s renovation work.

“We were all living together in one room for the summer, and so that was challenging and great in many ways,” says Holbrook, who adds the “staff is excited we’ve moved into our new home.”

Holbrook says nearly every surface of the historic building was updated or refreshed in some way, which, alongside the administrative office upgrade, also includes the installation of a new professional sound and lighting system in Royce Auditorium, and such additions as fresh paint, new carpeting, refinished flooring, and ADA accessibility upgrades throughout the building in its entirety. 

“We wanted everything to look refreshed without changing the aesthetic or overall feeling of the building,” she says. “Preservation was really at the center of what we are doing, so it’s almost like we had a facelift and not like we gutted the whole space and started over. We weren’t interested in building a brand new building — we’re interested in preserving the space we have while making sure it’s still kept to a high standard.” 

In addition to cash donations, SCMC is still looking to fill some sponsorships which, at $500, will earn donors a chair in the new Royce Auditorium marked by an inscribed plaque. 

To learn more about SCMC or to make your contribution to its Music Lives Here fundraising campaign, visit www.scmc-online.org. 

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



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Third Coast Development, Custer rejuvenate empty Benteler Automotive Campus

After its mid-July purchase of the former Benteler Automotive Campus, new owners at Third Coast Development are in the throes of a $2.5 million renovation in preparation for the 190,000-square-foot building’s anchor tenant, Custer, which plans to consolidate its Grand Rapids warehouse operations once construction is finished. 

Scott Custer, Vice President of Business Process Improvement at Custer, says the company’s growth over the past several years has opened the door to such opportunities as its upcoming warehouse expansion at the automotive campus, which is located at 320 Hall St. SW.

“This growth has brought great change to our company, including the addition of new people, resources, and the need to expand to a larger warehouse footprint in Grand Rapids,” says Custer, whose organization will lease about 60,000 square feet for its own use while more than 111,000 square feet of remaining space is allocated for industrial, warehouse, or manufacturing space. 

The final 10,000 square feet of floor space will be cleared for office use, and Third Coast Development will update the parking lot to include nearly 400 surface parking spaces on site. 

“We are excited to bring new life to this facility and help bring more people, new jobs and an increased tax base to the City of Grand Rapids,” says Third Coast Development partner Brad Rosely. “The location is terrific with it being in the heart of the Grand Rapids area with easy access to 131.”

Rosely says although Custer will act as the Benteler building’s anchor tenant, the organization will also be the lead designer of the space following Third Coast’s renovation work. 

“Custer is not only an anchor tenant, but they are a key partner in the renovation of this facility,” he says. “We are very excited to have Custer involved and can’t wait to see what they do with their space.”

A timeline for the project’s completion has not yet been announced, but for more information, visit Custer or Third Coast Development online. 

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

Canines & community: Downtown Muskegon Dog Park brings camaraderie to vacant lot

The triangle-shaped piece of land at 793 W. Western Ave. in downtown Muskegon has been vacant now for almost 18 years, with the site sitting empty after the former Carpenter Brothers warehouse was destroyed in a fire back in 1998. 

Downtown Muskegon Now Event Coordinator Ellen Berends calls the .7-acre plot of land a “relatively undevelopable” one — but she says that’s also what makes it so perfect for Muskegon County’s first-ever off-leash dog park. 

“It’s an odd-shaped piece of property that is relatively undevelopable, so it seems like the perfect place to have a public gathering space,” she says. “…Rather than leave it empty, it was time to make it useable.”

Plans for the dog park include separate areas for large dogs and small dogs, agility equipment like bars and tunnels, natural grass turf, doggie drinking fountains, a grooming area, and picnic tables and benches. A groundbreaking date for the canine-friendly space is expected to fall sometime next spring in time for a summer grand opening. 

Developed through community-wide collaboration, the new Downtown Muskegon Dog Park is currently wrapping up a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign through the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity. Campaign leaders hope to close the fundraising gap by the Sept. 30 deadline in order to receive matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) through its Public Spaces Community Places initiative. 

“It’s an all-or-nothing campaign through MEDC, so we’re pretty sure that we’ll be just fine and we’ll have our campaign done and fulfilled by the Sept. 30 deadline,” Berends says. 

The park was also one of five dog parks in the nation to receive a $25,000 grant from PetSafe — which develops pet behavioral, containment and lifestyle products — through its Bark For Your Park program, which park organizers will celebrate with a community gathering on Sept. 26 from 6-8 p.m. at the future site of the new dog park. 

It’s a preface to what Berends and the projects other backers see as one of the biggest benefits to building a dog park in downtown Muskegon — a way for members of the community to come together and connect with each other, aided by a common interest and a safe public space in which to gather. 

“Dog parks are proven gathering places for a community, and it’s a great place to get to know your neighbors,” Berends says. “Dog parks are very important  in the neighborhoods of now, where it isn’t very open and we keep to ourselves a lot of the time, because they can bring some camaraderie to a community.”

Click here to learn more about the Downtown Muskegon Dog Park or to make your own contribution to its crowdfunding campaign or visit the Downtown Muskegon Dog Park here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Downtown Muskegon Now 

Sights set on expanding career training and more, WMCAT announces new West Side home

After raising $6.5 of its $7.5 million fundraising goal, the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) has announced its move into a new facility on Grand Rapids’ west side. 

“We started this campaign early this year with the goal of securing a new, expanded space for WMCAT from where we could support more adults and teens on their journeys to income security,” says WMCAT Executive Director Daniel Williams, whose organization’s new four-story development at First and Seward will expand the nonprofit’s programming in career training for unemployed adults, arts and technology education for high school students, and entrepreneurial apprenticeships for young adults. 

Led by Honorary Chairs Hank Meijer, Doug DeVos, and Jim Hackett alongside a cabinet of businesses and community leaders, the Leave Your Mark campaign set out to secure a new, permanent home for WMCAT, as their current lease in the Acton Building expires in 2019.

At 22,000 square feet, the new space will nearly double their current space and allow for the expansion of tuition-free career training for underemployed adults, arts and technology engagement for high school students, and new models of social innovation that build economic security.

“It’s such a great area anyway and so being able to move into a space that’s already doing some tremendous things with some incredible partnerships,” Williams says. “…We’re really excited about integrating into what’s already a terrific community in that side of town.”

To learn more about the campaign or to help close the last $1 million gap with a donation, visit www.leaveyourmark.org

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of WMCAT/Rockford Construction

Outdoor retailer Moosejaw to open pop-up location at renovated Klingman Lofts next week

Debuting on Sept. 19 with grand opening events set to take place during the first weekend of ArtPrize, outdoor retailer Moosejaw has announced a new pop-up store at 410 Ionia Ave. SW in the newly renovated Klingman Lofts building across from the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. 

The new pop-up store will be 4,000 square feet and will connect to the company’s largest ever “High Altitude Lounge,” a place where the company will host events and activities. 

Nick Rau, the director of retail at Moosejaw, says his company has considered building a new retail presence in Grand Rapids for years.

“Today the city has an ecosystem of energy that we really want be part of,” Rau says. “We looked at numerous locations in Grand Rapids and chose the Klingman Lofts because it offered the perfect space for us to experiment with a new retail format, plus proximity to the highly trafficked Downtown Market.”

The store is a way for Moosejaw to test new markets and retail concepts with short-term leases before investing in a permanent space, part of something CEO Eoin Cornerford calls a “pop-up to permanent strategy.” 

“We like the space and the area so much that we’ve invested more than we would in a typical pop-up,” Comerford says.  “After winter we’ll assess whether to invest further to make this a permanent location, like we did with our 2012 pop-up in Downtown Detroit.”

For more information, visit www.moosejaw.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Moosejaw/GR Downtown Market 

Bold Socks S. Division retail outlet takes off running

When Bold Socks hosted its first holiday pop-up shop last November in a new space at 17 S. Division Ave., co-owners Ryan Roff and Ryan Preisner had modest plans for making the space into a more permanent store — the first physical retail outlet for the sock retailer’s then online-only sales operation. 

“We were thinking we were going to do a couple of hundred of dollars worth of business during the holidays…but when we opened we were overwhelmed by the amount of people coming through here, the amount of media that we got,” says Roff, who, alongside being the co-owner, is also creative director at Bold Socks. “It kind of transformed our model to what we thought was going to be to just help pay the rent to actually being somewhat of of a successful business just from the store.” 

In fact, Roff says barely one month after opening its first physical retail space, Bold Socks brought in more than 1,200 orders in the month of December 2015 alone, though online sales still account for nearly 95 percent of its business. 

Though 17 S. Division’s actual retail space accounts for only 700 of the 1,700 total square-foot space — the other 1,000 square feet of basement storage space earmarked for an ever-growing inventory — the brightly lit front room is cozy and features hanging displays of each brand Bold Socks carries, which includes names like Happy Socks, Stance, and Darn Tough alongside its own self-titled brand of basics and novelty designs, and their second private label Statement Sockwear.

Both brands — operated under the parent company Bold Endeavors — have grown quite a bit over the past year, with Bold Socks branching out from basics alone to more novelty prints designed to lure in locals like Michigan Mittens and Beer City USA editions, while each purchase made from the Statement Sockwear line helps to provide clean water solutions like rainwater harvesting cisterns and sand and membrane water filters through a partnership with the nonprofit 20 Liters, is also growing, with Roff currently finalizing dozens of new designs that he himself created to expand the brand, both in stores and online. 

“I think our company has thrived on the creative of selling these things that other people aren't selling online, so the fact that we can offer all of in Grand Rapids I think is pretty cool because we become more of an industry leader in the sock business,” he says. “From that perspective we have to be able to offer cutting edge design that competes with some fashion designers in New York, big box stores like Target that have dedicated fashion teams...it's a challenge but I think that we’re definitely competing.” 

To check out all of Bold Socks’ collections online, visit www.boldsocks.com and find Bold Socks here on Facebook to stay up to date on new designs and in-store promotions.

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


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New MI Smart Coast website aims to be one-stop shop for employers & job seekers in West Michigan

When the economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage conducted a survey of West Michigan area business owners and employers last fall, more than 70 percent of respondents said the biggest challenge facing the growth of their business was talent, whether it was in the area of acquisition, retention, or just not enough skilled labor in general.

“That percentage was how we knew we needed to respond to this specific area of issue,” says Vice President of Talent Solutions Angela Huesman. Her organization recently launched the new Michigan Smart Coast website, which, after a one-year concept development and build, has launched as a tool to help West Michigan employers attract more workers and new talent. 

Houseman says the content of the website — which includes information about cost of living, community descriptions, products made in the region, and links to temporary housing — was driven largely by key findings pulled from surveys of local employers, chambers of commerce, and focus group discussions with young professionals who recently moved to the area, with results indicating a desire by new recruits to feel connected to the region, with a  place to find recreation, group events, and volunteer opportunities.

“Part of it included discussions with young professionals in the area to say, ‘When you relocated here what are some of the things helpful for you to know that you couldn’t find?’” says Huesman, adding that the Michigan Smart Coast site also gives visitors an idea of the depth of industry in the region, which she says not only supports career growth once individuals move to West Michigan, but also helps to satisfy any curiosity about other businesses and employment opportunities available. 

“Often times someone taking a job from out of the area may know about the company they’re coming to work for, but they may not know what else is here, and so it kind of offers an option to say, ‘Here’s what else is available in the area should the job you’re moving here for not work out for whatever reason,’” she says.

With Ottawa County unemployment rates dipping down to 3 percent in 2016 — below both the state and national rates of 4.8 percent and 5 percent respectively — Lakeshore Advantage the Michigan Smart Coast website offers a more immersive kind of platform for curious job-seekers, which President Jennifer Owens says is important for today’s young professionals, who are looking for more than just a job when deciding where to make their homes. 

“This website tells our story that West Michigan is the place to start and further your career while experiencing life fulfillment and connectedness through personal and professional opportunities,” Owens says.

Click here to check out the new Michigan Smart Coast website for yourself. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Lakeshore Advantage/MI Smart Coast

Simple Things: Well House crowdfunding campaign seeks to expand urban farm, beautify gardens

With 13 homes and six lots all within a half-mile radius of each other in southeast Grand Rapids, the nonprofit organization Well House purchases and renovates vacant city homes to provide community living for those otherwise condemned to homelessness, boasting a 90 percent success rate of individuals who never return to living on the streets after leaving Well House. 

The organization, which prioritizes tenancy for individuals often turned away from other subsidized housing solutions due to felony convictions, addiction issues, or other social stigmas, goes beyond just housing solutions to offer employment for tenants through its urban farming projects, which Well House hopes to expand through a recently announced crowdfunding campaign supported by the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity.

If met by its Sept. 18 deadline, the $25,000 crowdfunding goal will be doubled by matching funds supported by a collaboration between the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. The resulting total $50,000 in funds would afford Well House the ability to expand their urban farming operations through the installation of murals, planting of fruit trees and berry bushes, addition of picnic tables, composting systems, and the planting of native and edible food, for starters. 

Tami VandenBerg, the executive director at Well House, says the organization has already hit the 400-pound mark for food grown this year that has been distributed to tenants directly, through $5 food baskets sold weekly at its 3234 Pleasant Ave. farm market each Saturday. Plus, the baskets can be distributed door-to-door when there’s more than enough to go around. 

“Sometimes we underestimate the simple things and so I think beautification is just a big piece,” says VandenBerg, whose organization conducted a survey of residents reactions following a previous project that allowed tenants and neighbors to work with local artist to paint murals thanks to funding from the Wege Foundation and Fountain Street Church. 

“A lot of what we heard from residents is that beautifying projects shows that someone cares about the neighborhood, and it makes them feel safer even just having the neighborhood more taken care of,” VandenBerg says.

Though one of the three gardens included in the Urban Garden Personality Project’s trio is still in the planning phase, the other two — the Working Garden and Children’s Garden — are fully functional in the community, especially the first of the two, designed for tenants and other neighborhood volunteers to come and take part in the growing, maintenance, and harvesting of produce. 

The green space focuses primarily on sustainable production and commerce, functioning not only as an employment opportunity to help tenants regain their independence, but also as another small step toward leveling the playing field in an unequal food system where fresh, organic produce is not often accessible, nor affordable. 

“I think our role has really been part educational and part just working with the neighbors who are interested in growing food,” VandenBerg says. “Then there’s also just creating more access…there’s just not a ton of access in the near southeast side of Grand Rapids for organic, really healthy produce.” 

The Children’s Garden, also currently up and running, was designed as a space for kids to play, explore, and learn. The plants and produce growing there — things like giant sunflowers, corn, and watermelon — were all chosen based on survey responses from tenants and their families about which vegetables they were most interested in eating or learning about, and VandenBerg says Well House brought in kids to help throughout the initial building process as well. 

Though Well House has already purchased the plot of land where the Healing Garden will go — which, for starters will include a new mural, serene healing garden and bench, and decorative fencing — further development of the third Urban Garden Personality Project park is contingent upon the Patronicity crowdfunding campaign’s qualifying matching funds.

“There’s a psychological impact of having people invest in this neighborhood, too — and not just the kind that makes people there feel like they might not be able to stay in their neighborhood, but the kind that makes them feel like they’re part of the investment and helping to drive it,” VandenBerg says. “There is already a very strong community there, and we just want to build on that. But the more we know each other, the more reasonable we tend to be with each other, and the more we tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt and talk through any issues or problems we have.” 

Click here to donate to Well House’s Patronicity campaign or visit www.wellhousegr.org/ for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Well House


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GROW's micro-loan program increases opportunities for women entrepreneurs in West Michigan

Although the organization Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women (GROW) has been an active entrepreneurial resource for West Michigan women interested in business ownership for more than 25 years, CEO Bonnie Nawara says it’s not uncommon for she and her co-workers to be approached at speaking engagements by attendees who can’t believe they’ve never heard of the organization before. 

“I think the city has grown, and I think there are a lot of new people that aren’t familiar with the resources available to them in the city,” says Nawara, whose organization’s micro-loan program will now be able to provide more support than ever before thanks to a recent designation as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). In order to receive this certification from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, the organization must have a primary mission of promoting community development, providing financial products and services; serving one or more defined low-income target markets; maintaining accountability to the community it serves; and being a legal non-governmental entity. 

Nawara says the CDFI designation will allow for GROW’s micro-loan program to offer five times the funding it has in the past, increasing from $50,000 to $250,000, creating even more financial support options to be provided alongside its professional, high-quality training and business counseling programs in finance, management, marketing, and strategic planning.

Over the past four and a half years, GROW has provided more than $1 million in these micro-loan funds, helping local individuals create more than 53 new businesses, fund 21 new start-ups, and create 92 jobs in low to moderate income communities last year alone. And although 77 percent of GROW’s clients are women, the organization’s service demographics reach beyond gender to include 23 men, and 51 percent of the businesses served by GROW’s micro-loan program are minority owned. 

“If you are a micro-borrower under GROW’s umbrella, then our training resources are free resources to you, and we really encourage our borrowers to take advantage of that,” Nawara says.

For more information on GROW, its micro-loan program, or educational opportunities for new business owners, visit www.http://www.growbusiness.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women

Raise your glass: City Built Brewing set to debut North Monroe brewery this fall

City Built Brewing celebrated the announcement of its early October opening date earlier this week with the installation of 10-barrel tanks at its new location at 820 Monroe Ave. 

“Today’s installation of the tanks is an exciting milestone for City Built because it brings us one step closer to pouring unique beers for Grand Rapids beer fans,” says Edwin Collazo, who co-founded City Built Brewing with David Petroelje.  “We’re extremely grateful for the overwhelming support from our community, colleagues, investors, friends and family who have been involved with City Built since day one and have helped us achieve this milestone.”

Located on the first floor of Lofts on Monroe, the new City Built Brewing location will feature a 34-foot-long bar with seating for 180 guests and a private room for corporate groups and special events.

Karen Collazo will partner with Laurel Deruda from the Hive to run City Built’s kitchen, with a menu featuring Puerto Rican and island inspired plates, while its taps will feature fruit-infused accent ales, such as a Flower Power Chamomile Green Tea IPA — just part of the 1,000 barrels of beer the brewery plans to produce each year. 

“The entire City Built team is really excited to bring a brewery back to the Monroe North neighborhood, and we look forward to providing amazing beer, food and service to local beer fans as well as those who travel to Grand Rapids to experience our local beer scene,” Petroelje says. 

The new City Built Brewing Co. will create 40 new jobs and is currently accepting applications online at www.citybuiltbrewing.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of City Built Brewing 

Atomic Object's new Wealthy Street digs offer greater connection to longtime neighbors

Atomic Object CEO Carl Erickson has been joking with his co-workers that their new 11,000 square foot office space at 1034 Wealthy is a lot like having their very own baby elephant. 

“The elephant gestation periods take about 20 months, which is how long it took us, and then when mama elephant has her baby it takes days, and this weekend took days and was like that final, big push,” says Erickson, whose custom software development firm opened this week for business in the fully updated historic building after 19 months and $2 million of renovation work. 

Built in 1914, the space at 1034 Wealthy St. SE has much history between its diverse array of past tenants, having been home to a woodworking shop, a blacksmith, a car dealership showroom and repair shop, and a grocery store before becoming the new Atomic Object offices. 

“I’ve been astounded by what a great job our project manager and interior designer (Mary O’Neill, Atomic Object’s business manager) and the architect did on the finishing touches and the aesthetics and combining the old cleaned-up materials with the historic building,” Erickson says. “The new fits and finishes are just beautiful.” 

By taking out a portion of the existing second floor and adding a community cafe space on the first level, the design and construction teams were able to connect the two floors in a way that preserved the open floor plan and embraced the natural lighting boost made possible by many massive windows to the street outside — something Erickson says was important to retaining his company’s existing workplace culture.  

“It’s important culturally for people to have a sense that it’s not just like, ‘Oh, those guys upstairs I never see,’ and we did that with working the cafe into the front of the space, taking out part of the floor and tying it all together that way,” he says. 

Since launching in 2001, Atomic Object has housed its headquarters just a few blocks down the street at 941 Wealthy Street. However, Erickson says the new space — especially the transformation of the adjacent parcel of land from crumbling concrete to a new outdoor garden space, complete with a wall-sized rolling garage door to seamlessly connect the indoors to the outdoors  — affords his team a much more direct connection to the people and places in the surrounding neighborhood. 

“I sat out there Saturday when we were directing movers, and I was writing a blog post and I had my dogs with me and they were running around out there and it was just cool how many people I chatted with as they walked by — all sorts of people that I haven’t yet met,” he says. “…It’s a whole new level for us getting connected to people in a neighborhood we’ve occupied since 2003… When we were 200 yards down the street, we just didn’t have as much of a connection.”

Having almost doubled in size since 2010, Erickson says the new space leaves his team plenty of room for more growth, even if Atomic Object isn’t necessarily rushing toward it on purpose. 

“Our business philosophy is to concentrate on being as good as we can possibly be. We like to say great,” says Erickson, adding that because Atomic’s business philosophy has earned them such a good reputation, demand for their services continues to grow — and so does pressure to grow the organization as a whole alongside it. 

So, as the staff begins to settle into their new digs, Erickson says they’re taking their time to appreciate their neighborhood through a fresh lens and taking on the future one step at a time. 

“…While we feel an obligation to head that way, at the same, time we’re selfish and love the way we work and Atomic’s culture and how we know each other and who we are and how we interact with our clients — we don’t want to change that, so we’re figuring out how to deal with growth in such a way that it doesn't spoil what we love.”

For more information, visit www.atomicobject.com

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Atomic Object

Disability Advocates summer day camp empowers disabled community to organize

It took a bariatric weight loss surgery and a few years of emotional rebuilding before Grand Rapids resident Michele Childs felt comfortable enough to speak out and advocate for herself again. 

“I would say the last four years I’ve been really out there in my community. I had bariatric surgery to help with all of the weight I needed to lose, and after that I finally was confident enough to start speaking out,” says Childs, a Detroit native turned local community activist after years of feeling discriminated against for not only her weight, but also her race as an African American woman. “Being obese, you’re shy you don’t want to speak out; nobody takes you seriously.” 

While raising two children as a single mother, her challenges were only exacerbated by severe depression and other mental health issues that made daily life a much larger battle and although she’s in a much better place than she was five or six years ago, Childs says she still struggles to find steady work and spends a lot of her time volunteering at homeless shelters, food pantries, and tutoring children when she’s not sharing her story as the speaker for numerous community events. 

She says her disability — unique to her circumstance and individual self— is the kind of disability people don’t think about too often, but it’s the kind she’s hoping she will be able to help combat with the help of organizations like Disability Advocates of Kent County, which held its very first advocacy summer camp last week. 

Running from 1:30-5 p.m. on Aug. 2, 3, 4, and 6, the four-day camp was spearheaded by DAKC Community Organizer Adelyn VanTol, who wanted to give more people with disabilities a chance to engage with one another about how to best advocate for themselves and the larger community. 

VanTol says the idea for the camp was the brainchild of herself and Grand Valley State University occupational therapy professor Jennifer Freesman. 

“She was expressing how occupational therapy really is about community and about the barriers in communities that prevent people from having the occupations they love,” says VanTol, adding that traditional education, however, was more focused on the individual barriers affecting single persons versus the larger systemic barriers that exist, like lack of public transportation or the need for personal care attendants to help disabled people get dressed in the morning so they can make it to work on time. 

So the two organizations partnered together, bringing in Freeman’s occupational therapy students from GVSU to work alongside the disabled campers, 12 of which registered for this summer’s flagship day camp. 

Each day, the campers listened to a speaker discuss their experiences or advocacy work in a specific topic, then together picked the topic they thought most important to address and from there began to discuss solutions and strategies for implementation — the latter an important part for VanTol as an organizer, as she wanted to make sure her camp could bridge the gap between discussion and action, equipping campers not only with the knowledge, but also the tools to be effective advocates. 

“A big point of this is giving people a sense of their own power,” VanTol says. “In this first camp, we really have found people who recognize their own power and they’re excited just to have some resources available to help them use their own voice and work with others who are in the same boat.” 

For more information on the organization and its programming, visit Disability Advocates of Kent County online or find them here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Adelyn VanTol/Disability Advocates KC

Progressive AE welcomes North Carolina-based ai Design Group in recent merger

CEO Bradley Thomas of Grand Rapids-based Progressive AE says the recently announced merger between his firm and the Charlotte, North Carolina based ai Design Group was a decision nearly five years in the making. 

The 54-year-old full service architecture and design firm has always made a point to be in  a number of diversified markets to ensure workload stability. However, it was about five years ago when they realized that not only was the firm outgrowing the West Michigan region, but it had such a high concentration of clients the firm might not achieve the level of stability for which it was looking. 

“We’ve never seen as many markets cycle together as they did in 2008, and despite working all over the U.S., we still had a very high concentration of clients in the Midwest…(we) had too many eggs in one basket, so to speak, so we wanted to be part of another retail economy outside of the U.S.,” says Thomas, whose firm has been behind a number of high-profile projects that include the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, DeVos Place Convention Center, Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the first LEED certified art museum in the nation. 

The other key driver behind the merger was finding a larger pool of talent to draw from, since talent, Thomas says, is one of “the most critical ingredients” to Progressive AE’s success. 

“We needed access to a deeper talent pool, growth into a region where we could access a deeper talent pool was a secondary driver to wanting to expand a deeper footprint,” he says. 

So, he set out to find a good match, using industry factors like population growth and other markets that indicated cultural similarities between a firm’s location and the Grand Rapids/West Michigan area, looking for a firm that was similar in size and scope, while still offering opportunities to expand into new sectors of the marketplace. 

“We wanted there to be some overlap in some of the markets, but at the same time we were also looking for a partner that we may be able to sell some of the things we do into their business to help deepen their portfolio and expertise and allow us to grow into their new marketplace,” Thomas says. 

They settled on ai Design Group, a young firm with about 13 years of experience in the industry in a time of solid growth, looking forward to opportunities to provide additional infrastructure and expertise in new markets for them while they offer a new talent pool and expert leadership to Progressive AE. 

“The leadership there is already very strong — this isn’t a situation where we need to move people from here to there to ‘take over,’ so to speak. They have all of the leadership capabilities to grow and lead their business,” Thomas says, adding that though ai Design Group will take on the name Progressive AE, both organizations will continue to operate out of their current offices and leadership structures of both organizations will remain intact. 

“They’re an architecture and interiors business, we’re a full-service business, so now we’re just going to begin to figure out how to integrate best practices across the firms and how we begin to cross markets,” he says. “As we begin to grow and provide services across markets, some of that growth may very well happen in charlotte and some may happen in Grand Rapids as we look to figure out how we best serve one another.”

For more information on Progressive AE and the recent merger, visit www.progressiveae.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Progressive AE/ai Design Group 

Grandmother's efforts bring first-ever playground to Holland State Park

With four days still left in its Patronicity crowdfunding campaign, Holland State Park beach has exceeded its $17,000 goal by $2,000, qualifying it for matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Public Spaces Community Places program for the construction of a new public playground there. 

With nearly two million visitors annually and no formal playground structures other than a single swing set for children to play on, a Holland grandmother and retired preschool teacher, Sally Starr, connected local organizations Carter’s Kids, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Lakeshore Advantage, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to rally behind the project. 

MEDC Community Development Director Katharine Czarnecki says supporting community-led and driven projects is what the Public Spaces Community Places program was created for. 

“This project is an excellent example of that citizen leadership transformed into supported developments, and we are pleased to partner with, and provide resources to, this effort,” she says. 

The new playscape will include the installation of three new slides, two sets of monkey bars, four climbers, two spinners, and a crawling tube. 

The park will be constructed by a team from the nonprofit charity Carter’s Kids, and the nonprofit economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage provided support through developing the marketing and supporting the fundraising strategy. 

“Holland State Park is an incredible community asset that attracts visitors from all over the world,” says Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens. “The investment by the MEDC and community in this playground will ensure the thousands of kids who visit the park on a daily
basis can truly enjoy this shining example of Pure Michigan beauty.”

For more information on the Holland State Park beach playground project, visit its crowdfunding campaign here on Patronicity. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Lakeshore Advantage 

New Sovengard Biergarten on Bridge Street blends Midwest mindset with Scandinavian spirit

It’s been about two years since Rick Muschiana first started exploring funding options for the restaurant he now calls Sovengard, and with the exterior of the Midwest-meets-Scandinavia culinary spot nearing completion, Muschiana and his team are gearing up for their Grand Rapids debut —  a date that is now just weeks away.

“Even though we’ve been delayed, and it’s taken much longer than we thought it would, there’s always been a silver lining for us with these delays and we’re just trying to roll with the punches,” he says. “I think that we’ve learned a lot of lessons from just our prior experiences working at other restaurants, and we’ve been paying attention to what’s happening around town. The underlying factor to me as an owner and operator is that were not going to open before we’re ready and before it’s time.” 

Still finalizing some of the logistics on the paperwork side, Muschiana estimates a mid-August opening date for Sovengard. 

Although Sovengard Head Chef Patrick Conrade underwent open heart surgery (a scary time back in February that brought people from throughout Grand Rapids and West Michigan together to support him), he says he’s feeling in better shape than ever and is excited to work with local producers to craft a menu full of fresh and seasonally specific dishes. 

“I feel great, ready to go. I’m stronger than than I’ve ever been,” Conrade says. “We’re looking at a lot of the local produce that’s really strong in the market right now — squashes, tomatoes, blueberries and peaches are coming in. We’re rolling with what’s freshest at it’s peak right now.”

Detail is everything for the design-focused Sovengard brand, with its new home at 443 Bridge St. NW calling for sections of the historic pre-1900s structure in place there to be retrofit with salvaged shipping containers and an outdoor Biergarten. 

“As were sitting here in the space at the tail end of completing the inside with about three weeks left of work on the outside until completion, and it’s pretty much what I thought it would be,” Muschiana says. “I can imagine this as being home for the Sovengard. I think, aesthetically, I’m really happy with how it’s turning out…it’s blending a Midwest mindset with a sort of Scandinavian spirit.” 

Though Muschiana says he’s most excited to see new patrons soak in the entire Sovengard experience, a lot of what he's talking about relates back to its good design elements — little touches like the bathroom tile work or the authentic 1950s era retro botanical wallpaper that Muschiana says one staff member describes as fitting for “Grandma’s Nordic chalet.” 

“The design aspect was important to me and to all of us, we all were a bunch of art kids — myself, Patrick, my brother, whose going to be general manager….We all aspire to be artists. I think that its been such an awesome experience for me because of my background to do this project and have to put on the shoes of an interior designer, industrial designer, an artist, a tile designer and layer; it’s been incredibly wide array from a creative perspective,” says Muschiana, who designed Sovengard's logo and larger branding  himself. 

“…I think Patrick feels the same way, too, the creative aspect, and the idea that the beauty of things is tantamount to the rest of it because that’s how the experience starts — you eat with your eyes and take in the space with your eyes before the rest even starts,” he says. 

To keep an eye out for Sovengard’s official opening date and still-developing menu, visit www.sovengard.com or visit Sovengard here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Rick Muschiana/Sovengard



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Greenleaf Trust opens new Grand Rapids offices at recently purchased 25 Ottawa building

Kalamazoo-based Greenleaf Trust, a privately-held wealth management firm, recently announced the opening of its new downtown Grand Rapids offices at 25 Ottawa Avenue after purchasing the building in conjunction with Catalyst Development. 

John Gryzbek has been hired as the new Director of the Family Office, and Thomas DeMeester will serve as Managing Director of the new Grand Rapids Greenleaf offices. 

DeMeester says the firm now plans to develop about 5,500 square feet of the ground floor to serve as office space, with more room to grow. 

“I think GreenLeaf trust has targeted Grand Rapids because, historically, it’s looked at it as a community that I would say has a good cultural fit for Greenleaf Trust, how they’ve serviced their client base, and the types of clients that resonate well with their service model,” says DeMeester, who prior to joining Greenleaf Trust served as Senior Wealth Strategist at Northern Trust Company and Sales Director in the Private Bank division of Fifth Third Bank. 

“I joined Greenleaf Trust intentionally because I do think that providing a kind of ultrahigh net-worth service model in Grand Rapids is certainly an opportunity,” says Demeester, whose firm has experience in wealth management for clients and investors net worths over the $30 million mark. “There’s been quite a bit of movement within the industry, and some of the larger banks that have historically provided both local and very customized services have either centralized or listed out of that marketplace a commitment to the local team or local offices.”

DeMeester says his story in the Grand Rapids community, working in both the legal and wealth management fields, helps to validate a West Michigan community that is very relationship focused. 

“It’s unique to both the culture and kind of the community, so having that Michigan-based trust bank like Greenleaf here as both a new presence and service model in the Grand Rapids market, I think, will differentiate us from many of the competitors that maybe historically had a strong foothold in that market, but over time have allowed the service to move out or, again, maybe [become] centralized,” he says. 

With more than $8 billion in assets, the firm joins fellow 25 Ottawa Avenue tenants that include Spectrum Health’s Information Technology Department, Fairly Painless Advertising, and Iron restaurant. 

“We will be committed to the community, and we will be supportive of organizations in that community, acquiring that space and building it out in a manner that gives us a presence that, I think, will be very effective in helping us introduce the Grand Rapids community to who Greenleaf Trust is,” DeMeester says.  

For more information on Greenleaf Trust, visit www.greenleaftrust.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Greenleaf Trust 

Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Cottage Home land awards for green building

Whether you’re a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting healthy homeownership or company that specializes in luxury beach house design and build projects, LEED certification is a lot more feasible than you may think, GreenHome Institute Executive Director Brett Little says, whose position as the organization’s executive director was created in 2008 alongside a $33,850 seed grant from the Wege Foundation to jumpstart its LEED for Homes Program,

“Depending on what side you’re on, it gets tagged to these ideas that it only works in the affordable housing urban world or only works with the high-end homes where people have a lot of money,” says Little regarding the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification process, which is essentially a rating system devised by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for evaluating the environmental performance of a building and encouraging market transformation towards sustainable design. 

For proof of his concept that any project is capable of becoming more environmentally friendly, Little points to the juxtaposition of two completely different types of West Michigan organizations: the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and Holland-based lakefront home builders Cottage Home, both of which were both recently awarded the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Homes Power Builders Award. 
 
Created to recognize projects, architects, developers, and home builders who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and innovation in the residential green building marketplace, the USGBC’s LEED Homes Power Builders award mandates that winners have built at least 90 percent of their 2015 homes and units to LEED specifications of any level. Translation: they need to be super environmentally conscious.

“If we point to those two extremes of two different types of projects that are actually polar opposites, it shows that you can do green certification with anything,” Little says. 

And while many developers still struggle with retooling their building budget for long-term savings, the idea that investing now will save homeowners later is one adopted without hesitation by Habitat for Humanity KC, which has completed nearly 150 homes with some level of LEED Certification in the Grand Rapids and Kent County area. 

In fact, when Habitat KC started seeking LEED Certifications on new homes in 2006, it took the organization just about one year before they started building all new homes to the federal specifications. More recently, the organization partnered with Grand Rapids Community College’s Residential construction program to become one of the first to complete a build-out that meets LEED v4 criteria, which basically means a bulked up list of additional specifications for higher energy, water, and resource efficiency .

Cheri Holman is the executive director of USGBC’s West Michigan chapter and she, like Little, says the recent Homes Power Builders awards are just more evidence that there are opportunities for every kind of development project to manage the upfront cost of building new residential projects with LEED certification.

“We’re so proud of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and all of the work they’re doing for affordable housing and LEED certification in showing our community that it isn’t just the high-end buildings that can be LEED certified, but that it’s for everyone,” says Holman, who works alongside nonprofits like GreenHome Institute to provide education about lending and appraisals, as well as help find them financing options that will work for their unique situation. 

“We can’t say that you can build high-end homes for the same price, but what we can say is look at the life-cycle analysis — we’re constantly pushing that, the life-cycle analysis, meaning just that it’s going to cost less to operate and maintain; your utility bills are going to be lower,” Holman says. 

“We have a building stock of low-bid homes and buildings, and we’re paying the price for it now,” she says. “Where, if we would have done better work up front and put in systems with lower maintenance and cost to run, we wouldn’t have all of these buildings eating up so much energy.”

Though figuring out how to pay for greening efforts is a little trickier for those with existing projects in limbo, Little says the GreenHome Institute has numerous alternative options for affordable greening practices. They may not all hold the official LEED Certification title, he says, but they still get the job done in creating more sustainable, efficient, and environmentally friendly places for people to live — which, lest we forget, is the point of the whole thing anyway. 

Click here to learn more about the USGBC’s LEED Homes Power Builders Award, Habitat for Humanity Kent County’s sustainable housing initiatives, the environmentally-minded Cottage Homes, and ways the GreenHome Institute can help you make your space a little greener. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of GreenHome Institute 

Kent County Habitat for Humanity renovates space for new HQ using green techniques

Habitat Kent partners with GRCC students to wrap up construction on MI's first LEED Gold v4 home
 

You're Invited: Local First hosts office warming party for its new home at 345 Fuller Ave.

It’s been about five years since the Grand Rapids-based Local First West Michigan moved from a tiny 1,000-square-foot office space on the second floor of 955 Wealthy St. SE to the same building’s main floor, nearly doubling its office’s square footage at the time.

Now, Local First has nearly doubled its space again, and the group wants to invite members of the Grand Rapids community to an office warming party on Thursday, July 21 for its nearly 3,000-square-foot headquarters at 345 Fuller Ave. NE. 

“It’s a community-wide event, so anybody in the community is welcome to attend,” says Mieke Stoub, Local First marketing manager, who says she hopes Local First programming can promote the same kind of positive business practices along its new corridor as it did while at its old Wealthy Street office. 

“We definitely want to continue to build on our programming depending on the needs of our community and the needs of our membership, and what that means is continuing to give resources to local businesses, and also helping improve their business practices,” Stoub says. “We would love to see that in the new neighborhood we’re living in. We saw that on the Wealthy Street Corridor when we were there, and we would love to see that happen along the Michigan Street corridor, as well.” 

Founded by local developer Guy Bazzani of Bazzani Associates, Local First is supported by two eight-person boards — the Local First Board and the Local First Educational Foundation Board — and it has nine full and part-time staff members. With more than 800 staff members in West Michigan, the organization hosts several annual events for business owners and community members in the region. 

Local First’s new space includes an open office layout with 12 workstations, one large and two smaller conference rooms, two kitchenettes, and one small semi-private office. 

“It was basically a white box when we moved in, so the decoration and all of the internal stuff that was there prior [to Local First] was removed. The drywall was up, but we completely renovated the space with new paint, new flooring and new furniture,” Stoub says, adding that furniture and decor was provided by a number of community partners, including Custer, Design Edge Sign Company, Lott3Metz Architecture, Silver Lining Computer Services, Steelcase, and X Ventures. 

“We want to show off our new space and give some people the opportunity to either connect with us or meet us for the first time,” she says. “We want people to see our faces and the faces behind organization and get to know us in that way, too.”

To learn more about Local First and its members, stop by its office warming party today, Thursday, July 21 from 4-7 p.m. or visit www.localfirst.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Local First West Michigan 

GR Child Discovery Center begins 'greening their school' following successful fundraising campaign

As it currently sits at its Heartside campus on 409 Lafayette SE, more than 75 percent of the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center grounds are covered in concrete. 

However, thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign that won the charter school $30,000 in matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Cooperation and Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s Public Spaces Community Places Initiative, the process of de-paving is poised to begin. 

“Well, with the campaign closed, we have the funds necessary to begin work, so now we’re in the process of communicating with the vendors, getting the plans drawn up, and getting the appropriate permits from the city,” says GRCDC principal John Robinson, adding that the project is slated for completion at the end of the summer and will be ready for the school year come fall. 

With its crowdfunding campaign launched May 17 via the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity, GRCDC’s “Greening Our Schools” project was able to raise $38,981 by the June 17 deadline. The funds will be used to de-pave the majority of the current concrete parking lot to offer an open and accessible community and public green space for the students and surrounding neighborhood residents, leaving new grass to root and replace what is currently 30,000 square feet of concrete.

GRCDC’s proposed plans leave the south end of the lot for parking, but also call for a re-routing of current traffic flow for pick-up and drop-off, and though Robinson says the specifics of the new routes are still being determined, the idea is to relieve some of the current traffic congestion on Lafayette and the Wealthy Street round-about by diverting it south. 

The new green space will also divert and reuse rainwater, for both sustainability and educational purposes, as well as provide a space for creating natural play structures, community meeting areas, and outdoor classrooms.

Robinson says that although early discussions about possible natural play structures and outdoor classroom designs including things like using repurposed Sycamore trees as climbing structures and wood balance beams, or creating man-made structures focused on tactile learning and sense awareness, there are still more ongoing conversations to be had among students, staff and administrators at GRCDC before making any final decisions. 

However, teachers and school officials are already in the process of creating the proposal for a new rain garden, which would utilize the new rainwater systems as an educational tool for teaching students about sustainability through rainwater diversion and re-use, and Robinson knows that when the time does come to start making decisions on those big things, all of the new play structures and outdoor learning spaces will all be designed to align with the school’s approach to education — one which champions a collaborative approach and emphasizes the impact of connectedness, whether it be with other students, neighboring community members, or even just the ground beneath their feet.

“As we consider designing those spaces, we’ll consider our approach, which is about collaboration, and using the environment as a teacher, and connecting with our community,” Robinson says. “We really believe the importance of the natural environment and in being a part of that. We’ve seen how our children can learn things like collaboration in outdoors, and even just kindness in being outdoors, so it’s a great connection to who we are as a school…this a big step in that direction of living more fully to that approach.”

For more information about GRCDC’s educational philosiphy or its Greening Our Schools project, visit www.grcdc.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center

New S. Division gallery space, Cerasus Studio, debuts with focus on new and local talent

With a little less than one month to go until its official ribbon-cutting ceremony, the new Cerasus Studio at 120 S. Division was designed by founder and curator Callin Cherry to be more than just 144 square feet of display space. 

“The name Cerasus refers to a species of tree that can only grow when cultivated well; the same can be said of our talents, and the goal of Cerasus Studio is to provide fertile soil for undergraduate art students,” says Cherry, who signed the lease on the space with Dwelling Place back in May. “I think it's important to show that just like any other career ‘tree,’ artists are just as sturdy and upward-moving. Connotations of art as a natural process and a source of vitality are of course very much also a part of that.” 

For the past three years, Cherry has worked as curator for Art.Downtown, also occupying the role of Avenue for the Arts’ education coordinator last winter and spring, as well as assistant curator of the Cathedral Square venue during ArtPrize 7. 

The decision to open Cerasus, she says, was in part an effort to create more opportunities for herself to experiment with her style and approach to curating as an art all its own, but it was solidified while working as education coordinator with Avenue for the Arts, for which she provided business classes to career artists. 

“I realized that a lot of creatives go into a career and still have a lot of questions,” she says, adding that she noticed many art students, after earning their bachelor’s degrees, still aren’t comfortable with writing artist statements and are often unfamiliar with how to write proposals, as well as some of the other practical skills that come with being a career artist.

“Along with skills like pricing work and marketing, I intend to help young local artists cultivate a confidence to communicate their art to others in a way that will make them successful,” she says.

Though Cherry says renovations on the space weren’t super extensive, she and her boyfriend — who together occupy the back of the property as living space — spent the last few months repairing a good amount of drywall and repainting the walls.

“The floors are resin, as far as we can tell, and show a lot of paint from previous tenants who used this as studio space,” Cherry says. “I think it's an interesting character to a gallery, which are often very minimalist.”

As far as the art itself goes, Cherry says she welcomes anything and everything, but is looking forward to working with contemporary and installation artists in particular. 

Cerasus Studios will open its doors for the first time on Aug. 5 at 5:30 p.m. during a ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., followed by the exhibition “Black Borders” featuring artists Caroline Cook and Lesley Albert.

“We'll have snacks and beverages for guests, but the public is also welcome to bring their own and celebrate with us,” Cherry says. “In addition to providing local artists with skills, I'm really passionate about changing what it means to be in a space with art; let's have some fun!” 

For more information on the space or its Aug. 5 opening event, find Cerasus Studios here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Cerasus Studios/Callin Cherry

Field & Fire Bakery holds behind-the-scenes event, prepares for new NW Monroe location

In its sixth year, the annual Bread Bakers Guild of America’s Bakery Open House event on June 25 provides an opportunity for local bakers to give current and potential customers a look inside of their operations. For the owners of Field & Fire Bakery at 435 Ionia Ave. SW, the event creates an avenue through which they can not only connect with their community, but their community can also form a deeper connection with them. 

“You think of a business and you don’t necessarily think of people, but there are always people running them,” says Shelby Kibler, who opened Field & Fire Bakery alongside his wife Julie a little over three years ago at the Downtown Market. “If I meet the owner and know the faces of some of the people who work there and dedicate themselves to making whatever it is that’s so special, it matters more, and makes me more inclined to go spend money at theses places.” 

The event comes as a preface to the opening of Field & Fire’s second location, slated to open sometime in September on the ground floor of 616 Lofts at Monroe, located at 820 Monroe Ave. NW. 

Field & Fire Bakery will join current retail tenants City Built Brewery, Fido and Stitch, CKO Kickboxing, and Essence Restaurant Group, who have committed to building a new restaurant location next to the development. 

“We have essentially a pretty empty space, and we have to build a sizable kitchen in there with everything that a bakery or restaurant needs, so it’s a little more expensive than one or the other, but I feel pretty confident we can get it done within 70 to 80 days once we start,” says Kibler, who is still waiting for approval on permits from the city to begin with the build-out at the new location. 

The new location won’t be using a wood-fire oven like the one at the Downtown Market, he says, but will have a different focus on food, including pastries, breakfast foods, and brunch on the weekends. 

Plus, the new location finally affords Kibler the opportunity to move forward with a part of his original business plan that fell by the wayside due to cost concerns — a large bread mixer and flour mill, which at the start will create a higher quality product by closing the gap of time between when the grain is first crushed and when it’s added to the mix. 

“One you grind it, the smell — the aroma and the flavor — are really strong and noticeable at that time, and every day after that it kind of decreases a bit,” he says. “There’s a vitality you get when you mill something and put it right into the mixing bowl … I think that makes a difference for the healthfulness, fragrance and flavor that you’re going to get out of that grain.”

Secondly, having an in-house flour mill works toward an even greater goal the Kilbers have always had.
 
“I have this long-term goal in engaging a few farmers in the area to grow specific crops for us that we can contract and pre-pay for, so they’re not having  to swallow a terrible year alone — we can share the cost that goes into a failed crop season,” he says. “It’s as local as you can get and more sustainable than what has been happening over the last 100 years in the country. It truly used to be like that all of the time…it’s not like that anymore, but there’s definitely a trend toward that and the mill is a crucial component to making that happen.”

For more information on Field & Fire Bakery, or to stay updated on the opening of the new space, visit www.fieldandfire.com or find Field & Fire on Facebook

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

Grand Rapids-based Sun Title Agency opens new Grandville location

Replacing its current Grandville location at 4693 Wilson Ave., Sun Title Agency has recently announced the opening of a new 3,000-square-foot offices at 4600 Ivanrest.

"The challenge we're having is that our southwest market has grown so much and frankly, we just needed a couple more closing room and the ability to accommodate a few more employees,” says Tom Cronkright, co-owner of Sun Title Agency, which provides commercial and residential title insurance and closing services in Grand Rapids and throughout West Michigan.

Formerly occupied by a residential home, the newly converted space will accommodate as many as six employees and help to expand its presence in the Grandville community.

Though Cronkright and his co-owner acquired the space a few years back, it wasn’t until a recent rezoning — brought about by a new Goodwill location being built in an adjacent lot — made the space easier to renovate for new office spaces. Cronkright was supported by Craig Architects for the design, and Chad Moore from Prestige Construction acted as project manager.

The new space features an outdoor lounge area for employees, a large atrium and customer lounge, and three private closing rooms. The existing driveway was relocated and expanded to offer private parking areas for customers and employees.

“It’s a really cool building because we added just a bunch of large window openings with store-front glass and aluminum siding," he says. “When you’re in there, that office has more natural light — because it’s a standalone and not a downtown office — this one is a 360 and allows a tremendous amount of light in and makes it feel really open inside.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Sun Title Agency 

The Collective Artspace builds on S. Division artist community with new shared gallery, studio space

When The Collective Artspace Co-Director Rachelle Wunderink sits down to talk with prospective new members, there’s only really one big thing she wants to know.

“What’s your dream project you’ve always wanted to do but never could do because you don’t have the space? How can we try to help and make that happen?” asks Wunderink, who opened the Collective Artspace alongside fellow co-director Ryan Hay just a little over a month ago at 40 S. Division Avenue, on the heels of the closing of former event-based exhibition space Craft House.

In fact, it was through an email introduction by former Craft House director that Wunderink and Hay first connected — and it was just a couple hours into their first meeting when they both realized they both saw enormous potential in the idea of having a dedicated collaborative space accessible for young Grand Rapids artists

“We both wanted to collaborate, wanted to have a space — almost like an incubator — where we could really push the Grand Rapids art scene and push ourselves as artists with others in the community,” says Wunderink, shortly thereafter bringing the Collective Artspace’s third main organizer and longtime friend, Tia Wieringa on board.  

Currently 16-members strong, the new headquarters provides open upstairs gallery space with five studio spaces in the basement, which rent alongside membership fees for a total of about $115 per month. 

“You’re sharing a space with other people, so you’re not gaining a whole room, but with that comes more collaboration and discussion and being around artists who are also working,” Wunderink says. 

Which, makes sense, seeing as the mission of The Collective Artspace is about as straightforward as it sounds — to create an accessible, affordable avenue for local artists to grow and nurture their own unique creative sensibilities alongside those with different, unique, creative sensibilities. 

“A lot of what we want to do with our members is have them collaborate with each other or artists outside of the Collective space and think outside the box, or do something maybe they normally wouldn’t,” she says. “Instead of making what you always make, how can we pair you with someone who can really challenge and push you in a different  direction, or incorporate the art you make with what another artists makes?” 

Last weekend, The Collective Artspace hosted its first event of the collaborative kind, hosting a gallery for Detroit artist Matthew Milla that incorporated both his mixed-media tangible work and music from his band Frontier Ruckus. 

“We had 45 people come to that concert, which for us we thought was really great start,” Wunderink says. 

For more information on The Collective Artspace gallery, its members, or upcoming events visit www.collectiveartspace.com or find The Collective Artspace here on Facebook

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

Triangle Associates, Inc. keeps momentum, follows up finished projects with more summer construction

After recently completing a round of construction jobs that totaled $22.8 million, Grand Rapids-based construction company Triangle Associates, Inc. isn’t slowing down just yet. 

Either announced recently or currently underway, Triangle Associates has 11 more building projects in its state-wide summer line-up — including a few highly anticipated Grand Rapids rehabs — valued all together at $177.5 million when completed. 

Kate Pew Wolters Center at IKUS (Indian Trails Camp

Though the new Kate Pew Wolters Center at IKUS’ Indian Trails Camp falls into the completed category, having already held its grand opening earlier this month, the 17,500 square-foot facility is one of a kind

Established more than 50 years ago, Indian Trails Camp offers recreational camping for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities, and the new, fully handicap accessible activity center not only allows staff to work year-round with camp patrons for the first time, but is also tricked out with a full-court gym and bleachers, new staff offices and meeting rooms, a lounge/cafe area, and full kitchen and laundry rooms — all designed specifically for those with disabilities and geared toward fostering valuable learning spaces for students and campers. 

“What is cool about these types of projects, at least for me personally, and I know  for a lot of others at Triangle, is that moment you see peoples faces light up for what (the space) is actually going to do and how it’s actually going to impact these campers,” says Jim Conner, Triangle’s vice president. “…When you see that kind of smile and that kind of pride come out for people that have had a much more challenging life than many, that’s probably what makes me most proud.” 

The Rowe (Atwater Brewery)

Located at 201 Michigan St., in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Triangle’s construction teams are nearing completion on the $24 million complete renovation of the historic 1923 Rowe Hotel

At an impressive 14,000-square-feet, 77 new residential units are being added to the hotel’s upper levels, while 5,800-square-feet of The Rowe’s ground floor will become the new home of Atwater Brewery. Complete with a 120-seat dining area and 20-stool bar area with glass viewing walls behind, the brewery space includes a gift shop and an additional 1,500-square-foot outdoor patio. 

Connor says there were moments when the age and crumbling infrastructure of the old hotel made renovations a bit more difficult — the discovery of an abandoned underground canal that made incorporating underground parking a challenge, or the process of carefully removing existing terra-cotta fixtures on the buildings exterior and making a mold that was then shipped to an overseas manufacturer for production before finally arriving back in Grand Rapids, to name just a few. However, he says being able to keep the buildings authenticity in tact makes those smaller struggles worth it. 

New additions to The Rowe include a new penthouse level with eight condominiums, underground parking, and rooftop collaboration space with a completed, move-in ready space scheduled for mid-August.

“We’re working a lot of hours to make that happen,” Connor says. 

CA Frost Environmental Science Academy

It isn’t the first time Triangle Associates has worked closely with the Grand Rapids Public School District — in fact, Connor says Triangle has been working for GRPS on K-12 construction projects in some capacity for the past 15 years or more, and managed CA Frost Academy’s first construction project back in 2003. 

However, with the school’s future expansion bringing its K-8 student body out to include preschool and grades 9-12, and new facility features that include everything from environmental science labs, a robotics room, outdoor classrooms, and a nature trail, Conner says managing CA Frost construction feels a lot different this time around.  

“We build a lot of traditional K-12 school,  so to be creating learning environments like CA Frost [is] a little outside of the norm,” he says. “I think GRPS is doing a lot of things right on many fronts, but one of them is how they’re creating environments and learning places to give students different experiences and help keep kids engaged.” 

To learn more about what Triangle Associates, Inc. has worked on and is currently working on now, visit www.triangle-inc.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Triangle Associates, Inc. 

 

New chocolate shop Mokaya debuts this Saturday on Wealthy Street

This Saturday, June 25, Mokaya, a family-owned and operated chocolate confectionary, will celebrate its grand opening at 638 Wealthy St. SE. At the site of the former Johnny B’z, Mokaya will be sharing half of the hot dog restaurant's former space with LAMB BRIDE, a new bridal shop and studio. Mokaya is owned by Charles "Smitty" Golcyzynski, who will work with his son, Max, who serves as the shop's general manager. The Golcyzynskis will craft unique chocolate truffles, ice creams, sodas, and hot chocolates year-round.

"This was kind of a retirement plan," Max says about his father's new chocolate venture. Smitty, who pursued marine biology in college, went on to own Jersey Junction in East Grand Rapids and, later, his own catering business, The Catering Company, on Fulton Street East.

Almost two decades into his culinary career, Smitty began crafting chocolates, and soon began learning the art of confectionary from his friends and colleagues at the Culinary Institute of Michigan. Falling in love with all things chocolate, he looked forward to owning his own chocolate shop and sold The Catering Co. two years ago to pursue Mokaya. With his son at his side, the two sought out the cozy space on Wealthy Street and got to work on renovations.

Working alongside his father, Max is no stranger to the culinary world. "I grew up in his kitchen," he says. Even while pursuing an undergraduate degree in anthropology, Max was drawn to the food and beverage industry and continued working for his father, along with working for other local businesses such as Lyon Street Cafe.

Opening this Saturday at 11am, Smitty and Max will debut a large, varied menu that principally focuses on creative truffles. "Everything is house-made," says Max. In addition to traditional flavors like almond and coconut, Smitty will also showcase some more daring combinations, such as a sun-dried tomato jelly, chocolate toffee popcorn with duck cracklings and a beer flight of truffles. Despite this experimentation, Smitty will stay true to his mission, and Max notes that, "Everything has some form of chocolate." Sourcing mostly from South America and Europe, Smitty's combinations always starts with high quality chocolate at their base.

Starting out with a killer location and over three decades of experience, Mokaya looks forward to other outlets like wedding favors, graduation parties and beer and chocolate tastings. Prioritizing partnering with other local businesses like The Peoples Cider Co. and neighbor Rowster Coffee, Smitty and Max are excited to join the local scene. Named for "an ancient meso-American tribe that's currently recognized as the earliest group to bring chocolate all over the Americas," says Max, Mokaya seeks to spread the love of chocolate throughout GR. Check them out at their opening this Saturday at 11am.

For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/MokayaGR/.

Photos by Leigh Ann Cobb

Locally-owned Kingma's Market coming to Ada

Though the locally-owned Kingma’s Market has been part of the larger Grand Rapids community for 80 years, the popular store’s owners have recently announced the opening of its second location, which will debut in Ada Township at the northwest corner of Fulton Street and Ada Drive. 

While its existing market at 2225 Plainfield in Grand Rapids will continue operations, the new 13,000-square-foot facility is expected to open in 2017 with an extensive inventory of local, Michigan-made products, fresh produce, and meat. 

“Opening a second location in Ada is a great opportunity to expand the brand and be part of a historic village that is undergoing an exciting transformation,” says Alan Hartline, owner of Kingma’s Market. 

The new Ada location will feature a butcher shop that will offer all-natural, locally procured products, including fresh, in-store made sausage, jerky, and bacon alongside a large variety of gourmet, imported and local cheeses. All of this will be complemented by a selection of more than 300 specialty, craft imported and Michigan beers, as well as more than 750 wines. 

Hartline says the market has plans to hire between 25 to 30 employees for the new market location. 

“We are delighted to bring our local flavor and unique shopping experience to the Ada community,” Hardline says. “Kingma’s Market offers consumers a fun, foodie environment with a distance service-oriented charm. Ada offers us the perfect location to grow the Kingma’s Market brand. We are excited to join this transformational development.” 

For more information on the Ada expansion project, visit www.AdaMichigan.org.  

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Kingma’s Market

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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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 

New coffee and food hub, That Early Bird, to open in former Kava House next month

When customers walk into the newly renovated cafe at 1445 Lake Dr. SE next month, owner Stephen Curtis says he hopes the new coffee and food bar will make them feel uplifted. 

“We wanted it to be a space that was uplifting to go into, so kind of clean and bright, but not super modern or austere or anything like that,” says Curtis, who co-owns That Early Bird in collaboration with chef Joel Wabeke, a graduate of New York’s Culinary Institute of America who not only spent time cooking at top U.K. restaurants The Fat Duck and The Hinds Head, but has also acted as chef de cuisine for six.one.six. in downtown Grand Rapids’ J.W. Marriot hotel and top Detroit restaurant Wright and Company.

Already an established coffee roaster himself, Curtis became co-owner of the retail and coffee bar Rowster Coffee, alongside its founder Kurt Stauffer, in a space at 632 Wealthy St. in June 2010, and he says he and Wabeke didn’t start talking seriously about opening a new space until last winter, when the pair were presented with an opportunity to take over the 2,000-square-foot Eastown building and former Kava House. 

Unique in its marriage of quality coffee beverages and seasonally crafted food options, hungry cafe goers can expect a menu featuring the best of all worlds — a full list of grab-and-go brewed coffees and craft espresso beverages alongside Wabeke's twists on old favorites, like breakfast sandwiches centered around homemade sourdough English muffins and Japanese milk bread, hearty grain based salads and vegetable soups. 

“What I love about Eastown is that it’s so walkable... There’s just a wider range of people living in Eastown, and also there’s so much to do in this neighborhood. And everyone is walking around here, and I think that mix is really cool,” says Curtis, who designed That Early Bird to be the kind of welcoming environment that finds its roots in the surrounding community by bringing together a diverse population in a place where everyone can feel comfortable.  

“In some ways, cafes are inherently built around a community, whether they’re trying to or not, just because it’s sort of that perfect place for a mix of people to come together from all different backgrounds and demographics and ages — it’s kind of the perfect melting pot,” he says. “…I think it's going to be awesome. I’m pretty excited for a different mash-up of food and coffee that doesn’t really exist right now anywhere in the city.” 

Though there’s no official opening date just yet, Curtis says he expects That Early Bird to wrap up renovations and open its doors sometime at early to mid-May. To stay in the loop, visit That Early Bird online, or donate to the Indiegogo campaign here through May 8. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Stephen Curtis/That Early Bird 

Vander Mill Ciders gears up for grand opening of new facility, tap room in downtown GR

After one year and $4 million of investment in the purchase and renovation of the old B&B Beer Distribution Co. building at 505 Ball Ave. NE, Vander Mill Hard Ciders will open the doors to its new downtown Grand Rapids production facility and tap room Monday, April 18.

Much of the 40,000 renovated square feet has been utilized for cider production, with about 4,500 square feet left to house a large restaurant, cooking, and dining area designed to seat up to 200 people indoors and 60 individuals on the outside patio. 

“Just like with our ciders, we’re super excited in the Vander Mill kitchen to showcase the incredibly diverse agricultural community and the depth and breadth of products that you find here in Western Michigan,” says Vander Mill head chef Justin Large, who designed a full menu for the Grand Rapids restaurant to pair with its collection of ciders on tap. 

Specialized in crafting seasonal menus with locally sourced products, Large has held various past positions at Chicago eateries like The Violet Hour, Tourant for the Publican, and Big Star.

Owner Paul Vander Heide says the new Grand Rapids facility has enough equipment to produce over one million gallons of cider — a jump for the 200,000 gallons currently produced annually at its existing Spring Lake facility. 

For more information on Vander Mill Ciders downtown Grand Rapids opening, visit Vander Mill here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Vander Mill Cidery

Lights, camera, action! $140M movie theater complex, retail & apartments proposed for downtown GR

For the Loeks family, this week’s announcement that Loeks Theatres and 616 Development are partnering on a mixed-use development that is slated to bring a nine-screen movie theater, apartments, retail space, and a public piazza to Grand Rapids’ downtown is more than a story of a new, high-profile project that has garnered excitement from many a community leader, including Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

It’s a story of a journey home, of a family-owned business that always dreamed of returning to Grand Rapids’ downtown, and of a city that has survived its ups and downs — but where the heartbeat has never stopped.

“The story that is here is not just of this fantastic development, that it will be a jewel of the community, but it’s a part of story that family-owned businesses dream about,” says Steve VanWagoner, the vice president marketing and public relations for Loeks Theatres, which owns and operates Celebration! Cinema. “In 1944, Jack Loeks acquires the first theater in this company, right over there on Pearl Street.  Now, almost 72 years later, a few blocks away, we’re here with another theater and the same family. It’s a great story for Grand Rapids, for family-owned businesses. It’s inspiring.”

Jack Loeks purchased the Powers Theatre on Pearl Street in 1944. Originally the Powers Opera House, which was built around 1883, the venue was renamed Foto News when Loeks bought it. During World War II, the space showed news reels from the war. After the war ended, Loeks again renamed the venue, this time calling it The Midtown Theater. It closed in the 1970s, a time when many other downtown stores were shuttering, and it was demolished in 1978. The space was then turned into a parking ramp.

In 1965,  Jack Loeks built Studio 28 in Wyoming, which became the largest multi-screen theater in the world, but which closed in 2008. Jack Loeks’ son, John Loeks, built the first Celebration! Cinema in Benton Harbor in the mid-1990s. There are currently 12 Celebration! Cinemas, including on 28th Street and Celebration Drive, and the theater chain has been a success, with its theaters often placing in the top revenue-generating movie venues in the state.

Now, the Loeks family — specifically JD Loeks, the president of Loeks Theatres — has set their sights on returning to downtown Grand Rapids, where they’re collaborating with 616 Development on a two-phase, $140 million project that was announced on Monday and which VanWagoner says will become the “new heart of downtown.” The first phase of the project will cost approximately $100 million and is slated to include a nine-screen theater named Studio C!, 38,000 square feet of retail space, approximately 187 residential units, a 20,000 square foot public piazza, and a 900-space parking ramp.

The development is proposed to be located south of the Van Andel Arena on city-owned properties bound by Oakes, Ionia and Cherry Streets.

“The original inspiration for this project came from JD Loeks, our president — he’s been talking about this for many years,” says VanWagoner. “When Studio 28 closed in the fall of 2008, it became his passion project to not replace Studio 28 but to bring something back to Grand Rapids. This vision of returning downtown, to where the company started, became his vision.”

After years of talks with various key players from throughout the city, the project’s plan got a unanimous stamp of approval from the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority at the organization's meeting Friday morning. Now that the plan is approved by the DDA, the project can officially move forward. Loeks and 616 representatives say they expect to break ground on the first phase in 2017, and the theatre is expected to open to the public in 2018.

The details of the second phase will be announced at a later time and will include additional residential units. VanWagoner says few details have been released regarding the apartments, including what the average rent will be, but he notes “they’re workforce units meant to be for college students and folks who want to be close to all of the activities downtown.” In addition to movies, the multi-use complex will include auditoriums for live entertainment, VanWagoner says.

“This theatre will be unlike anything we have built before,” JD Loeks says in a press release. “It will borrow some of the best, most innovative ideas that we have seen from around the world and add a few innovations of our own.”

The project would also be a be a major economic boon to the city, with the first phase of the development expected to generate a projected $369 in economic benefits during its first decade, according to a statement issued by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., which manages the DDA.

According to the same statement, a breakdown of the economic benefits expected to occur during that first decade include:
  • $192.2 million in new consumer spending downtown.
  • $156.4 million in payroll associated with new jobs housed in the development.
  • $16.2 million in new sales tax payments to the state, assuming the 6% rate.
  • $4.6 million in retained local property and income taxes, after tax incentives provided to the developer by the City of Grand Rapids and the Downtown Development Authority.
Monica Steimle, director of community relations at 616 Development, as well as representatives from Loeks Theatres and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., note the proposed project fits within the city’s aspirations for sustainable development.

“We believe that creating spaces for people to live, work and play along the Ionia corridor will add vibrancy to our growing city, which also aligns with the missions of the Arena South Plan and GR Forward,” Steimle says in a press release. “We look at this project as an ongoing commitment to our noble purpose of community creation and are pleased to partner with another respected local company that has a similar mission.”

VanWagoner agrees.

“They are critical to helping us keep within these missions of the city, and that’s what makes it exciting,” he says in reference to 616 Development. “We’re about the city, and we want it to be pleasing to the community.”

After community push to support Polish Falcons Aid Society of GR, historic group takes flight

John Theisen, Vice President of the Polish Falcons Aid Society of Grand Rapids, isn’t actually Polish himself. However, despite his German/Irish heritage, Theisen was introduced to the local cultural club through his best friend’s dad about 14 years ago — and the rest is history. 

“My best friend’s dad was a member of the Polish Falcons and wanted me and my buddies to join, but I guess it was kind of through the camaraderie of being part of the Falcons that I decided to get more involved,” says Theisen, who first served as the Society’s treasurer before stepping into the role of vice president seven years ago. 

Located at 957 W. Fulton Ave., the Grand Rapids branch of the PFAS was founded way back in 1927 with the intention of helping Polish immigrants new to the city find work in the furniture factories and places to live in the surrounding neighborhood. 

In its heyday — during the 1940s through the 1970s — the Polish Falcons Aid Society of Grand Rapids had more than 400 members, its clubhouse on W. Fulton benefiting from new equipment, extensive renovations and improvements to both its exterior and interior as membership grew. 

“Back in the day, everybody that lived in the neighborhood that was Polish would walk to the club and do their thing,” says Theisen, adding that, since then, a lot of the club’s membership has moved away from the downtown area and into the suburbs, and although there’s been quite a bit of reinvestment and redevelopment in the John Ball Park neighborhood where it resides, the late 1990s and early 2000s were rough on both the building and its surrounding community. 

In fact, Phillip Mitchell, treasurer for the Society, says over the past year or so, the city of Grand Rapids issued citations to the clubhouse for the poor condition of the building’s exterior. 

“Funds are pretty tight in general, we just don’t generate much to pay for repairs and stuff and that’s the biggest problem,” says Mitchell, who joined the PFAS around three years ago even though he, like Theisen, is not Polish himself, but instead was brought in by his wife, who has Lithuanian/Polish roots. 

With a crumbling exterior and official citation from the city of Grand Rapids, exterior renovations cost the PFAS around $50,000 — a number Mitchell says is significant, especially relative to what the group typically brings in — and the group spent the last year raising money for repairs, which included various event-based fundraising efforts as well as an increase in membership dues. 

“We do a variety of things that promote the Polish heritage too, like Pulaski Days. Anything that really gets people in the doors and works like a fundraiser for us,” says Mitchell. An example of such includes a raffle held last Friday during the building’s grand re-opening, for which attendance included a few county commissioners, the city comptroller and West Side advocate Rev. Msgr. Edward Hankiewicz, who blessed the space before the ribbon was cut. 

Although recent fundraising has been geared largely toward renovations, Theisen says community support and member-organized charity work isn’t new for PFAS’ Grand Rapids chapter — it’s just part of what makes them such a tight-knit group. 

“If there’s a charity event going on, someone in the Polish community that needs help, we jump on it,” he says, citing scholarship programs for local elementary schools, PFAS’ participation in Angel Tree during Christmastime, and a successful rally cry to help a neighbor whose house caught fire about a year ago.

“We’re always very charitable, and if someone asks and needs help, we’re one of the first to step up,” Theisen says. “First to fight, first to help out. That’s the Polish Falcons motto.”

That’s why every August, volunteer members of the PFAS lead the charge in organizing and staffing the annual Polish Festival in downtown Grand Rapids, and despite the hike in membership dues, the PFAS still has around 250 members to pack its 2,700-square-foot clubhouse with activities, events, and, more simply, each other’s company. 

Part of this interest stems from the renewed accessibility to the club, says Theisen, who notes his larger community is on the mend thanks to reinvestment in buildings and new businesses on Grand Rapids’ west side. 

“The neighborhood was a little rough at the time, and it’s really come back since Grand Valley has moved in down the road, and people are taking pride in their structures and really doing a lot of stuff in the neighborhood now that they didn’t do in the past,”  he says. 

Though it may have taken some time for their neighbors to catch up, the PFAS has always taken pride in their structures, both visible and unseen. And more than anything else, that pride has fostered the group’s ability to thrive for decades, with members like Theisen passing the love of the Polish heritage in all of its forms down to both old faces and new. 

“I enjoy polka music as one of those lost music [forms, which] you don’t see a lot of the young kids listening to anymore, and we’ve really actually brought in a lot of young people grasping the culture and liking the music,” he says. “My son is six years old, and he loves polka music now. We’ve also got kids in their 20s who come to the club when we have the polka band play, and they love it too. When I was growing up, it was just a bunch of old people who liked polka music, and it’s kind of cool to see a generation of young people accepting it.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of John Theisen 

With nods to West Michigan agriculture, Gray Skies Distillery celebrates opening in Grand Rapids

Both Brandon Voorhees and Steve Vander Pol have parted ways with the Mitten State since graduating from high school at Tri-Unity Christian, yet Voorhees says, somehow, they always find their way back home. 

“Growing up, Steve and I have always been close friends and we always kind of knew we wanted to get into some kind of business that we could call our own here in our favorite city,” says Voorhees, who alongside Vander Pol is co-founder of Gray Skies Distillery,which officially opened the doors to its 10,000-square-foot North Monroe distillery and tasting room on St. Patrick’s Day last week. 

Voorhees and Vander Pol initially launched Gray Skies Distillery in 2014, spending the last couple of years brushing up on crystallization and fermentation techniques and securing the once dilapidated warehouse space at 700 Ottawa Ave. NW. 

“We both just had a passion for (distilling) instantly, and the last couple years have been just planning and getting the right space, creating the right plans to move forward and create spirits that our city can be proud of,” Voorhees says. 

Alongside a rum spirit, Voorhees is most excited about Gray Skies’ Barrel Finished Hopped Gin, with its Citra hops ingredient being a nod to Grand Rapids’ reputation as Beer City, USA. 

“It’s been quite well received in the marketplace so far, and we’re excited about what could happen with it,” he says. “… Everybody wants to use this awesome agriculture we have around us, and we thought this would be an awesome thing that would be well received here.”

Furnished with repurposed mid-century pieces around a bar crafted from wood and metal, Voorhees says the goal with GSD’s interior renovation was to create a tasting room space in what was clearly and primarily a distillery, with big glass windows allowing patrons a look into the massive vats filling its fermentation room.

“We definitely had a plan for Gray Skies — we were going to be a manufacturing and distribution plant. We want to get our products on the shelves of our favorite bars and restaurants, as well as in our tasting room,” he says. “We didn’t try and create a restaurant. ...It’s an interesting space, it’s a cool space, but the one thing we want people to feel like is, ‘I’m in this bar, but I definitely know there’s a distillery right on the other side of the door.’” 

Currently, GSD is offering free tours of the distillery, complete with complimentary tastings for three different times slots every Saturday and Sunday, with a reservation form available on the website. 

“We want everybody to feel welcome to come in, let us explain how we make the products, give you a taste of them and bring you on a tour,” Voorhees says. “It’ll be fun for people to come on in and see, ‘Alright, these are the grains you’re bringing in from West Michigan farmers, and this is how you turn them into some of the things we’re drinking. We don’t want anyone to have any excuse not to come in.”  

To learn more about the new Gray Skies Distillery or to book your free tour and tasting, visit www.grayskiesdistillery.com or find Gray Skies Distillery here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Gray Skies Distillery 

Waterfront Film Organization ushers in new era of year-round activity with Holland venue space

With more than 3,500 square feet of floor space and five giant retractable garage doors, Waterfront Film Organization co-founder Hopwood DePree says the former auto garage at 479 Columbia Ave. in Holland is the perfect space for the nonprofit’s new venue space and office facility. 

“It’s really just perfect for our needs and what we’re looking to do, and we’re really looking forward to connecting with the community and talking with people about how they envision using the space,” says DePree, whose organization is able to move forward with goals of establishing a physical headquarters in Holland thanks to a $25,350 matching grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs

Awarded the grant through MCACA’s peer review process, Waterfront was one of 559 applications competing for the 2016 fiscal year funding. 

Plans for the new facility designate some of the renovated floor space to private offices and meeting space for organization administration and reception. However, the bulk of the area will be around the retractable garage doors, which they plan to use as a multi-purpose screening venue and gallery space.   

Originally founded in 1999, Waterfront has operated for the past 17 years as an event-based film festival, only recently making the transition into an active year-round foundation for supporting cinematic endeavors. DePree says that, over the years, organizers were inspired to restructure into something with more longevity as they found more and more people looking to participate in events beyond the planned festivals. 

“We just kept thinking, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great to have a home base with meeting places and a screening facility and space for arts-related causes and events,’” DePree says. “…We’ve been contacted by great film programs throughout the year about screening, but we’ve been fairly contained to just doing those during the festival.” 

DePree says construction is already underway on the building’s interior, and exterior renovations are planned for spring, with scheduled summertime completion and a fall 2016 grand opening celebration. 

“We really want this to be a resource for people in the community and people interested in getting involved and hosting events. We really see this as a hub not just for film organizations, but also for other activities that the Waterfront Film Organization can help support as a year-round nonprofit organization.” 

For more information on Waterfront Film Organization, visit www.waterfrontfilm.org or find Waterfront here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Waterfront Film Organization 

Holland-based Premier Freight is growing quickly, thanks to new warehouse space

West Michigan-based shipping, logistics and warehousing company Premier Freight announced last week the acquisition of the Hart & Cooley building in Holland, Mich., a warehouse space located inside the Federal Square Business Park. 

Currently, Premier Freight resides in the 105,000-square-foot former Life Savers plant in the East 48th Industrial Center. However, the acquisition will bring its total factory space up to 180,000 square feet.  

Specializing in full-service logistics, with an emphasis on transporting large, complex, and unique items for manufacturers throughout the U.S., Premier Freight offers its premium “One-Touch” service — a supply chain program that spans all aspects of the fulfillment process, from transportation to warehousing and customer receipt. 

Doug Walcott is president of Premier Freight and says the expanding economy in West Michigan is fueling demand for new warehousing space. 

“Manufacturers that once kept warehousing on-site are looking to trusted, full-service, logistics partners like Premier to manage the entirety of their supply chain,” Walcott says. “Premier Warehousing service stores manufacturers’ raw materials until they need them for production, and they come back to us as a finished product ready to ship out to their customers. We help them manage their products during the entire process.”

Walcott and Vice President Mark Laning say they have already gotten commitments from some of Premier’s major customers to continue expanding in the new warehouse space, for which the company will take on such additional tasks as light assembly, quality inspections and sorting, and sequencing product. 

Walcott and Laning say that by adding additional square footage for warehousing, Premier is given the ability to essentially become an invisible arm of those customers it serves by holding raw materials for vendors, which then move on to other large Michigan manufacturers. 

“We are proud to bring new life and vibrancy into two manufacturing buildings with abundant history in the Holland community,” Laning says. “Doug and I did considerable business with both of those companies when they were located in Holland, and it is a distinct honor to help repurpose the properties and bring them to new life.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Premier Freight 

DMC Design plans for new Ada Village offices

Luxury interior design firm DMC Design has announced the construction of a new building to house offices at 523 Ada Dr. in the soon-to-debut Ada Village redevelopment. 

A partnership between Dixion Architecture and DMC Design, the new building will feature two offices suites on the second level for each respective business, while the main level will be divided into two or three separate retail units.

Scheduled for a fall 2016 completion with design plans crafted to align with Ada Village’s newly adopted codes and ordinances focused on improving greenways, walkability and local retail, owner and chief creative officers of DMC Design, Dawn Marie Coe, says she and partners at Dixion Architecture hope the project will serve as a keystone for future projects in the area. 

“After seeing what was proposed by the Envision Ada process, we were excited to be part of this new vision for Ada, enhancing the small village feel while growing businesses and retail that serves our community,” she says. 

For more information, visit www.dmcdesignllc.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of DMC Design 

Revolve Records kicks off grand opening of new GR store with live show during 'opening ceremony'

With its March 17 opening on the horizon, owners of the new Revolve Records hope they can bring customers more than just a record store. 

Iam Tud is the general manager of the new 800-square-foot Revolve Records, located at 1606 Fuller Ave. SE and says in the eyes of Revolve’s collective ownership, the ‘90s were the golden age of the music industry — a time where the act of music buying itself was a experience. 

“Record sales were up, record labels were happy, pre-internet advances in technology (CDs) helped expand the variety of genres, artists, and reach of music across the country and internationally,” Tud says. 

He says back then, consumers were drawn to unique artist or band names based on album art and in-store promotions, enjoying a tangible project and reveling in the anticipation created in the time between purchase and first play. 

“The anxiety of putting the needle to the record, the warmth of the sound of vinyl with subtle snaps, cracks, and pops, the pain of manually rewind your cassettes,” he says. “Today new music is a click away. There is no experience, no purchasing process. The majority of music is available — somewhere — online for free. We want to restore the intimacy and experience of purchasing music for true music lovers, and music culture enthusiasts. With the vinyl comeback of the 2010s, the time to hit the market was now.”

With an inventory collected over the span of 15 years, Revolve began as a dream turned call-to-action by a local West Michigan deejay who, in the spirit of collective ownership, wants to remain anonymous for the time being. 



He says Revolve is, in part, an effort to respond to a lack of variety in record stores and the foundation in the local music scene in genres outside of adult contemporary, rock, country, pop and electronic dance music, hoping to strengthen the scene and raise the bar for quality entertainment in Grand Rapids. 

However, Tud says it’s not in Revolve’s mission to compete with other record stores like Vertigo or Dodd’s located closer to center of the city, but rather to build relationships and create a local network for both business owners and consumers, who get more than just a product from the entertainment on their shelves. 

“People use music to cope, soothe, and celebrate the lives they live in hope of better days,” he says. “Music brings people together — family, friends, and even strangers. We are here for the people, the community, the artists, and the city.” 

Following its grand opening on March 17 at 11am, Revolve Records will be open six days a week (they will be closed Wednesdays) from 11am to 8pm Monday through Friday, 10am to 7pm Saturday, and 12pm to 5pm Sunday. 

Revolve Records will also hold an “opening ceremony” celebration at the local venue Death House that night at 9pm, with live performances by Wuzee, Shamar Alef, Rosewood 2055, and Joose The Conqueror. Advance tickets are available online here for $10 or $15 at the door. For more information or to start shopping online early, visit www.revolverecs.com or find Revolve on Facebook

Rapid Growth Media readers can also get 20 percent off in-store merchandise at Revolve using the coupon above.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Revolve Records

Grand Coney opens third West Michigan location of classic American diner in Garfield Park

Grand Coney celebrated the grand opening of its third West Michigan restaurant Monday after about six months of renovation work on the 1,800-square-foot restaurant space located at 401 28th Street SE in Garfield Park.

Though Grand Coney’s menu is focused on its “Detroit-style” coney dogs with Michigan-made Kogel hot dogs, the classic diner also serves American and Greek comfort food, sandwiches, burgers, and hand-dipped milkshakes complete with a 24/7 breakfast menu. 

“This third location gives us great brand positioning as we actively expand the Grand Coney brand in the West Michigan market,” says Jeff Lobdell, President of Restaurant Partners, Inc., which owns the three Grand Coney locations alongside 15 other West Michigan restaurants. “The West Michigan market is hungry for genuine coney dogs like you find on the east side of the state, and Grand Coney has earned a reputation for serving the real thing.”

Lobdell held special VIP events prior to Monday’s grand opening to help train new staff for the grand opening, doubling the events as fundraisers. In total, the events were able to raise $1,200 for Kids’ Foods Basket, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that tackles childhood hunger throughout West Michigan.

“It was a pleasure to help raise funds for this very worthy and deserving local charitable organization,” Lobdell says. “Those folks are doing some great work in our community.”

Grand Coney’s flagship location first opened in 2004 at 809 Michigan St., followed in 2008 by its Allendale location near Grand Valley State University on Lake Michigan Drive.

For more information on the newest Grand Coney or any of the other eateries owned and operated by Restaurant Partners, Inc., visit www.4Gr8food.com 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Restaurant Partners, Inc. 

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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.

Mia's Dress Boutique celebrates opening of new ground-floor retail at Eastown Flats

Although Mia’s Dress Boutique at 1400 Wealthy St. SE has been open since November, the 900-square-foot retail space held its official grand opening celebration last weekend with special promotions, including a raffle whose winner took home a dress, weekend getaway, and anywhere from $10 to $40 off an item from the boutique.

Owned by Eastown resident Lisa Henly, the boutique sells dresses, accessories and other special occasion apparel for events like weddings, bridal parties, and proms.

Located on the ground floor of Eastown Flats, a 35-unit residential complex by Orion Real Estate Solutions — which held its own ribbon cutting ceremony in June 2015. The second retail space is home to new tenant Gaslight Barbershop.

“We are extremely excited to be in this neighborhood and in a newly finished building,” says Henly, who lives just four blocks away from her store. “This is a growing area, and we are thankful for the opportunity to celebrate being part of that growth.”

For more information, check out Mia’s Dress Boutique here on Facebook or Instagram.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Colliers International I West Michigan



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Integrated communications, marketing firm makes three new hires, plans for expanded HQ

In the past two years, Principal Kim Bode has seen earnings double at her firm, 834 Design & Marketing. Alongside a 133 percent increase in staff, the creation of a new web division, and an ever-expanding physical footprint in Grand Rapids’ downtown, the integrated communications firm has made three additional hires to keep up with its evolving brand.

“I never saw us growing this big; that was never our intention,” says Bode, who launched 834 in 2006 as a solo operation.

Though 834 Design & Marketing has been located in various spaces within the old Grand Rapids furniture building at 560 Fifth St. NW, Bode says the firm moved into its current 1,800-square-foot space last July and is currently in negotiations to add an additional 600 to 700 square feet to help accommodate the new hires, as well as account for anticipated future growth.

“I love the West Side,” says Bode, “I sit on the Stockbridge Business Association Board, and I’m on the West Side Marketing Committee… This is such an awesome community where everyone knows everyone. Rockford (Construction Co.) is doing great things in the community here, so it was really exciting for us when they purchased the building and began doing some work on it.”

New staff members include Rebecca Dutcher, director of web division; Lindsay Patton-Carson, public relations director; Lauren Krzesicki, project manager; and Julie Sheeran, creative director.

Alongside plans for growth, both in Grand Rapids and on the east side of the state, 834 Marketing & Design will continue to hire between five and eight interns each semester from local colleges, including Grand Valley State University, Central Michigan University, Calvin College, Cornerstone University, and Aquinas College, among others.

“It’s trial by fire; they don’t just sit around stuffing envelopes,” Bode says. “They’re learning social media strategy and implementation, they’re pitching to media outlets, doing follow-up calls, doing research.”

Since the creation of its new web division, Bode says the web side of 834’s business has grown by at least 30 percent; however, she expects its web operations to continue to grow as new hires settle into their roles at the firm.

Aside from its growing presence as both a brand and physical footprint in Grand Rapids, Bode attributes some of 834’s success to its unique approach and focus on integrated communications, which allows them to utilize in-house talent for both planning and implementing marketing strategy for clients.

“We write their strategy and then we implement it…That’s where media relationship and content generation and design and digital all come together under one roof,” she says. “…Our job is so diverse and different each day that I just think you really have to love what you do, but it’s always exciting when we can deliver results for our clients.”

For more information, visit www.834design.com.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of 834 Design & Marketing

Madcap Coffee to open second Fulton Heights location at E. Fulton Street roastery

Madcap Coffee announced plans for a second cafe location in Grand Rapids’ Fulton Heights neighborhood.

The local coffee roaster, whose flagship location remains at 98 Monroe Center NW, will open its new location as an extension of its current roasters and training lab at 1041 E. Fulton St. this spring.

Owners say the new cafe space will maintain Madcap’s detailed aesthetic while highlighting the best features of the 1930s building it will be housed in, drawing design inspiration from the craft bar industry.  

“At Madcap we strive to connect people to world-class coffee through an engaging and approachable experience,” says Trevor Corlett, Madcap CEO. “With our second Grand Rapids location, we hope to provide the community with a fresh coffee experience by building off of our original location and maintaining our core values of quality coffee, service, and creative thinking.”

The new E. Fulton shop will feature bar seating for ordering drinks and grabbing a quick bite to eat, with a focus on providing Grand Rapids customers with  another unique coffee experience through “on-the-go options.”

“The goal for the space is to provide for quick grab-and-go options that will be geared toward folks who want to belly up to the bar for a drink to experience coffee in a unique way,” says Ryan Knapp, director of coffee at Madcap.

Madcap’s seasonal signature drink menu will be offered at the new location alongside hot coffee, sparkling cascara, nitro-cold coffee, and made-to-order waffles with a variety of spreads.

For more information, visit www.madcapcoffee.com.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Madcap Coffee

New Yoga Fever studio aims to put the tradition back into contemporary hot yoga classes

The transition from yoga student to yoga teacher to studio owner has been a very natural one for Shannon Austin, owner of and instructor at Eastown’s new hot yoga studio, Yoga Fever, on the corner of Wealthy Street SE and Fuller Avenue at 1154 Wealthy St. SE.

With over a decade of experience practicing yoga and an official instructor certification through Prairie Yoga, a studio based in the Grand Rapids suburbs of Cascade, Austin came to Grand Rapids from the east side of the state about five years ago. She says the concept for Yoga Fever was born from the creeping feeling that many of the studios offering vinyasa-style hot yoga were missing something.

“Alignment was often missing in the more contemporary hot studios, and so I wanted to bring alignment to a vinyasa-style class without compromising the sweaty, fun flow,” Austin says. “I wanted to bring something in that was a little more instructional that kept closer to the true root of yoga, the traditions and the philosophies.”

And though she’s been practicing yoga since her very first class in 2004, Austin says it wasn’t until she moved to West Michigan that she became privy to the transformative quality of yoga when it’s instructed in the spirit of those traditions and philosophies.

“When I first started the practice, there was a bit of a ‘rubber band effect’ for me; it was more of a physical practice,” she says, adding that it not only takes time to delve into the deeper aspects, but also a willingness and true desire to get there.

“I think the more you practice, the more you come to the mat and with the right teachers, you’re just naturally going to start being more open and gravitating toward the spiritual aspect,” she says. “Some folks never open that door; they don’t want to open that door — and if you don’t, that’s OK. But, if the door is open to go deeper into the practice, then it’s definitely available to you, but it takes a good three to five times a week on the mat to get there.”

She says not only does she want to bring back alignment and tradition to the hot yoga setting, but also to offer courses designed to put a renewed focus on following an important format sometimes tossed aside.

“That’s not to be mistaken with running the same class — you’ll always get a different class — but we work from the same format, so you’re guaranteed when you come to classes at the studio that you’ll get the proper warm up, you’ll move for 40 to 45 minutes depending on the specific class, you’ll have the proper cool down, and some time to center before and after the class,” she says.

Attracted to Grand Rapids’ Uptown neighborhood because of the locally-owned businesses, foot traffic, and a demographic with many yogis among it, Yoga Fever’s total 2,300-square-foot building features 1,500 square feet of dedicated studio space to hold its 30 total class options, taught by nine new instructors carefully selected to “fit the needs of the studio,” Austin says.

Beginning Jan. 18 through the end of the month, Yoga Fever will host $5 classes three times each day for the duration of its two-week soft opening, with walk-ins welcome but online registration encouraged, as space in the discounted classes is already beginning to fill up.

To snag your $5 introductory class at Yoga Fever, or for more information about its new Wealthy Street studio, visit www.yogafevergr.com or find Yoga Fever on Facebook.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Yoga Fever

The Mitten State to open new retail space in GR's West Side

The Mitten State has officially announced plans to open a new retail space in a new mixed-use development in Grand Rapids’ west side, slated to open this fall on the corner of Bridge and Turner.

The Michigan-themed apparel company’s new storefront will be located on the ground floor of the currently underway development by Rockford Construction, occupying 1,700 square feet of retail space below 36 new apartments and adjacent to the 40,000-square-foot New Holland Brewing Co. brewpub, micro-distillery and full-service restaurant.

“My friend Mike Mraz, who is one of the partners over at Rockford Construction, had given us an opportunity (to be in) one of his buildings in downtown Grand Rapids during 2013 ArtPrize for a pop-up shop for about 30 days and it was super successful,” says Scott Zubrickas, Mitten State co-owner. “From then on he’s kept an eye out for us when opportunities pop up for more development and for expanding our brand.”

Founded in 2009 as an e-commerce only venture with warehouse operations based in Comstock Park, The Mitten State opened its first physical location on Wealthy Street in fall 2014, with a portion of every sale donated to local charities.

Zubrickas says when the The Mitten State holds its grand opening event in the fall, the store plans to celebrate its new neighborhood with special edition shirts, the proceeds for which will go to charities in the area, and is exploring more collaborations with nonprofit groups like WestSide Collaborative.

He says its new west side storefront not only offers an opportunity for more foot traffic in a highly-anticipated new development, but also that the growing neighborhood shares a lot of the same ideas and values with The Mitten State brand — which is to say, an appreciation for the past and a sense of pride for the present.

“Our overall theme to our apparel is that vintage style and the designs we use are usually throwbacks to the 60s and 70s, and the west side also has that sort of history to it. I’m almost 40, and I remember going to what we used to call the Bermuda Triangle down there, and those bars, like the Anchor Bar, still look the same they did 20 to 30 years ago,” Zubrickas says. “There’s so much cool history with Michigan, and people like to wear what they represent, so it works.”

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Mitten State


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Serenity Boutique moves from MoDiv startup to Hall Street storefront

The new Serenity Boutique at 413 Hall St. SE is somewhat of a community effort.

The brainchild of owner Eboné Farely,  Farely says she decided to go looking for a bigger space when the former Serenity Boutique grew out of its startup storefront in the downtown Grand Rapids MoDiv, a retail incubator. Along the way, the opportunity to partner with friend and hairstylist Kristan Lauren arose, so the 1,800-square-foot space features both boutique retail and salon space.

Serenity Boutique also features clothing from a plus-size line designed by another talented friend of Farely’s.

“So it’s kind of collective of all of our friends that we thought were business-minded,” she says, adding that hairstylist Kristan Lauren hasn’t officially opened the salon portion of the space due to maternity leave.

With a price point anywhere between $25 to $150, Farely says her boutique carries unique but still affordable clothing alongside one-of-a-kind, custom-made handbags.

“It’s very rare that we have two of the same item,” she says. “We may have an item that comes in multiple colors, but we don’t ordinarily do two of the same handbags, and we look to keep every woman unique and individuals.”

Farely says the idea for Serenity Boutique is to serve a part of the community that hasn’t had the kind of product for which she knows people are looking.

“I’ve always been a boutique shopper, but there are no boutique stores within the inner city on the southeast side of town, so we’re excited to be in the heart of southeast Grand Rapids, and what we’ve found is when people come in they’re really excited we’re there also,” says Farely, who held an official grand opening for Serenity Boutique Nov. 13. “We’re just excited to be there and looking forward to the opportunity to bring the community items they need and like.”

For more information, visit Serenity Boutique online or find it on here on Facebook.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Ebonee Farely


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Orion Construction adds new employees in preparation for a busy 2016

Now in its 15th year of business, Grand Rapids-based development company Orion Construction recently added seven new employees to its staff roster of about 30 total people.

As part a result of increased job site support, safety standards and office operations by the contractor, the new hires include three new project superintendents. The first, Russ Downs, will take the lead into the new year for ongoing work at the Bridgewater Building, which includes build-outs for USI Insurance Agency, TIAA Cref, Ameriprise Financial, and three floors for Spectrum Health. Chad Brummell will act as dedicated superintendent for Arena Place’s new ground-floor  restaurant, Wheelhouse, and the third new superintendent is Jacobus Maas. 

Orion’s fourth-quarter hires also include two new project managers, Jeff Smigielski and DuWayne Johnson, new administrative assistant Erin Davis, and general laborer Jeff Austin. 

Roger Rehkopf is president at Orion Construction and says the construction company has a variety of commercial and residential projects slated for the fourth quarter of 2016, but the group intends to continue focusing on public/private partnerships outside of those markets as well. 

“The company’s investment in our people is fundamental to these pursuits and gives us additional firepower to kick off some projects that we are very excited for,” Rehkopf says. “We have large area-specific enhancement projects like Venue Tower and Fulton Square that begin in early 2015 and we anticipate another busy year of growth that aligns well with our strategic goals for the year.”

For more information on current and on-going projects, visit www.orionbuilt.com.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction

Have an idea to make GR and Michigan better? Pitch it during Connect the Dots 5x5 night

Statewide organization for arts, culture, and creative and design industries Creative Many Michigan is partnering with 5x5 Night, the Grand Rapids-based innovation pitch competition, to host an experimental program that will award $5,000 to anyone in Michigan with an idea geared at bringing together the state’s network of cultures and cities.

Scheduled for Jan. 13 at Michigan House in Detroit, the pitch competition called Connect the Dots aims to find new, creative ways to make real, intentional connections between Michigan’s cities.

“The dots on the map aren’t just cities; they’re pockets of people with identities and cultures that are individually distinct, but together they create Michigan — a vibrant and exciting place to live and work,” says Joe Voss, director of strategic partnerships at Creative Many. “Michigan House shows off a landscape of creativity and interconnectedness in our state, and 5x5 Night has an impeccable record as an idea generator.”

Spearheaded in 2011 by the Pearl Street-based Start Garden to help create a critical mass of new ideas in Grand Rapids, 5x5 Night is now run by Emerge West Michigan but still functions by allowing five finalists, selected by popular vote online, to take the stage for five minutes to present a summary of their ideas. Five judges then decide which idea wins with grants given from a total prize pot of $5,000.

“[Start Garden is] a key supporter and sponsor of the Michigan House project, and they’ve been deeply involved with the planning and the execution of the next iteration we did during ArtPrize,” Voss says. “This really fit their wheelhouse with history of 5x5 Night and their relationship with emerge West Michigan, who is running 5x5 Night now.”

During Connect the Dots, Creative Many and Michigan House are hoping to hear ideas along the lines of new hospitality programs that span cities, soft-landings for businesses that want to make new connections in another city, or ideas for new statewide music, film, or art festivals.

However, Voss says those are just broad examples of what he expects will be much more interesting pitches at the Jan. 13 event.

“Those are intended to be catalyst ideas,” he says. “We’re not sure what’s going to emerge, and I think that’s kind of what the point is. These are some of the things that people have tried, even, and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but we want to part of catalyzing new ideas, too.”

For more information, visit www.michiganhouse.org, or find the event here on Facebook.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Creative Many Michigan

Comic book store prepares for February opening in new Plainfield storefront

With a personal collection of 29,000 books and a dream nearly four decades old, West Michigan native Don Myers thinks the time is finally upon him to make his wish come true and this week announced plans to open The Comic Signal in the 2,500-square-foot storefront at 4318 Plainfield Ave. NE.

“I’ve loved comic books all my life and collected them since 1973 so naturally, they’re a huge influence on my life,” Myers says.

Tom Peterson is an associate for Colliers International West Michigan’s retail team and says the popularity of comics and graphic novel-based movies and television series, like “The Avengers” and “The Walking Dead,” facilitate a great cultural climate right now for The Comic Signal’s opening, especially in a neighborhood that will benefit from the added retail interest.

“That stretch of Plainfield has been a little slow to catch on,” Peterson says. “… It’s good to see business starting to take more interest.  It benefits the community; drawing more consumers to the area and eventually, we may see the retail vacancy rate begin to drop.”

Scheduled to open in February 2016, The Comic Signal will feature comics, graphic novels and other comic book merchandise, plus extended hours on weekends to provide fans of popular board and card games a space to gather and play together.

“I love the stories, the characters and the artwork. I love every aspect of comic books, and I’m thrilled I can share my passion for this fantastic storytelling art form with other fans,” Myers says. “The time is right to open my first store and my family and I are excited for this opportunity.”

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Don Myers

Newly opened Harmony Hall hosts holiday fundraiser to benefit Westown Collaborative

About two months after its official Oct. 6 grand opening, brewpub Harmony Hall is finally getting settled in its new neighborhood.

“Being in a new neighborhood, for us, was really exciting, and the West Side has got such a strong and intact culture and history,” says Heather Van Dyke-Titus, who co-owns Harmony Hall with brothers Barry and Jackson Van Dyke. “We figured we’d have to come and kind of prove ourselves but we were just met with a lot of graciousness and welcoming right off the bat.”

After nearly two years of planning and construction on the 12,000-square-foot building, the 34-tap German-style beer hall boasts original woodwork on the ground floor with seating for 60, and as spacious second floor beer hall with a full menu and 200-person capacity.

Located at 401 Stocking Ave. NW, the building was most recently home to the former restaurant Little Mexico and originally housed the Rauser Quality Sausage Factory. Van Dyke-Titus says its history as the latter informed some of Harmony Hall’s themes and menu, but also its method, with the venue butchering locally sourced whole hogs from Heffron Farms on-site to create what she says is Harmony Hall’s “different perspective on sausage” dishes.

“We have your mainstays..but we also look to different cultures because many different cultures have a sausage,” she says, citing the South Korean and Thai-influenced sausage dishes currently on the menu.

Throughout the month of December, Harmony Hall will be releasing a new holiday-themed beer every Wednesday, brewed with its own 10-barrel system with 20-barrel fermenters in house.

Yesterday, Harmony Hall released the first of four holiday-themed beers, Barrel Aged Winter Nights, during a benefit event it hosted to support neighbors at the Westown Collaborative, a group of community organizations dedicated to “…a diverse Westside community marked by equity, inclusion, and hope.”

The event included a tree-lighting ceremony, carolers in the evening, and an opportunity for patrons to purchase a $5 keepsake ornament, with all profits going directly to Westown Collaborative to help fund mini-grants for resident-led initiatives like community gardens and other programming.

“The more time I’ve spent over here, the more I’ve grown to have genuine affection for the neighborhood,” says Van Dyke-Titus. “We’ve always felt really solid about our decision, but the longer we’re here, the more confident we feel.”

For more information, visit www.harmonybeer.com or find Harmony Hall on Facebook.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Stephanie Harding

Children's store Pink Lemonade opens in Gaslight Village boutique

A new children’s clothing store and boutique opened last month in East Grand Rapids’ Gaslight Village. Pink Lemonade Boutique celebrated its official grand opening with a Nov. 10 ribbon cutting at 703 Bagley Ave. SE.

Jill Zagar co-owns Pink Lemonade Boutique with her mother, Paula Hall, and said she got the idea to open the children’s clothing boutique after helping a friend start her own boutique in Pentwater called The Lemonade Stand.

“I like to shop; everything in my store is stuff I would buy for myself,” Zagar says, adding that she was in charge of buying all of the inventory for The Lemonade Stand and somewhere along the line, “got the bug.”

With an existing full-time job at Aquinas College, Zagar says she likes Pink Lemonade’s proximity to the school because it offers an easy commute for both her and the students she employs.

“I love the community of Gaslight Village, and it’s very close to Aquinas, so I have my students work for me,” she says. “And it’s nice for them because it’s close, and then I can stop in on my lunches and see how things are going.”

Featuring “unique gifts for children, home, and her,” Zagar says she designed Pink Lemonade Boutique’s interiors to be as fun and whimsical as her products.

“I wanted it to feel fun,” she says. “I wanted everyone to be able to find something for either a baby or for her, or for the home. I wanted it to have a neat feeling when you walk inside that you can’t leave without getting something.”

For more information, visit Pink Lemonade Boutique on Facebook.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Pink Lemonade Boutique

Neighbors eagerly greet new used bookstore Bombadil Books in S. Division space

Owners Danielle Alexander and Tim Albon say they were overwhelmed by the turnout for the grand opening of the new Bombadil Books at 315 S. Division, but in a good way. 

“It’s great to see people so excited to have a used bookstore in downtown Grand Rapids again,” says Alexander, who held a grand opening ceremony with co-owner Albon on Nov. 11 for their new Avenue for the Arts storefront. 

Though Alexander and Albon met while working in Denver, the Midwest-born entrepreneurs say they've always had a longterm plan of opening a used bookstore, but they didn't think it would be able to flourish in a large community like Denver. 

“You definitely can’t start a small business at our age with our income level in a city as big as Denver,” Alexander says. “We started looking at commercial properties available in Grand Rapids and found this location we’re at now. It costs what I was paying for a studio apartment in Denver, so we thought, why not?”

After finding the building in August through the neighborhood revitalization corporation Dwelling Place, Alexander moved in September to start moving into the S. Division live-work space, which boasts 1,000 square feet of ground floor retail with separate first-floor living quarters behind. With past experience job shadowing at Literary Life on Wealthy Street, which has since closed and reopened as the non-profit Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, Alexander saw a need of a bookstore in the downtown Grand Rapids area, especially after the closings of Literary Life and Schuler’s Books on Monroe Center. 

She says “knowing (Literary Life) wasn’t here and there wasn’t an used bookstore — not even a new bookstore — except for Argo’s in Eastown,” was what ultimately motivated them to open Bombadil, and she says they’re glad they did. 

“It’s great just being a part of the Avenue for the Arts and being a part of that small business community with people who have similar backgrounds to ours, who don’t necessarily have experience with owning a business, but are, a lot of them, artists who become business owners,” she says. “I don’t think we could have done this in any other neighborhood in Grand Rapids right now.”

Unique in its membership program, which allows customers to trade their own used books for in-store credit, Alexander and Albon say they wanted to have a more curated collection for Bombadil, with a range of genres and book styles to mirror its growing diversity in customers. 

Right now, the pair say they want the space to be flexible and hope to host more gallery showings for area artists and photographers, as well as poetry readings and workshops on repair and conservation of used books, which is Albon’s specialty. 

Ultimately, Alexander and Albon say they want Bombadil to be more than just a used bookstore — they want their storefront to be a meaningful part of the neighborhood’s fabric. 

“We’re keeping it pretty fluid and open to see what people want from the bookstore, and that was really important to us in setting up and trying to use a membership model, or a ‘co-op model,’ as people are coining it,” she says. “We want it definitely to be a community space, a neighborhood book shop.”

For more information about Bombadil Books, visit them online or find them here on Facebook

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Tyler Wendling/Annamarie Buller 

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Cedar Springs celebrates opening of new brewing company on N. Main Street

About one year after their last October groundbreaking, construction teams at Orion Construction and owners of Cedar Springs Brewing Company celebrated the brewery’s grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony last week.

Located a little more than 20 miles north of Grand Rapids at 95 N. Main Street in downtown Cedar Springs, the brewery’s craft beer selection focuses on German style brews, and the new venture features a full food menu and house line of wine, cider and non-alcoholic beverages. 

“We are thrilled to be open for business,” says owner David Ringler, who was inspired by his own four-year apprenticeship with local brewmasters in Germany when developing the concept for Cedar Springs Brewing Company “…In a town like Cedar Springs, where people were greatly affected by the economic environment of previous years, opening any new business spurs momentum and creates a sense of confidence. I am fortunate enough to have been able to bring my dream to fruition, offer full-time employment opportunities and create a space the community can enjoy.” 

Integrated Architecture provided the design for the 5,700-square-foot building, using primarily steel, brick and glass materials with large windows to provide ample natural light for the indoor seating. Benefiting from its close proximity to Cedar Springs’ White Pine Trail, Ringler says the brewery is oriented to provide for future expansion and the addition of an outdoor biergarten, with additional plans to begin making their own distilled spirits in-house. 

The project was financed by Choice One Bank with an incentive package from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), awarded to Cedar Springs Brewing Co. for its potential for major economic impact and revitalization of the city’s downtown. 

Orion spokesperson Jason Wheeler says the general contractors see the project as a true catalyst for growth in downtown Cedar Springs.

“The Cedar Springs Brewing Company not only offers a great atmosphere and product, but in the short time they’ve been open, I think investors, residents, and the micro-brewing community have been reassured and even inspired by the support the brewery has had,” Wheeler says. “This truly is a catalyst for growth in Cedar Springs and that is not a cliché statement. It’s a reality.”

Orion is preparing for another groundbreaking celebration this month at 500 Coit Ave. in Grand Rapids’ Belknap Lookout neighborhood to celebrate the beginning of construction on its mixed-use development project The Gateway at Belknap, with remarks from Mayor-elect Rosalynn Bliss and members of the MEDC. 

To learn more about The Gateway At Belknap, visit www.orionbuilt.com. For more information about Cedar Springs Brewing Co., visit the brewery online or find them on Facebook

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction


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CKO Kickboxing franchise to open on ground floor of NW Monroe building

CKO Kickboxing will open at the start of next year on the ground floor of 616 Development’s Lofts on Monroe at 820 Monroe Ave. NW. 

The 3,500-square-foot franchise location is owned and operated by Studio Reno, LLC, with president and CEO Shelby Reno bringing 20 years of prior knowledge and experience along with her to the new space. 

“There’s something about the North Monroe district that I like,” Reno says. “If I had to live downtown it would be that neighborhood. Maybe because it’s industrial and up-and coming but the energy itself just gets me there.”

She says courses at CKO Kickboxing are uniquely focused on core training, with heavy bags and drag on the floor to focus on the “eight strike points” on a person’s body. 

“I probably did about 2,500 strikes on my legs…left at the end of the six days without a single bruise or broken blood vessel,” Reno says. “A strike happens from your core, you’re turning and opening up your hit and firing from the core.” 

Along with the gym floor, CKO Kickboxing will have its own retail space, where Reno will sell unique workout items and comfortable clothing that’s hard to find elsewhere. 

“I’m really trying to think outside the box with what I can offer and what I always feel like I’m not getting in town are those ripped up, messy shredded…kind of stringy shirts that are cool to wear, loose or form fitting, really comfortable to work out in but you can also wear them with a pair of shorts,” Reno says. 

For more information on the January 2016 opening, visit www.ckogr.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of CKO Kickboxing 

C2 Group joins tech companies in new space at 560 5th St.

Software developers C2 Group will hold a Nov. 18 open house at its new 7,185-square-foot, first-floor suite at 560 5th St. NW.

The full-service custom software, design and web applications provider was bought in April by Michael Kunzler after spending seven years as its director of client solutions.

“Some of the changes that we made have been wide and vast, but other things, like the name, have stayed the same,” Kunzler says. “It’s fair to look at us and say one of the only things that stayed the same is the name. We’ve had a lot of really solid talent that we’ve brought with us. A lot of the people are the same, the roles are the same, but we’re really widening our approach to the market.” 

Kunzler says they’ve already begun to see the benefits of the new downtown open floor plan in boosting employee morale. 

“It’s hard to quantify, but we’ve already noticed big benefits just in terms of increased collaboration, people from different teams that may have been historically separated are now sitting and talking amongst each other and sharing ideas,” he says.

Over the course of 2016, C2 Group expects to grow its staff about 30 percent, and says C2 Group does have “a type.” 

“The people really successful here are high talent, low ego,” he says. “That’s the driving factor. They enjoy collaboration, they enjoy serving clients and they enjoy knowing the standards as well. It doesn’t mean you have to be arrogant about it.” 

For more information, visit c2experience.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of C2 Group

[Has Heart] celebrates Veteran's Day with grand opening of Heartside store

This Veteran's Day, local nonprofit and volunteer-run organization [Has Heart] is honoring vets and celebrating the grand opening of its new retail, gallery space, and event venue located at 115 S. Division Ave with a Nov. 11 grand opening event.  

Founded in 2011 by U.S. Navy Vet and entrepreneur Michael Hyacinthe alongside artist and designer Tyler Way, [Has Heart] connects the two unlikely realms of art and military to highlight the most poignant parts of both. The 1,000-square-foot gallery/retail hybrid will showcase artwork for sale from the HERO[series], where [Has Heart] pairs veterans with artists who then work side by side to tell the vet’s story through art, design, and fashion.

“We really wanted it to be a hybrid of something that’s clean and modern and minimalist, but at the same time, bring in that classic, sort of timeless military aesthetic,” says Way, describing the white painted brick walls lined with black trim. 

He says the aesthetic contrast serves to create both a blank slate for showcasing artwork and acts as a sort of metaphor for [Has Heart]’s mission — creating profound harmonies between concepts and ideas traditionally thought of as dissonant. 

“It’s similar to how we bring the military and creative world together, which are typically opposites; but they work really well together,” he says. 

[Has Heart] opened originally before this year’s ArtPrize event as a venue for the HERO[series] before deciding to stay and make 115 S. Division its permanent home. 

“It made sense for us to be in here for ArtPrize and then remain open after ArtPrize,” he says. “People can continue to come in, experience design, see the stories long after ArtPrize is gone.”

The Nov. 11 grand opening event will kick off with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 6 p.m. with veterans and artists from the 2015 HERO[series] in attendance and appetizers catered by South Division neighbors at Bandit Queen. 

“South Division is definitely an up-and-coming street with a lot of good independent stores and boutiques, a lot of good, young, creative people that bring a lot of passion to their craft,” Way says. “We kind of thought that blend of what Avenue for the Arts is would be a perfect fit for us because we’re also walking that line of being an arts collective organization, although product sales is how we sustain the organization — we’re playing both sides of art and retail.”

For more information, visit [Has Heart] on Facebook or at www.supportfhh.com. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of [Has Heart] on Facebook



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Former Klingman furniture building completes $22 million renovation to residential lofts

Developers and project managers at LC Companies and Rockford Construction Co. celebrated another successful rehab project in downtown Grand Rapids last week, converting the 118-year-old former Klingman furniture building into 83 residential living units, now Klingman Lofts. 

Located at 400 Ionia Ave. SW across from Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market, it’s not the first time the two companies have partnered on a project in the neighborhood, having previously converted the similarly century-old Baker furniture building into residential units back in 2013

“The urban area has become attractive to all population groups in general, but there certainly is a segment of the affordable housing community downtown that is in need,” says LC President Mike Jacobson. “We did a substantial market analysis in order to determine (this) area would be attractive for residents and it turned out to be a great space.” 

Jacobson says LC Companies and Rockford Construction Co. worked closely with local historians and architects to develop the building in accordance with its historical past, also working with the Michigan State Historic society to make sure the unique character and context of the space holds true throughout the development and construction processes. 

At four stories and 112,000 square feet, the building required the installation of more than 600 helical piers to prevent the structure from sinking, taking somewhere around 15 months to complete and costing $22 million in total. 

“It’s a type of work that we’ve done a fair amount of since roughly 2000, so we’re accustomed to it and it really turns into a wonderful product,” Jacobson says. “Our residents really like it and, if done properly, it’s great for the community as well.” 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of LC Companies/Rockford Construction Co. 


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'Canine boutique salon' Fido & Stitch to open on ground floor of new Belknap Lookout development

As 616 Development prepares to move in the first tenants Nov. 1 at its $22 million, four-story renovation project at 820 Monroe Ave. NW, new “canine boutique salon” Fido & Stitch gears up for its own grand opening later next month in suite 140 on the building’s ground floor. 

The retail portion of the 1,500-square-foot space will feature a boutique shop for specialty brands of dog food and accessories, while the salon will feature one on-site professional groomer alongside a separate self-service dog wash, where Fido & Stitch Co-Owner Alli McDonough says everything from shampoos and conditioners to towels and dryers will be provided for owners who want to bring their pups in for a wash. 

“You’ll be able to go there and find anything you need for your dog. It’s like a big box store, but with us there are more specialty brands and different options,” says McDonough, who co-owns Fido & Stitch with her husband Joe. “It’s more luxury items, but definitely not bank-breaking…I’m a big advocate for treating your dog how you’d want to be treated.”

McDonough, a Grand Rapids native, had the idea to open Fido & Stitch while finishing her MBA at Davenport University, drawing inspiration from the abundance of similarly boutique-style dog stores she used to frequent while living in Chicago. 

Though she says she looked at retail spaces in Eastown and Creston neighborhoods, the space at 820 Monroe Ave. NW seemed like the perfect positioning for Fido & Stitch to tap into a previously untapped market, conveniently located in the same building as 85 one- and two-bedroom apartment units. 

“It all happened pretty quickly,” she says, “A lot of it, I think, due to my excitement and ambition to get this open.” 

McDonough says they expect to hold a grand opening event mid- to late November, but plan to announce the official date on the Fido & Stitch Facebook page soon. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Fido & Stitch

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Grand Coney begins renovations on third diner location on 28th St. and Madison

Diner-style restaurant Grand Coney is waiting on the city of Grand Rapids to approve building permits for renovations at 401 28th Street SE and Madison St., with plans to house its third location in the 1,800-square-foot building shortly after the new year.

Jeff Lobdell is president of Restaurant Partners, Inc., which owns Grand Coney alongside 13 other West Michigan restaurants. He says the former Sunrise Family Restaurant building is located on a busy intersection with a high-density population within its two-mile radius; in other words, perfect for the Grand Coney brand. 

“We like high-traffic, high-density locations,” says Lobdell, whose Restaurant Partners, Inc. purchased the property over a year ago. “We like places where there are a lot of cars because the Grand Coney diner is a very convenient concept. If you’re hungry you can get in and get out pretty quick, but still have a nice sit-down meal.” 

Grand Coney’s third location at 401 28th Street SE will create 15-20 full-time jobs, with an additional 15-20 part-time positions. Lobdell says he’s already hired a few managers who are currently undergoing training at the downtown Grand Rapids location, but plans on making more hires in the coming months as renovations draw closer to completion. 

Grand Coney’s flagship 24-7 location first opened in 2004 at 809 Michigan St., followed in 2008 by its second Allendale location near Grand Valley State University on Lake Michigan Drive.

Lobdell says initially, the 28th Street location will only offer 24-7 service on Thursday-Saturday to gauge interest there for an all-night diner, operating under normal hours from Sunday-Wednesday.

“I think that this Grand Coney diner restaurant has been very well received in Grand Rapids on Michigan Street and also in Allendale, so based on how well the guests have liked it and how well the restaurants are doing, we decided to open one here at 28th and Madison in that neighborhood and we will be actively looking for additional sites.” 

For more information about the official opening date for the new location, or to learn how to apply for available jobs there, visit www.grandconeygr.com or find Grand Coney on Facebook.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Restaurant Partners, Inc. 

The Right Place, Inc. celebrates 30th anniversary with local music, business leaders

Vice President of Marketing Tim Mroz still remembers the first big economic development project The Right Place, Inc. undertook back in 1990, when the organization helped to facilitate $20 million worth of investment alongside the creation of 200 new jobs at the Comstock Park company formerly named Behr Industries, now known as NBHX Trim

“I think it really solidified to the public what The Right Place does and what we were able to accomplish as an organization,” says Mroz, adding that additionally the project proved how effective the concept of economic development could be in having a major impact on West Michigan’s long-term economy. 

Next week, Mroz will join a few hundred others at the Amway headquarters in Ada to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the regional economic development organization. The sold-out event kicking off with a performance by indie-rock/soul musicians Vox Vidorra before a few remarks from Gov. Rick Snyder and other West Michigan business leaders such as Doug DeVos, Dave VanAndel, and TRP board chair/Spectrum Health CEO Richard Breon, 

“We truly want to provide a night where the business community and The Right Place can come together and celebrate 30 years of economic development, job creation, and investment in West Michigan,” Mroz says. 

Mroz says in the past 30 years, the organization has helped foster $4 billion of investment and 40,000 new jobs, recently driving forward more regional initiatives throughout West Michigan in Newaygo, Montcalm, Ionia, and Lake counties, to name a few. 

In 2012, TRP worked with Gov. Snyder’s administration to form a “13-county West Michigan prosperity region,” which now into its fourth year has worked with counties on initiatives that range from workforce development to industrial infrastructure. 

“We’ve been really working to push economic growth and job creation outside just Kent County to make sure there are opportunities throughout West Michigan.”

To learn more about TRP, visit www.rightplace.org. 

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

New restaurant concept IRON to open at 25 Ottawa this holiday season

Grand Rapids developers Franklin Partners, LLC announced the addition of a new restaurant to the ground floor of its 25 Ottawa building last week. 

IRON, a concept restaurant by award-winning chef Chris Perkey, is expected to open in the space during the holiday season with a “modern Midwestern-themed menu” based on seasonal produce and regional proteins, paired with hand-picked wines and craft cocktails.

“The IRON concept paired with the atmosphere and location of 25 Ottawa is off-the-charts, and I can’t wait to get in the kitchen and create,” says Perkey, whose Osteria Rossa was named 2015 Best New Restaurant by Grand Rapids Magazine. 

Franklin Partners’ Director of Marketing Julie Maue says renovations at 25 Ottawa are designed to reduce the footprints of previous failed restaurant concepts in the 5,000-square-foot space. The intimate interior will be custom designed to strip the space back to its original architecture with exposed brick, distressed wood, and kitchen-view seating. 

“As we began walking people through 25 Ottawa, it became clear that they mainly knew the building based on the revolving door of unsuccessful restaurant concepts,” Maue says. “We had to recast public perception, and by engaging the public, many of the design decisions and how the building was repositioned was based on their feedback.”

IRON is expected to open during the upcoming holiday season. For more information, visit www.IRONGR.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Franklin Partners, LLC

Bold Socks plans Nov. pop-up shop in advance of spring opening for new S. Division retail space

This holiday season, Bold Socks wants you to live boldly.

This new S. Division retailer is hoping to make your steps matter more with a November pop-up shop that will give customers a taste of its distinct and unique merchandise — top-notch socks. 

Formerly an online-only retailer, Bold Socks began five years ago as a competition between co-workers who, at the time, worked on staff at Gordon Food Services. 

“It turned into this idea that there wasn’t enough selling of socks online and no one was bringing the best brands together,” says Ryan Roff, co-owner and director of creative and marketing. “The opportunity was identified to try to start our own website, and it grew from $3,000 in sales the first year to $180,000 the next year and it’s just taken off since then.”

Though eventually Bold Socks owners will make17 S. Division its permanent physical retail space, Roff says a pop-up shop made more sense with the timeframe they’re working under, having just recently signed the lease on the 1,700-square-foot storefront.

“…to try to put that all together in a month’s time, we felt, just wasn’t worth it; but we do want to get our socks showcased and get the backbone of what our store will look like up (for the holiday season),” Roff says. 

Though Roff says big-box retailers like Target are more recently selling similarly expressive sock fashions, he’s not worried about the competition. Not only does Bold Socks hold a unique niche in the market as one of very few exclusive retailers for statement-making socks, its parent company Bold Endeavors also has two of its own brands sold through boldsocks.com — the basic Bold Socks label compromised primarily of solid color socks, and a second private label called Statement Sockwear, which reaches beyond just revenue in its mission. 

“Your purchase goes so much further than just buying a pair of socks,” Roff says. “With our socks, you’re able to contribute 100 days of clean water with each pair you purchase.” 

To date, Bold Socks has been able to contribute 2.5 million days of clean water to African villages by way of its partner organization 20 Liters, which focuses not only on bringing clean water to specific communities, but also on helping those communities build their own sustainable infrastructure by spearheading new partnerships between business owners and churches in the area and making sure community leaders are properly trained to continue a slow but steady trend of economic growth. 

“The social enterprise business model is something we believe really strongly in; in fact, we believe all companies should consider a social enterprise model if they have that opportunity,” he says, adding that they liked the idea of being a part of helping to build sustainable systems versus just donating money to a charity. 

After its scheduled grand opening this spring, Bold Socks’ new 17 S. Division space will give owners approximately 1,000 square feet for inventory with the remaining 700 allocated to retail space. 

He says he and CEO Ryan Preisner, alongside business partners Dan Manshaem and Adam Whitmore, are looking forward to not only consolidating operations from their respective basements, but also to new opportunities to get involved in the community and be a part of South Division’s renaissance, so to speak. 

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here. Not only is it extremely central to Grand Rapids – I think that corner is something people think of as iconic to the essential downtown area — but there’s an opportunity to participate in the community,” says Roff, adding that choosing a location based on sales demographic alone does little to foster the diversity of brand when you compare it to actual engagement. 

“We believe strongly in the growth of Grand Rapids and I think in order to attract people that actually want to walk around and be in downtown as part of a retail sector, it requires businesses like ours that are unique and offer a one-of-a-kind experience to be able to continue to progress that area downtown.” 

To check out Bold Socks’ full inventory online, visit Bold Socks online or find Bold Socks on Facebook for more updates on its November pop-up shop and spring grand opening. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Bold Socks Endeavors

Dead Solez brings new life to rare sports sneakers phenomena in downtown GR

Riding on the wave of growing national interest in high-end and luxury sports footwear, Dead Solez has opened for business at 53 Monroe Center St. with a focus on both sales and trade-ins for high-end, luxury athletic brand sneakers.

At Dead Solez, customers can shop the curated selection of rare discontinued styles like the Air Jordan 11, Nike Foamposite, and Jordan 1 Collaborations, or bring in their own rare sneakers to trade in for cash or new kicks after passing an evaluation by one of two resident “sneaker experts” on staff there. 

“We’re really excited to set up shop right in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids with heavy foot traffic, easy access, terrific customers and near other great boutique stores,” says co-owner Angelo Martinez.

Dead Solez also sells and accepts trades for similarly high-end brands of baseball caps such as New Era hats. 

Originally started earlier this year by Tim Datema inside Capz on Rackz in Comstock Park, the rapid growth and popularity of the service prompted Dead Solez to move into its own downtown location.

Chris Prins, associate with Colliers International who helped broker Dead Solez’s three-year lease on the 1,200-square-foot space, says Dead Solez offers something different to the growing boutique retail market in Grand Rapids’ downtown core. 

“I think it’s something that the specific downtown market hasn’t seen yet,” Prins says. “Dead Solez sells to a customer base that’s already down here so it’s an easier commute, you get a lot of foot traffic up and down that corridor and they’re kind of exclusive in terms of what they sell and what the brand is.”

For more information, visit Dead Solez online or find them here on Facebook. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Dead Solez

Switchback Gear Exchange opens on Plainfield Ave. with community-focused mission

For the owners of Switchback Gear Exchange, located at 2166 Plainfield Ave. NW in the Creston-Cheshire district, the enterprise is as much about building a business as it about building a community. 

“We have always tried to use Switchback as a means to improve our community,” says co-owner Rachel Posthumus, who initially started Switchback about five years ago in Marquette, Mich. with her husband Mike until life brought them  back down to their hometown of Grand Rapids. 

Specializing in second-hand outdoor recreation equipment, Switchback opened its 1,000-square-foot space in May. It has since added an additional 1,000 square feet for a new full-service bicycle repair shop, paying homage to residents who came in to share nostalgia about the Swchinn retailer that used to reside across the street. 

“A lot of our sellers were coming in and being nostalgic about buying their family bikes,” Posthumus says. “…we had full leeway to make the space exactly the way we needed it to be, and we just kind of dove in.” 

A general contractor by trade, Posthumus says renovations were tailored to their specific vision. The couple restored the original tin ceilings and hardwood floors to bring the space back to life just in time for its Give Gear program, which they established as a way for local residents with extra gear to donate gear on behalf of a nonprofit for two months out of the year. 

This month all donations, aside from the small percentage they use for overhead and operational costs, will go directly to nonprofits including Blindfold Nature Center, Grand Rapids Public Museum, West Michigan Humane Society, American Cancer Society, CA Frost Environmental School, and Forest Hills Eastern Middle School, though Switchback is facilitating separate fundraising efforts for the last two schools that run alongside the Give Gear month. 
 
“It’s just been so cool to hear about all of the other things happening down the Plainfield Corridor between us and Leonard St. We are really glad we got to be on the ground floor of all of the redevelopment that is happening,” she says. “…we have seen a huge resurgence of people moving back to our neighborhood and we’re excited to see the positive momentum building and excited by the fact we got to be the early adopters.”

“I am excited that with living here, I will be able to ride my bike or walk to a place I would want to go to on a regular basis. It’s like downtown living outside of downtown,” she says. “I feel very proud of that in terms of participating as a business and having access to all of these cool things as a person who lives here.” 

For more information, visit www.goswitchback.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Switchback Gear Exchange 

Malamiah Juice Bar opens second location in Grandville

Malamiah Juice Bar held a ribbon cutting last week to celebrate the opening of its second West Michigan location, this one in the new space shared with Peacelab Yoga Studio at 5570 Wilson Ave. SW in Grandville. 

“The opportunity for the actual space came to us,” says Anissa Eddie, who co-owns Malamiah with husband Jermale. “Peacelab Yoga Studio asked if we would consider placing a juice bar in there, and that’s something we’ve been looking at for a while…to have a space that was already move-in ready was such a blessing.” 

The Eddies launched Malamiah Juice Bar as one of the first tenants in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market in 2013 — an opportunity Anissa says has allowed them to flourish to the point they’re at now. 

“It was really an ideal place for us to start; we were an unknown entity,” she says. “To be a brand new family-owned startup, the market gave us a perfect platform to really launch our brand and develop who we were with a lot of support. Not only from the general market staff but it was really a community story among other tenants.”

She says starting their business alongside other small, family-owned entrepreneurs allowed them to brainstorm and troubleshoot together, to lean on each other for support. 

“It was really, really helpful because I think if we would have started in any other spot on our own, it would have made the process more difficult. I definitely don’t think we’d be at the point of a second location without that.” 

Alongside its juice bar menu, Malamiah seeks to root itself in the community with a larger mission of health education and youth empowerment, working alongside community organizations to offer educational opportunities as well as internships. Both are the kind of programs they're looking to expand further as their Grandville location becomes more established.  

“[It’s] really exciting to look at how these things we’ve piloted in Grand Rapids can work in Grandville,” she says. 

For hours and more information, visit www.malamiahjuicebar.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Malamiah Juice Bar

CWD Real Estate plans big renovations for Calder Plaza Building in downtown GR

CWD Real Estate Investment, owners of the downtown Grand Rapids Calder Plaza Building, has announced renovation plans that include both an interior redesign and facelift to the building’s facade, located in the city’s central business district near Calder Plaza at 250 Monroe NW. 

Sam Cummings, managing partner at CWD, says the current redesign plans for the Calder Plaza Building mark the first significant renovation the building has seen in 30 years. 

“The front of the building was built in a more urban-renewal period, when everything was to become auto-friendly and mimic vehicular access as much as possible and that was really the design thought that people were after,” says Cummings, adding that the north side of the building — the side currently facing the main stretch of street — was designed to be the back of the house. 

“We want to not only better engage the street, but also, from a financial perspective, increase the amount of revenue-contributing space to the building economically,” Cummings says. “It’s a super fun project because the fundamentals of the building are extraordinary — it just suffers from a very outdated design, which hasn't stood the test of time.”

Interior renovation plans include the relocation of the lobby’s central staircase — which Cummings refers to in its current state as “that space-eating stairway” — where the original design plans called for an escalator that never came to fruition. 

“It just sort of stayed there…it doesn’t, in and of itself, provide enough architectural interest to hold the space,” he says. 

He says CWD, alongside Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson, will gut both the first and second floors of its lobby to create a more open space, relocating the staircase to the south end of the building. Exterior redesigns include an overall update of the facade to let in more natural light through the addition of a floor-to-ceiling window on the north corner that will also be mimicked on the east side of the building. 

“The whole idea is that you actually have a view of corridors from a public area, or when you are in a public area or first come into a suite, that there will be a ‘wow space,’ or the opportunity to have something like that where the natural light just fills the space,” Cummings says. 

The renovation of a 160,000-square-foot building is consistent with CWD’s existing portfolio of projects, says Cummings, saying its redevelopment as a centerpiece in downtown Grand Rapids is part of the company and the city’s shared vision of sustained economic viability in the coming years. 

“Our goal is, in the long term, sustainability,” he says. “I mean that economically, I mean it in every sense of the word. Right now, everything we have is really on the back of philanthropy. The past 25 years we have been blessed by (the fact that) every major project has had a secondary or tertiary goal central to it as the revitalization of the city. The goal of that was not to perpetuate philanthropy, but to be an anchor and to be a catalyst for long-term economic sustainability, and that’s really what we’re after.”

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


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Elzinga & Volkers celebrates anniversary milestone with continued office revamp, growth in 2016

On the cusp of its 70th anniversary celebration, construction company Elzinga & Volkers plans, among other things, to continue renovations that originally began in 2013 to its downtown Holland offices at 86 E 6th St.

“We had outdated space and the nature of our business is really changing,” says Vice President of Project Development at Elzinga & Volkers, John Parker. “There’s a lot more interaction at our office than we used to have for a construction company.”

Over the past three years, the total 15,000-square-foot building has seen renovations to about 70 percent of its useable space, with the redesign starting with a 20 percent increase in its first floor project management offices geared toward creating a better work environment for its growing staff. 

Parker says though a lot of companies undergoing renovation projects are going with more open floor-plans and collaborative workspaces, Elzinga & Volkers needed something different for its staff to focus more effectively — a quiet place to do head-down work in contrast to their busy day-to-day schedules of client meetings and in-the-field work. 

“We chose to do a more private space for our project managers,” he says. “Updating it, but also creating a better work environment.”

Currently, Elzinga & Volkers is undergoing renovations to add two more office spaces and a private meeting room alongside new restrooms and a new “history wall” to commemorate the company’s 70th anniversary, including information, awards and other memorabilia.

With two more construction phases left in 2016 to update its kitchen/commons area as well as the last 3,000 square feet of office and meeting space, Elzinga & Volkers’ most recent renovations come on the heels of around 20 new hires locally, with much of the job creation driven by a 30 percent increase in backlog from both new and existing clients. 

“We have right now the best backlog in the company’s history,” Parker says, adding that in 2016 they are looking at over $100 million in backlogged business revenue, with around $50 million of those projects expected to break ground by spring 2016. 

Parker attributes growth to the nature of the rebounding construction industry in the region, but also to the fact the construction company has been able to find its niche in the healthcare, senior living and commercial sectors and forge client relationships that require large-scale, continued renovation projects stewarded with skill by its talented staff. 

“We’re excited for the coming years,” Parker says. “The growth in our office is exciting, too, and it’s just an extension of what’s going on in the economy. We feel very good about business operations in the foreseeable future.”

He says over the next year, Elzinga & Volkers is looking to make 3-4 new hires for project management personnel, and expects a handful of new positions in skilled trade field operations to open up with new construction in the spring.

To learn more about careers at Elzinga & Volkers, visit www.elzinga-volkers.com/careers.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Elzinga & Volkers 

CityFlatsHotel announces plans for more hotel rooms at salon, event space opening in downtown GR

Though the new 2,500-square-foot blow dry bar The Parlour @ CityFlatsHotel opened to new clients back in July, hotel administrators celebrated its public grand opening earlier this month at 77 Monroe Center.

The Parlour’s grand opening, which brings alongside it 10 new members to the CityFlatsHotel team, was celebrated in conjunction with Events @ CityFlatsHotel, which shares the remaining 10,500 square feet of the former Louis Benton Steakhouse for its new reception space and two conference rooms. 

Specializing in event hairstyling and professional make-up application, The Parlour @ CityFlatsHotel offers full salon services such as cuts, colors, manicures and more, with a styling lounge created to be easily transformed and customized into a private space for wedding parties and other special events.

“Were excited now that both spaces are open,” says Marketing Coordinator Jack Peaphon of CityFlatsHotel. “We’ve had a lot of great luck with new clients coming into The Parlour and we’ve had a lot of brides booking bridal parties staying at the hotel beforehand.” 

CityFlatsHotel announced plans to open the new blow dry bar and event space at 77 Monroe Center in February. Combined with the existing Ballroom @ CityFlatsHotel, the new event space will provide three additional areas available for weddings, special events and business functions. 

CityFlatsHotel also announced plans to add 20 additional hotel rooms to the existing 28 currently offered by the downtown Grand Rapids boutique lodging brand, though Peaphone says no additional details on the construction timeframe are available quite yet. 

However, he says CityFlatsHotel is poised for big business as ArtPrize 2015 brings both new and returning visitors to the downtown area. 

“It’s actually been pretty tremendous,” Peaphone says. “We’ve been picking up both walk-in traffic just because of how much downtown has grown and how many more tourists and people are living downtown and it’s really great to be in the spot we are because we’re so centrally located.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of CityFlats Hotel 

GVSU celebrates opening of Grand Villages on Allendale Campus

Grand Valley State University students, staff, and community members joined representatives from Orion Construction last week for a ribbon cutting event to celebrate the opening of The Grand Villages, a 20-acre “Greek Village” located at 5050 Pierce Road near the university’s Allendale Campus. 

10 multi-unit buildings were constructed by Orion, in conjunction with its Orion Real Estate Solutions and majority partner Alan Hoffman of Grand Villages, LLC., to provide a total of 265 new beds between the homes, each containing between 13-16 bedrooms with floor plans ranging from 9,870-12,100 square feet.

Jason Wheeler is a spokesperson for Orion Construction/ORES and says the Allendale-based project was not only an opportunity to continue a lucrative business partnership with Hoffman, but to also be a part of bringing together a community of students in a rapidly growing campus context. 

“We’re also motivated by the fact that GVSU really has such a great program going with its Greek organizations and helping them to relocate to a centralized area really kind of brings an identity to the school, especially since the rest of the school is growing so much,” Wheeler says. 

The initial phase of the project began in January 2014, with architecture designs by Johnson/Newhoff and financing provided by Wolverine Bank. Wheeler says the 20-acre site has space for additional growth, though the developer currently has no concrete plans in place at this time. 

The new buildings are fully occupied by members of GVSU’s 10 different Greek organizations

“With almost every other university you go to, you can sort of identify the student groups, including Greek organizations — but at GVSU, at least prior to this, those groups have been pretty scattered,” Wheeler says. “There was not a lot of housing to tie them into one cohesive unit, so that was really one thing we liked about this project, helping to bring some cohesion to those groups and build a sense of community there.” 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction/Orion Real Estate Solutions 

Harris Building owners wrap up renovations on new S. Division event space, ArtPrize venue

It’s been quite a few years since owner Bob Dykstra began renovations on the historic Harris Building at 111 S. Division, and as the city of Grand Rapids teeters on the cusp of this year’s ArtPrize competition, Dykstra says the downtown storefront built way back in 1892 is scheduled to make its official debut within the month. 

He expects renovations to wrap up within the month as the space also gears up for this year’s ArtPrize, for which it has hosted over 100 works of art in years past— a learning experience for Dykstra that he says will only make the Harris Building that much more dynamic as an ArtPrize venue for this year’s competition. 

“Two years ago we had almost 150 pieces of art in here and we’ve learned a lot from that,” he says, adding that because of the tight construction schedule they weren’t able to accept as many bonafide entries as before. He plans to have many of the official ArtPrize entries in place as of Friday night when they’ll host a craft Detroit event, featuring work by artists from the east side of the state.

At four stories, Dykstra’s initial plans for were to rent out space to individual businesses for office or retail. However, growing interest from groups and organizations looking to use the space as an event venue persuaded Dykstra to retool the interior renovation more exclusively toward hosting, highlighting the historic building’s old character with clean modern lines in the sprawling 38,000-square-foot space that includes a second floor ballroom and with 18-foot domed ceilings. 

In the short-term, he says he’s focused primarily on booking the smaller events for local organizations and corporate groups, but says that he expects the recently announced partnership with Opera Grand Rapids to act as a kind of gateway to similar types of smaller, more culturally diverse events that typically seat anywhere from 150-200 people. 

As his vision for the Harris Building continues to evolve, one thing remains the same — it has for him created an opportunity to add yet another texture to existing cultural fabric of the downtown arts scene.

“We’re really focusing on being a year-round cultural center that is a little bit different than the Grand Rapids Art Museum or the UICA because we’ll be more of a social club than some of those are,” Dykstra says. “We’re going to be a health club for the arts and sciences.” 

Gig Gamaggio, who handles both creative direction and communications for the Harris Building, says she expects the space to prove a perfect backdrop for a whole host of different art forms even after ArtPrize 2015 has run its course.  
 
"The raw-state building definitely lends itself to experimental and more daring art forms," says Gamaggio, citing plans to bring a unique performance workshop to the venue during the last week of October featuring Butoh, an organic, contemporary Japanese dance form. "The modular state of the building is a great advantage for groups who wish to explore their creativity and stylize for their own event needs."
 
For more information on room options and rates, or to see more photos of the Harris Building venue spaces, visit www.theharrisbuilding.com. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Harris Building 

Rootdown grows its fresh footprint in downtown Muskegon

When the storefront at 333 W. Western Ave. in downtown Muskegon officially opened its doors back in May, the 2,400-square-foot space now home to Rootdown was a dedicated Vinyasa yoga studio. However, owner and  lead instructor Kelly Seyferth says she’s always had bigger plans for Rootdown,  first adding a juice bar in July and more recently announcing plans to add fresh salads to the menu by the end of October, her efforts rooted in the ideas of both food accessibility and education as part of a larger passion for healthy living. 

“All of our ingredients are local and we’re right next to the Muskegon Farmers’ Market, which is so ideal,” says Seyferth, a Denver transplant whose lactose intolerance made Rootdown’s juice bar addition an almost practical one for both herself and, she thought, other downtown Muskegon residents with dietary restrictions and those who just want more accessible fresh food options. 

“Muskegon was in such a need of something vibrant and fresh and healthy at a place where people can gather,” she says. “I’ve always had a passion for downtown Muskegon, too, so it was a dream.” 

With fresh juice blends created only from seasonal fruits and veggies purchased at the nearby farmers’ market, plans for the new salad menu will echo the farm-to-table, locally-made mentality and accompany the addition of a few more high-energy yoga classes, including a class designed specifically for lunchtime yogis where customers can order their pick of juices or salads before the 45-minute class and walk out the door with a healthy lunch in hand.  

With degrees in health and consumer sciences, Rootdown is very much the realization of a long-time dream for Seyferth, who says she’s excited to watch the city’s downtown continue to grow alongside friends and neighbors who are helping to make it happen. 

“I feel like it’s amazing to see the difference even just over the past three years,” Seyferth says, citing a transformation in both the culture and perception of downtown Muskegon. “The influx of people and just people coming into downtown and gathering together or even walking around between breweries…we have such an awesome location and there’s great people in Muskegon, so it’s just been really cool to see.”

For more information on Rootdown, including specific class programming and schedules, visit www.rootdown.in. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Rootdown/Kelly Seyferth

Rak Thai Bistro to re-open Northland Dr. location with new name, ramen focused menu

Ramen shop Noodle Monkey will host a soft opening next weekend at 5260 Northland Dr. NE, inviting diners to come in and experience a brand-new, ramen-focused menu and interior aesthetic at the former Rak Thai Bistro location. 

Owner Yace Hang says he spent about a year looking for somewhere to open a new noodle bar — something he’s wanted for awhile now after seeing the success of his winter noodle menu at Rak Thai Bistro’s Downtown Grand Rapids Market location — but wasn’t having any luck finding the right location in downtown Grand Rapids. 

However, with a previously scheduled remodel of the Northland Dr. location interior already in place, Hang says he realized he already had the perfect space — he just needed a new menu and some revamped branding. 

“I was going to remodel the Thai Bistro anyway, and I like this space, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I just turn this into the Noodle Monkey space and see how that goes,'” Hang says. 

His new menu will feature entirely house-made noodles for a variety of ramen dishes, including a vegan broth, as well as more traditional stir-fry noodles, all inspired by the Asian comfort foods Hang grew up eating. 

“I’ve evolved as a cook,” he says. “I wouldn’t consider myself a chef because I’m not classically trained, but I’m a great cook and I cook for all of my restaurants and when you’ve been doing it for so long, you get creative. Noodle Monkey, for me, is a representation of the food that I eat or the food I want to cook. I’m not following any set of guidelines or specific recipes for my menu — everything on there is something I’ve made myself or a version of something I saw that I liked and wanted to make my own take on.”

The remodeled 1,800-square-foot space will feature updated interior fixtures, including new communal seating for diners and a host of brand-new kitchen equipment. 

Hang says though Noodle Monkey plans to locally source as many vegetables and meat products as possible, working with local providers like Byron Center Meats to create some of his dishes, he also wants to be sure his main focus is on the quality of the end product. 

“As a restaurant owner, the end product — your food — is what’s most important," he says.

For more information on the menu or to stay updated on next weekend’s soft opening, visit Noodle Monkey on Facebook here

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Noodle Monkey/Yace Hang 

Holland-based Michigan Pantry to open second location in Downtown GR Market

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market will welcome Michigan Pantry on Sept. 10 as its newest local retailer, a second location for the Holland-based business that launched its first location at 210 S. River Avenue in 2013. 

Michigan Pantry promotes not only a variety of Michigan-made food products, kitchenware, art, jewelry, beer, and wine from local producers, but also sells items from its own growing product line of specialty food products like Michigan honey, maple syrup, salsa and blueberry products. 

“There were some things we wanted and were looking for that were Michigan made, and if we can’t find what we're after or the quality isn’t there, then we think, you know what, why don’t we just do it ourselves,” says Michigan Pantry’s owner Robin Nash. 

Like its original Holland location, Michigan Pantry’s new Downtown Market location will carry entirely Michigan-made food and gifts, too. 

“We love the Market and what it is kind of about there and that whole vibe of what’s going on, and we just felt like we were a really good fit for being over there,” Nash says. “Our products are unique; they’re not things you’re going to find all over the place, a lot of them are just sold here.”

Nash said sometime last year she explored opening a second location in a mall or other location, but never felt as if those kinds of venues quite fit the primary vision of Michigan Pantry, which is to support local entrepreneurs and artisans. 

However, when they began talking with organizers at the Downtown Grand Rapids Market, Nash says a Grand Rapids location started to make more sense. Combined with an existing customer base in the Grand Rapids/Hudsonville area, she says she feels good about taking this next step for expanding the physical presence for Michigan Pantry. 

“I think we just wanted to be able to reach more people,” she says. “We love the whole Downtown Market location and what they’re about. It just seems like a perfect fit for us. There’s really nowhere else that I can picture us being that we would be such good fit, honestly.” 

To learn more about Michigan Pantry and its full product line, visit their website here or find them on Facebook. For more information on the Downtown Grand Rapids Market, visit downtownmarketgr.com/. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Michigan Pantry

Se4sons gastropub opens at Muskegon Country Club to public diners Sept. 8

With an official public opening date of Sept. 8, Se4sons gastropub is the newest addition to the historic Muskegon Country Club, which has received a series of upgrades since undergoing new ownership last year. 

Executive Chef Sean Marr says the new gastropub, which, unlike its former private dining area, is open to the larger public, has a farm-to-table menu designed to bring something new to the Muskegon lakeshore.

“We’re lucky to have amazing farmers in the area and the best produce in the country, so I really take advantage of that when I plan out the menus, which we change every season and sometimes a little more,” Marr says. 

He says the restaurant will source as much local produce, meat, and dairy products as possible, partnering with local West Michigan establishments like Crisp Country Acres, Mud Lake Farm, Creswick Farms, and Otto’s Chicken

“It’s something different,” Marr says. “Even on the lakeshore we don’t have a lot of farm-to-table and I really want to bring that to the area along with some creativity, something they can’t get elsewhere.”

Marr, who has worked in country club kitchens for over a decade now, says he’s most looking forward to the somewhat unprecedented open-to-public business model Se4sons will bring to Muskegon, inviting community members to take a seat and experience the lakefront dining there alongside Muskegon Country Club members. 

“I’ve been in country clubs for a little over ten years, so being able to feed anyone who comes into the doors is exciting for me,” he says. “To meet new people and be in a private country club. It’s very nice to get to know everybody, but it’s also nice to get to see new faces every night.”

For more information about Se4sons or to view a full list of menu options, visit www.se4sons.net or find the gastropub on Facebook here

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Se4sons Gastropub/Muskegon Country Club
 

New Kruizenga "teaching" art museum nears debut on Hope College campus

It’s been a long time coming, says Matthew VanderBorgh, but now that the Sept. 8 opening is drawing near, the new Kruizenga Art Museum (KAM) is going to be a big deal for the Hope College community. 

VanderBorgh is director of the Netherlands-based design firm C Concept Design and was the architect of the new $7.8 million art facility on Hope College’s Holland Campus, a project he and co-designer Donald Battjes took on pro-bono as a donation of services to their alma mater. 

“When this project was launched, there was no seed money,” says VanderBorgh, who graduated from Hope College with an art degree before pursuing another degree in architecture at Harvard University. “…they wanted a museum that was a little different than the other buildings on campus, they just didn’t want a brick box. With my relationship to Hope, they pulled me in to loosen things up and eventually said, “Why don’t you design it?’” 

At about 15,000 total square feet, about 4,620 square feet of the museum will be open to the greater public with the remainder reserved for back-of-house facilities. Its “double-lung” floor plan was designed not only to demonstrate a diverse collection of art works, with one gallery focused on showcasing Hope College’s permanent collection, but also to highlight on-campus diversity, with the other side of the KAM reserved for rotating and traveling exhibitions. 

“If you look at the GRAM it’s really a public museum, open to the greater state. With the Kruizenga Art Museum, the canvas is really a teaching museum, and that’s what’s unique about it,” VanderBorgh says. “It’s meant to educate students in the same way a biology lab is or a sports hall. Students should be able to easily walk into it -- it shouldn’t be intimidating…”

VanderBorgh says the flame-cut, exterior charcoal slate panels used to craft the exterior were designed to facilitate a classic, modernist style, using architecture that creates a unique fixture against the grain of the predominately red-brick collegiate architecture of the surrounding campus.

“In this case, most campuses should represent the diversity of their students and especially in West Michigan, a lot of campuses are starting to look international,” he says. “…architecture should represent the international, but each should have an individualistic, expressive style. Our building seeks to do that…What makes campuses unique is when you have a collection of different identities on the campus, the same way it reflects the students with different themes and different backgrounds all coming together.”

VanderBorgh created the new aesthetic for Hope College’s KAM alongside donated services from project managers Lisa Warren and Chad Gould of Progressive AE, just another part of what VanderBorgh describes as a community-wide effort with a lot of donated time and money from both alumni and others. 

He likens the project to a concept in the Netherlands called the “polder model,” which refers to efforts by communities in the Netherlands to reclaim land from the sea to create productive farmland. The continuous pumping and maintenance of the dykes require a greater level of cooperation by the various societies living in the shared polders, and throughout history — even in times of war — these communities have still worked together in service of a greater purpose. 

“No one person could do that and no government could do that. It had to be a community of people  — perhaps self-interested — but a community of people working together,” VanderBorgh says. “The museum is a lot like that, too.”

“It was really a community effort, more so than most of the projects I’ve been involved in,” he says. “In that way, the polder represents the effort of the museum in the larger picture. It wouldn’t have happened without a lot of donors, alumni, students, and interns contributing along the way.”

Click here for more information on the new Kruizenga Art Museum, which opens to the public Sept. 8. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Tom Wagner Photographer


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GR Scavenger Hunt game seeks to help participants meet, rediscover Grand Rapids

There’s even more to Grand Rapids than meets the eye, and the new activity-based venture GR Scavenger Hunt wants to help you find it. 

Created by local business owners Jill Wolfe and Carol Distel, GR Scavenger Hunt combines elements of games like photo hunts, trivia, and adventure races to bring participants a unique, competition-style challenge in the heart of the city’s downtown.

“It helps to think about Grand Rapids and the people and the places here,” says co-owner Jill Wolfe. “I usually start with the places downtown — whether it's The Calder, Fountain Street Church, Rosa Parks Circle, or the Grand River — and think about the challenges in a way that engages people with those places differently.” 

GR Scavenger Hunt sends competing groups of 2-4 out into the city with treasure hunt checklists and trivia puzzles that typically take about 90 minutes to complete, costing around $20 a head for a private game for events like birthdays or bachelor/bachelorette parties, with a customized gift box from the locally-sourced Boxed GR for first place winners. 

Wolfe says GR Scavenger Hunt has already put on a few events for corporate groups as well, hosting past treasure hunts for groups like Greenstone Financial and Experience GR. For corporate events, they’ll show slideshows of the pictures taken by employees throughout the hunt at the end when they regroup at the meeting spot, which lately have been local establishments like Grand Rapids Brewing Co. and Bistro Bella Vita. 

“With Greenstone, we created a whole list of things…questions like, ‘Find someone born in the year Greenstone was founded.’ Most of them had never been to Grand Rapids so that was fun,” Wolfe says. “We did a treasure hunt for Experience GR, for their team, and that was a little more difficult because they already know everything there is to know about Grand Rapids.”

She says they find ideas for new challenges everywhere, but have had a lot of help from the Grand Rapids Public Library, where librarians have helped them dig through old books and archives in the past. 

“After our first meeting with Experience GR we headed straight for the Grand Rapids Library and the librarians there were very helpful and they pulled out a bunch of books,” she says. “We found a trivia test from like 20 years ago that was a goldmine of things that went on in Grand Rapids that people don’t really know much about or don’t remember.” 

GR Scavenger Hunt is hosting a public event on Sept. 17 in downtown Grand Rapids, with limited spots for participants at $15 per person. 

“It’ll just be a really eclectic set of people that don’t know each other and strangers competing against each other,” she says. “It’s the first public event we’re going to do, so it’s going to be mostly, ‘check off these lists,’ but I think it’ll be awesome and I’m excited to see who comes out.”

The group will also offer a free, downloadable scavenger hunt on its website during ArtPrize 2015, but will still be open to host custom private hunts for both corporate groups and others who want to explore the three-week event from a new perspective. 

“ArtPrize is Grand Rapids, in a lot of ways, and we want to make it more enjoyable for people who maybe don’t pay attention to art very much for the rest of the year and help them get more engaged with ArtPrize at a level of interest that might not be there initially,” she says. 

“I think that Carol and I are just super passionate about Grand Rapids. It’s a great downtown and it's in the middle of a renascence,” Wolfe says. “To be able to interact with the people — that’s, I’ll be honest, one of the best parts of this. The people we interact with have been nothing but helpful and engaged and happy to participate. It’s been really great to see everyone come together and engage in ways they probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.” 

Click here to sign up for the Sept. 17 public event, or to learn more about GR Scavenger Hunt, visit www.grscavengerhunt.com. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of GR Scavenger Hunt

Locally owned Sun Title expands Creston headquarters with 3,000-sq-ft renovation

With four recent hires to Sun Title’s commercial escrow team bringing its total staff roster north of 60 employees, the Creston-based real estate services company is wrapping up new accommodations this week for its steadily increasing commercial title division with a 3,000-square-foot renovation and expansion project.

“Candidly speaking, we’re just out of closing rooms,” says Tom Cronkright, CEO and co-owner of Sun Title. “We did not have enough rooms to accommodate all of the closings we have, especially in month-end.” 

The new office space is connected to Sun Title’s existing 9,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids’ Creston neighborhood and accessible from its main entrance at 1410 Plainfield Ave. Cronkright says restorations to the 100-year-old building’s original tin ceilings, oyster-tile floors, and original woodwork dictated the interior aesthetic for the new office space, which features four conference rooms, a private lounge and a large staircase to connect the main office of Sun Title and storefront access. 

“It’s a very tasteful expansion and the renovation will flow well with the existing Sun Title building,” he says. 

Cronkright opened Sun Title in 2005 alongside business partner Lawrence Duthler, and he says although they’ve been experiencing steady growth ever since, the past 24 months in the growing region have brought some particularly accelerated growth in the commercial industrial market as retail and rents continue to rise and the sale of vacant land and new commercial construction is up significantly. 

“A lot of the commercial industrial inventory has been absorbed— the spots along hot retail corridors by Woodland Mall, Alpine. Now, we’re still seeing purchase and sale activity, but we’re also seeing a lot of new construction start,” he says, adding that further activity is coming from the many commercial loans in need of renewal as they hit their five-year maturity dates. 

“There’s been so much investment and, I think, good planning that’s taken place throughout West Michigan that we’re really starting to gain traction,” Cronkright says. “We’re hearing about more and more, and experiencing more and more, cases of people from out of the area sending us resumes and saying they’d like to move to West Michigan for work, so from a macro standpoint I think West Michigan is looking good for awhile.”

With offices in Ionia, Grand Haven, Grandville, Cedar Springs and Rockford, Cronkright says Sun Title’s four recent hires all come with strong backgrounds in the industry, adding to the seasoned team of professionals there that have worked in tandem with the rebounding market to see the company through a successful decade of growth. 

“The old saying really is true that if you’ve got a good culture and you surround yourself with great people then you tend to grow, and that’s really what’s happening here,” he says. “Growth wasn’t really a goal, it has just been a byproduct of just trying to do the best job on every file.”

Cronkright sees plenty of opportunities for further growth in West Michigan, and moving forward, he says Sun Title will be focused on improving their communications as well as building up both new and existing talent in the area.  

“Over the next few years, Lawrence and I will be focused on building a great client base and investing in the people within our organization — building leaders, so to speak,” he says. “We have a philosophy that we treat every deal like it’s our last deal. You can’t take the business for granted, not one day. Not in our industry, for sure.”

Designed by Richard Craig from Craig Architects, Inc. with lead construction/project managers from Karns Construction, final touches on the new space will be completed by the end of this week, with next Monday slated for move in. 

For more information about Sun Title, visit www.suntitle.com. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Sun Title


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New commercial kitchen at the Muskegon Farmers Market promotes entrepreneurship, nutrition, and food


Housed at the Muskegon Farmers' Market, the new rentable commercial kitchen, Kitchen 242, was designed in the spirit of a two-fold mission: first, create a space where food entrepreneurs can make a low-risk investment in developing their new business and centralize other strategic resources that can help them succeed along the way; and secondly, provide a more engaging avenue for educating the community about nutrition and healthy food. 

“It was modeled as 60 percent entrepreneurs and 40 percent education, and what we’re hoping is that we can start to build on the education piece,” says Dana Gannon, education and event coordinator for Kitchen 242 and a nutritionist with the Muskegon County Health Department. 

At 1,520 square feet, Kitchen 242 boasts all of the fixings of a fully-furnished commercial kitchen, including a range, griddle, convection and conventional ovens, cooler, workspace, and cold/dry storage. The kitchen is equipped with professional quality appliances for cooking and refrigeration and includes a selection of pots, pans, and sheet trays that can be used onsite, but all other small wares like foil or plastic wrap are left to the individual renters. 

The space is available to individuals, organizations, and new businesses at hourly rates of $20 for prep work, and $25 for baking, processing, or catering. Block rates are also available for the kitchen space with advanced reservation, designed largely to eliminate long-term leases and facility management/maintenance costs for new entrepreneurs looking for a workspace. 

Gannon says as a bonus feature, any individual who rents out Kitchen 242 is also eligible for a free stall at the Muskegon Farmers' Market, complete with a promotional banner. 

Kitchen 242 was formed in a collaboration between the Downtown Development Corporation, the Muskegon County Health Department and Pioneer Resources, who received a $200,000 appropriation form the budget of the Department of Agricultural and Rural Development to help fund the project, with additional donations from Trinity Health and other area organizations. 

Kitchen 242 comes during a campaign for federal funding launched by the city to create a new downtown food hub, Gannon says. Both the community kitchen space and plans for a future food hub crafted in a collaborative effort are intended not only to spark more economic growth in downtown Muskegon, but also to help address the disparity in access to fresh food and nutrition education that has put the region near the bottom of the county health rankings for the past decade. 

“If we can make this a education kitchen, as well, then we can change the dynamic and the face of Muskegon, working to make Muskegon one of the healthiest counties by 2021,” Gannon says. 

For more information, visit Kitchen 242's website or find them on Facebook here.  To learn more about how to start your own food-related business, check the Michigan State University Product Center online and explore its how-to guide for getting started. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Kitchen 242

Ferris Coffee plans to test drive new Trust Building location with ArtPrize pop-up shop

Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. announced plans last week to create a pop-up coffee shop for the three-week ArtPrize 2015 event in downtown Grand Rapids, with the intention of making its new space on the ground floor of the historic Trust Building a permanent second location by next spring. 

“We’re thrilled with the location. It’s a very historic building with very old bones,” says David VanTongeren, director of retail at Ferris Coffee & Nut.

Almost one year after successfully launching its flagship location on Grand Rapids’ west side at 227 Winter Ave., VanTongeren says the coffee roasters feel perfectly poised to expand the Ferris Coffee brand — and with ArtPrize 2015 promising some guaranteed foot traffic, there was no time like the present.

“We were approached by Sam Cummings at CWD (Real Estate Investment) with the opportunity and after talking with them, it all fell into place that this was the perfect time to expand our coffee footprint and build a shop on the other side of the river,” he says. 

Family-owned and operated since 1924, Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. operated a mobile coffee truck outside of the B.O.B. for the past two ArtPrize seasons in 2013 and 2014, using the opening of its Winter. Ave location last fall to not only increase production capacity, but also open a new coffee education center called The Foundry, intended to create a more mindful and collaborative coffee community. 

It’s part of an arguably growing trend in the downtown Grand Rapids business community to gain brand recognition for small businesses through collaborative event-based efforts such as the recent July 12 Great Vegan Grand Rapids Pop-Up Bakery, for example, which was hosted by Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters at its home on Godfrey Ave. SW and, over the course of three hours, drew hundreds of customers to help increase sales and brand recognition for six area bakeries. 

The new Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. pop-up shop will sell a limited menu of classic espresso beverages and brewed coffees from Ferris’ tier two and tier three offerings during the three-week ArtPrize event, alongside seasonal, non-alcoholic coffee-based cocktails. 

“I think Ferris is unique in having the quality of coffee we offer and [being] able to do it in a very high-volume setting,” VanTongeren says, adding that when the new location becomes permanent in March 2016, the roasters are exploring the addition of new menu items. 

“We are looking at non-coffee options for beverages so whether that’s something alcoholic or non-alcoholic, we’re open to branching beyond just coffee,” he says.

For more information, visit Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. on the web or find them on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Ferris Coffee & Nut

Calvin CRC opens doors to bigger, better Eastown clothing distribution center

Nearly a year after beginning construction on an expanded clothing distribution center at 1515 Franklin SE, Calvin Christian Reformed Church celebrated the completion of the new 5,500-square-foot space with a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony last week. 

Launched over 45 years ago as part of the church’s Family Assistance Program, Calvin CRC’s clothing distribution center serves 3,000 Kent County families annually through a network of service agencies ranging from Head Start to the Kent County Health Department. 

Bobbie Talsma is director of the Family Assistance Program, and says by the end of 2014, the entirely volunteer-run operation was able to serve 3,300 through 34 agencies and 79 caseworkers, poising the organization’s efforts for another 30 percent growth in the coming year. 

This year, the congregation has served 1,137 people despite being partially closed for the relocation during the months of January and February. 

With double the storage space, separate designated donation and pickup areas, on-premise laundry facilities, a playroom for volunteers with children, and other overall efficiency upgrades, the Calvin CRC congregation raised $600,000 to cover the total cost of the project.

“Every dime we get in contribution goes to the Family Assistance Program, not a dime of overhead costs come from the donations,” says Talsma, who works alongside and directs the anywhere between 28-35 volunteers who make the program possible. 

Calvin CRC’s Family Assistance Program has also adopted new hours with the new location. Though they’re still open only twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, hours have been extended later into the afternoon, now operating from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in an effort to accommodate the schedules of professional caseworkers who are responsible for picking up orders placed via email system for the families they work with. 

“There are things we have to do to be more accessible if we want to serve more people — and we do, we want to serve more people,” Talsma says. “When you read in the paper that 22 percent of our children are homeless and they’re going from place to place, church to church; we really want to serve those people…we are blessed to bless others and we will bless as many people as we possibly can.”

Though the program has no intention of opening up to the public in general, the new space is allowing them to strengthen a relatively new partnership formed between Calvin CRC’s Family Assistance Program and the Grand Rapids Jaycees to bring winter coats, snow pants, mittens, hats and boots to students in the Grand Rapids Public School district. 

“Public schools aren’t so much aware of us, NOT only because they didn’t ask, but a teacher can see if a child has a need,” she says. “I understand that some of their resources have kind of closed down, so we’re open to serve them, too, along with our professional counselors from Head Start and other professional services like Arbor Circle and Bethany Christian Services.”

Designed by congregation member Dan Bode of The Architectural Group, Talsma says the new space brings about a few a welcome — and fitting — changes from the older, cramped southeast side home volunteers used to operate the program from. 

“We didn’t have to fit into place, the place was made to fit us,” she says. 

For more information about the church's new clothing distribution center or its Family Assistance Program, visit Calvin CRC online

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Calvin Christian Reformed Church

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