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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

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

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 

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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LINC leaders host ribbon cutting on final phase of $13 million Madison Square redevelopment

GR Red Project adds second Madison Square office near mobile unit

Over the past three years, the Grand Rapids Red Project has seen tremendous growth. 

"We've doubled our annual revenues and our budget with grant funding from the state and Network 180 for our programming," says Brian Kelley, development and volunteer coordinator with GR Red Project, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to improving health, reducing risk, and preventing HIV." 

During that same time, GRRP's staff has grown from one to eight, and as a result, the organization is increasing its presence in downtown Grand Rapids, expanding its offices to include a second location at 401 Hall St. SE in the Madison Square neighborhood. 

"It's great location for us to be for the community we serve and services we provide," Kelley says. "It's a current location for our mobile unit, which is there once a week."

Kelley says a few years ago, GR Red Project did an assessment of community needs to determine the location for the mobile unit, which will now be able to service another downtown location yet to be determined. 

GR Red Project will keep its current office at 343 Atlas SW and begin moving part of its staff into the expanded offices throughout this month. 

The 1,500-square-foot space at 401 Hall St. SW is fittingly painted a fire engine red, with space inside to create four closed office spaces and one large community room, geared at being visible and accessible for those facing issues that are still very taboo in most communities. 

Kelley says creating a safe, accessible place where people can come find help free of judgment is important to the overall mission of GR Red Project and important to the overall health of the communities they serve. 

"Having a space to do it makes it a lot easier and provides those opportunities," he says. "It's important for us to be in these communities and to have a presence in each of the different areas of Grand Rapids to build those relationships with individuals." 

For more information, visit www.redproject.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of  Brian Kelley

Jake's Barber Salon mixes old-fashioned feel with modern services in Madison Square

When Shannon Sawyer opened his Madison Square storefront in November, he knew he wanted it to be much more than just a barbershop and salon. 

At 1151 Madison SE, Sawyer opened Jake’s Barber Salon in the same neighborhood he was raised in, and decorated the walls with framed photos of famous boxers – a tribute to his first love and former profession. 

“I’m an ex-fighter myself; I fought pro in the ‘80s and I train fighters amateur boxing for The Golden Gloves,” says Sawyer, who, in the midst of a year-long hiatus from his other day job, hopes to get back into training within the next six months to a year once Jake’s Barber Salon has settled into the new digs. 

At 1,000 square feet, Jake’s Barber Salon mixes the old-fashioned feel of a classic barbershop with a modern service roster. Sawyer handles the standard haircuts – $10 for kids and $13 for adults – and $20 hot towel shaves while the salon’s cosmetologist brings more contemporary styling to the mix, armed with the skill set to give customers trendier looks above the standard trim and shave. 

“I was fortunate for the barber salon to happen,” Sawyer says. “I met with an old friend, Dave Allen, and he had a place that had two store fronts and one was available, and it was just by chance that it happened. It was a blessing.”

Sawyer worked with Allen in the past to rent space for the Grand Rapids-area coffee house he used to run and says he’s excited for the opportunity to bring new business to the neighborhood where he was raised. 

“I’m familiar with the neighborhood and the people are familiar with me,” Sawyer says. ‘“It’s just like being home, opening up a business in your community that you’re from, where you hope to see the younger generation see what you're doing and want to do something, too.” 

And though Jake’s Barber Salon is exactly what its name promises it will be, Sawyer sees so much more potential within its four, modest walls and has the heart to rise to the occasion.   

“I want to try to be that meeting area, where people say, ‘We can go to Jake’s Barber Salon and he might know where to go to get free health insurance,’ or ‘Go to Jake’s Barber Salon if you need help with food or clothing or need something fixed in your home,’” Sawyer says. “Carpenters, doctors, lawyers - everybody comes to a barber shop - so if someone offers their services at a lower cost or for free, I would know about it and be able to connect those people together. That’s what I want; I want to be able to do that for the people in our community.”

Visit Jake’s Barber Salon on Facebook for more information and updates. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of Shannon Sawyer 

Repairs on Grand Rapids' oldest mausoleum come nearly a decade after damages, thanks to a GRCF grant

Nearly a decade after a tree limb smashed into the tomb of Sylvester Melville, the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission can finally move forward with restoring what is thought to be Grand Rapids’ oldest mausoleum, estimated to have been built in the 1870s. 

Thanks to a $10,000 Grand Rapids Community Foundation grant, repairs to the historic site at 647 Hall Street SE will include a new slate roof and reinstallation of salvaged brick and stonework. Midtown Craftsman, Grand River Builders, and Milhiem Masonry are donating labor, as well as some materials, to finish the restoration project that began in 2010 when volunteers stabilized the mausoleum’s walls and salvaged the old building materials for future restoration. 

Past Perfect, Inc. Principal Rebecca Smith-Hoffman has worked closely as a consultant with HPC organizers and volunteers on the restoration efforts in the historic Oak Hill Cemetery, and says construction work should kick off in November and has to be finished before the harsh winter weather really kicks in. 

“Getting it done before winter kicks in is crucial,” Smith-Hoffman says. “It’s a fairly small building. It’s been stabilized already, but we were just looking for funding (since then.) However, there has been a lot of time donated by a lot of different people.”

The historic Oak Hill Cemetery is the burial site for some of GRCF’s early leaders, including founder Lee M. Hutchins and early chairman Melville R. Bissell, Jr. 

Smith-Hoffman says restoring the Melville Mausoleum is an important part of preserving a big piece of Grand Rapids’ history. 

“Any kind of perseveration, of course, is the most sustainable thing we can be doing,” she says. “Here in Grand Rapids, we’re preserving whole neighborhoods. This is just another little piece of our history that is extremely important.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

LINC leaders host ribbon cutting on final phase of $13 million Madison Square redevelopment

Leaders from LINC Community Revitalization Inc. are gearing up for tomorrow's 10 a.m. ribbon cutting for phase two of the $13 million Southtown Square development at 413 Hall Street SE. 

The new four-story complex will house 24 market-rate apartments with 6,000 square feet of commercial space. Serenity Boutique, the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, and the Career Testing Center have already confirmed three out of four commercial spaces. 

"What makes this building so special for the district is the fact that it's a combination of commercial and residential and both those things are a positive for the neighborhood," says Jeremy DeRoo, co-executive director of LINC Community Revitalization Inc. 

In the past few years, DeRoo says, over 100 new jobs have been created in the Madison Square neighborhood as a result of redevelopment efforts. The ribbon cutting marks the final step of the Madison Square neighborhood redevelopment project for the nonprofit housing developers LINC Community Revitalization Inc., who earlier in the project added 20 new town homes to replace sub-standard housing in the neighborhood. 

"People are excited," DeRoo says. "They've been watching the building going up and I've had a lot of great comments from people as the finishing touches are put on the building…Residents and neighbors have been really excited to see the old building that used to be there come down and get replaced by such a nice building; it's been very well received."

With 250 applications already in hand, the one-, two-, and three-bedroom units will be allocated with a lottery system and rented through Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers. 

"I think it has the ability to change the neighborhood in a very positive way," DeRoo says. "It's a beautiful building and the neighborhood has just had a lot of investment over the past few years and I think that capstone that will help change the way the neighborhood looks." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Seyferth PR 

Grand Rapids brewer renews efforts to open ELK Brewing on Wealthy St. despite two years of delays

Eric and Lisa Karns began working to transform a former fish fry restaurant at 700 Wealthy St. SE into a brewpub way back in 2011. No matter how much they tapped the market, bank funding was out of reach because of the high failure rate of restaurants -- a business classification the brewpub couldn't get out of, even though there are no plans to make or serve food.

So Eric Karns reached out to private investors, and now, with financing in place, Karns and business partner Taylor Carroll are busy getting ELK Brewing (ELK = Eric and Lisa's initials) ready for a late winter 2013/early spring 2014 opening.

"[Brewing beer] is the only thing I've ever wanted to do," Karns says. "I wanted to share my passion, so I just had to stick with it. It's been a struggle sometimes to keep a positive attitude, but our location is perfect; the area around it is growing. There are so many positives of what we wanted to do here, I just couldn't let it die."

ELK Brewing's location near The Winchester, Johnny B'z Dogs and More, and Wealthy Street Bakery is a growing economic district. The brewery sits on the corner of Wealthy St. SE and Henry St. SE, and will have a 100-seat patio along Henry Street. Karns will extend the front of the building 10 feet to bring it right up to the sidewalk. The front and sides of the expansion will have window walls.

The pub's three-barrel brewing system allows Karns, who will be head brewer, to brew 93 gallons at a time. He plans to open with six beers on tap: an India Pale Ale, Scotch Ale, Brown Ale, a Porter, an ESB (Extra Special Bitter), and probably a seasonal beer.

The pub's liquor license allows ELK Brewing to distribute its product, but only sell its own beers onsite.

"The brewer community is really awesome," Karns says. "I've gone in to Mitten Brewing and Harmony Brewing to see their systems and process, and they're right there to help any time I have any questions. They don't look at it as competition, but as 'the more, the merrier.'"

Source: Eric Karns, ELK Brewing
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Creative Youth Center keeps writing, reading, and books alive at former Literary Life Bookstore

It seems fitting that a young nonprofit dedicated to helping children find their literary voice would occupy the same space as a former bookstore -- a space where the muse was, and is, nurtured and called upon for inspiration.

That's what's happening with the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center (CYC), an after-school program dedicated to helping kids aged 6 to 16 learn to write and publish fiction, plays, screenplays, poetry, and all manner of creative literature. The former Literary Life Bookstore at 758 Wealthy St. SE is the new home of the venture begun by Schuler Books & Music owner Cecile Fehsenfeld and CYC Executive Director Lori Slager.

"We left the fireplace in place, and brought in furniture," Slager says. "We want an inspiring space for the kids to come and work, a place that's not institutional after being in school all day. We have a theme of 'adventure,' sort of an Indiana Jones explorer adventure theme. We made hot air balloons from paper lanterns hanging all over. We want them to think about traveling, exploring, and discovering new things."

The Creative Youth Center offers free, age-specific writing classes taught by experienced writers, playwrights, and others in the writing arts and publishing industry. Slager says future plans include a small bookstore that sells the CYC's own books, written by students, and other items.

The store will be named Captain H. Tanny's Adventure Trade & Supply after the organization's elusive adventurer and world-traveling mascot, Captain H. Tanny.

"Captain H. Tanny is gender-neutral and open to kids' interpretations," Slager says. "We never show a picture of the captain. The captain's is always traveling and when people we know are off traveling, we have them send a postcard from the captain from wherever they are."

The first summer classes to be offered in the new location are for high school-aged kids -- one is on the spoken word and will be taught by Grand Rapids poet Azizi Jasper; the other is about screenwriting and will coordinate with the Mosaic Film Experience 2013.

Source: Lori Slager, Creative Youth Center
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Images by Lisa Beth Anderson

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Proposed project could bring $10M in new housing, storefronts to Grand Rapids' Madison Square

LINC Community Revitalization, Inc. might be busily wrapping up construction of nine affordable-rate townhomes and prepping to break ground on seven more yet this year, but that seems to be just the steam behind the momentum for the group's next aggressive project -- a $10 million residential and commercial development in the heart of the Madison Square neighborhood.

LINC landed $9 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit funds from the state, and will use that money to redevelop the property at 413 Hall St. SE (formerly TJ's Appliance) into a four-story building with 24 apartments and 6,000 square feet of storefront commercial space. The property is just one building east of the intersection of Hall and Madison Avenue SE, the core of the neighborhood's business district.

In addition, 20 townhouses with attached garages are part of the plan, encompassing four obsolete properties in the 400-500 block of Gilbert St. SE and one at 443 Umatilla St. SE.

Vacant buildings on the properties will be razed, making way for energy-efficient structures for residents and business owners looking for a storefront location, says Stephanie Gingerich, LINC real estate development director.

"Having that huge new building right there at the intersection will create new energy and new vibrancy," Gingerich says. "People who work in the neighborhood will have an opportunity to rent decent housing right in the neighborhood. We've estimated that having the new retail spaces will create 30 jobs. It's about breathing new life and energy into the major corridor in the neighborhood on the southeast side of Grand Rapids."

Twenty-one of the apartments will be one and two bedrooms; the rest will offer three bedrooms. Gingerich says smaller apartments are in demand and LINC is listening to the neighborhood's needs.

Madison Square is about two miles from the core city, with new bike lanes along Hall St. connecting cyclists with Division Avenue and downtown.

Construction will begin in March 2013 with a Dec. 2013 completion.

Source: Stephanie Gingerich, LINC Community Revitalization, Inc.; Tyler Lecceadone, SeyferthPR
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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LINC to break ground on $1M apartment development in Grand Rapids' Madison Square

LINC to break ground on $1M apartment development in Grand Rapids' Madison Square

The paint isn't dry yet on a nine-townhouse project in Grand Rapids' Madison Square neighborhood, but one area nonprofit is ready to break ground on another seven apartments -- a $1 million continuation of an ongoing project to bring contemporary affordable housing to an area blighted by home foreclosures.

LINC Community Revitalization, Inc., is wrapping up construction on Southtown Square, and will begin construction later this month on Prospect Place (1335 to 1407 Prospect Ave. SE), bringing to the city's housing market two four-bedroom A.D.A. accessible apartments, three three-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom apartments.

Three of the units are set aside for persons making up to 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) and the remaining four are for persons making between 51 percent and 120 percent of the AMI, says Alicia Dorr, LINC communications coordinator.

The project site is the former Madison Square Co-Op Apartments, which sat vacant since going into foreclosure. LINC purchased the property with the vision of creating fresh new housing options for a variety of income levels.

"The idea is to make this into a neighborhood where anybody would like to live, and to make sure housing is affordable to keep the people who live here," Dorr says. "We believe that places that are unsafe and crumbling deserve revitalization as much as any other area in the city. We are always looking for new ways to green the neighborhood, and have included landscaping plans to beautify the blocks that these units will be on."

The apartments will be LEED-certified, which will help reduce energy costs to residents, said Stephanie Gingerich, LINC real estate development director, in an August 20, 2012 interview.

The project is funded through a grant from theCity of Grand Rapids' Neighborhood Stabilization Program 3 (NSP3).

Construction manager: Orion II Construction
Architect: Isaac V. Norris & Associates, P.C.

Source: Alicia Dorr and Stephanie Gingerich, LINC Community Revitalization, Inc.
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Nine new LEED townhouses nearly ready in Southtown Grand Rapids, part of much larger project

Nine new LEED townhouses nearly ready in Southtown Grand Rapids, part of much larger project

Nine new LEED-certified townhomes in Southeast Grand Rapids are under construction as the first leg of a much larger proposed project by LINC Community Revitalization, Inc. to replace abandoned foreclosed homes with modern, energy efficient townhomes.

The project, Southtown Square, demolished two dilapidated townhouses and a vacant commercial printing business and remediated contaminated soil. Now, nine affordable-rate townhomes are heading for completion, part of a project that could replace some 20 foreclosed properties with 41 modern homes in a neighborhood where many families have struggled to keep their homes, and lost.

The nine two-story townhomes (537 and 539 Hall St. SE; 454 and 456 Umatilla St. SE; 429, 431 and 433 Umatilla St. SE; and 428 and 430 Woodlawn St. SE) will run 800 to 1,150 square feet. Most offer three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, says Stephanie Gingeritch, LINC real estate development director. All of them will have full appliance packages and in-home laundry. One home will have a handicap accessible main floor bathroom and bedroom.

LINC purchased the properties from the Michigan Land Bank, Gingeritch says. Work on another two-building townhouse project near Hall and Madison Avenue SE begins in September.

"This is part of a larger redevelopment project where we will be purchasing additional foreclosed townhouses from the State of Michigan and redeveloping those as affordable units," Gingeritch says. "We recently submitted an application for tax credit financing for an additional 41 units of housing (five additional sites, 20 buildings) on Umatilla and Gilbert. We'll hear in March 2013 if that is awarded.

"We're glad we can bring this quality development to the neighborhood where there are already families who are established and don't have to move out of the neighborhood to have this," Gingeritch says.

The project is part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 to stabilize neighborhoods damaged by the economic effects of properties that have been foreclosed upon and abandoned.

Architect: Isaac V. Norris & Associates, P.C.
Construction: Orion II Construction Inc.

Source: Stephanie Gingeritch, LINC Community Revitalization, Inc.
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Grand Rapids' Reflections senior housing project re-opens after $6.5 million renovation

Senior citizens in Grand Rapids' Madison Square neighborhood have something to be excited about with the reopening of the area's senior housing apartment building, renamed Reflections.

Located at 500 Hall Street SE, the $6.5 million renovation was a gut rehabilitation of the former Madison Square Apartments by Dwelling Place, Inc. The project was undertaken following Dwelling Place's purchase of the building from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority in 2011.

The renovation includes two additions, a new front entrance, and an upgrade to all of the systems in the facility. The building was expanded from 45,811 square feet to 65,486 square feet.

New and returning residents will find that 25 of the 60 units have been expanded and the community room and sitting areas are larger. There are now three laundry rooms instead of one, the building now has a large craft room, a deck and energy-efficient geothermal heating.

"The residents love it," says Jarrett DeWyse, director of housing development at Dwelling Place. "It is so much improved. It's so bright and cheery. We used light wells, so the natural light comes in from the ceiling. It's very well insulated, so the utility bills will be a lot lower. It's just a beautiful building."

All the units are one-bedroom apartments and residents must be 62 or older and meet the requirements for subsidized housing. The project is one of several attempts to revitalize the area.

"It's really important," DeWyse says. "It's a whole revitalization of the neighborhood . . . we changed the name to give it the status of being new. Across the street, LINC Community Revitalization is also doing some new housing in that neighborhood and there's some other housing around there that is being redone as well."

Source: Jarrett DeWyse, Dwelling Place, Inc.
Writer: Charlsie Dewey, Freelance Reporter

Klipper Kingdom barbershop brings inspiration to Grand Rapids' Madison Square neighborhood

The buzz of hair clippers hums through the air Tuesdays through Saturdays at Klipper Kingdom, where owner Israel Johnson says his business is growing.

Having opened in fall 2011 as part of the LINC Community Revitalization retail incubator, Klipper Kingdom is among eight new businesses to set up shop at the LINC Business Center (1258 Madison Ave. SE). The incubator program assists entrepreneurs in building the foundation for a successful business and hopes to revitalize the neighborhood through creating a thriving business community.

"I'm proud to be down here because, number one, it brings a positive atmosphere to this community," Johnson says. "A lot of people look at this community and just see negative. I'm proud to be a young, black business owner and show kids that they are able to achieve their goals when they apply themselves."

To create an inspirational environment, Johnson has filled the 700-square-foot space with boxing memorabilia collected through the local boxing community. Clients will find boxing gloves hanging from the walls, photos of Little Floyd (Mayweather), Floyd Mayweather, Sr., and Larry Holmes, as well as a TV that is almost always tuned to a boxing match.

Johnson invested $3,000 to convert the one-time clothing store into a barbershop. The renovation included gutting the space, electrical and plumbing upgrades, the creation of hair cutting stations and building a break room.

So far the investment is paying off. Johnson is looking to add a third employee to help keep up with demand.

Johnson is taking advantage of all of the opportunities provided by the incubator program, which include several classes and resources, so that within three years he will graduate the program and possibly continue his business in a new permanent location.

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tues. - Sat.

Source: Israel Johnson, Klipper Kingdom
Writer: Charlsie Dewey, Freelance Reporter

Sydney's Boutique brings a new shopping experience to Grand Rapids' Madison Square

Bringing women's fashions and accessories to the Madison Square business district in southeast Grand Rapids wasn't what owner Kristian Grant thought she'd be doing when she hit age 25. But the budding entrepreneur says she couldn't pass up the opportunity LINC Community Revitalization's retail incubator program provided. So she opened Sydney's Boutique (1258 Madison Ave. SE) a few months ago and hasn't looked back.

"I thought this [store] would be something I'd do when I was retired and sitting on a beach," Grant says with a laugh. "I was blogging about being a young professional in West Michigan and was looking for a reason to stay here. I wanted to do something that would leave a mark. When I sat down with LINC and talked to them about their [incubator] program, I thought this would be perfect."

The shop, named after Grant's eight-year-old daughter Sydney, has a unique selection of women's business, casual and evening attire in sizes zero to 28. Shoppers will find delightful jewelry items, chic purses, phone accessories and other fashion-forward items, as well. The boutique also offers an extensive online shopping selection at www.sydneysboutiquegr.com.

LINC's business incubator program is a three-year program that offers business owners one-on-one assistance with marketing, legal advice, accounting and other business services at reduced rates or free. All participants meet as a group each month, and many have storefront spaces at reduced rates.

"I could have started my own store and decided to create some change myself," Grant says. "But LINC has a real niche in this community. Ten years ago, Madison Square wasn't like this. LINC is really creating a space where kids and families can be, and I decided to be a part of it."

Hours: Thurs. and Fri., 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Sat. noon to 7; and open by appointment.

Source: Kristian Grant, Sydney's Boutique
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

LINC incubator launches with six new businesses in Grand Rapids' Madison Square

Six new businesses opened their doors on Friday, Nov. 11 in Grand Rapids' Madison Square business district, the first step in an economic development push by Grand Rapids-based LINC Community Revitalization, Inc. to help entrepreneurs launch local businesses and create jobs.

The businesses are all part of a new business incubator, the LINC Business Center, formerly C & J Plaza, an abandoned, ramshackle building at 1258 Madison Ave. SE. The shops range from 400 square feet to 1,000 square feet, all available at reduced rates to give entrepreneurs a leg up. The business owners enter a three-year business development program that will equip them with the knowledge to keep the business running, including legal advice, payroll processing, accounting, business plan development, networking skills and mastering social media.

"I wasn't sure if we'd have enough businesses that qualified, but for these six spaces, we had over 20 applicants," says LINC Economic Development Director Jorge Gonzalez. Gonzalez says LINC reviewed each business plan to determine if the business was ready to move forward and could be sustainable.

"We want them to be able to get their own space in the community at market rate by the end of the three years," he says. "If they're ready earlier, we'll help them move out earlier."

The businesses are:
Epic Emporium, art gallery and gift shop featuring local artists
Klipper Kingdom, barber shop.
Southtown Guitar, offering guitars and guitar lessons
RaiderTek, computer repair
Sydney’s Boutique, women's apparel.
WYGR 1530 AM, radio broadcasting studio.

Gonzalez says there are four spaces still available. Lease rates begin at $200/month, depending on the shop size and location within the building.

Source: Jorge Gonzalez, LINC Community Revitalization, Inc.
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Madison Square Apartments gutted, geared up for $21M overhaul in SE Grand Rapids

The residents of Madison Square Apartments on Grand Rapids’ Southeast side have endured years of poor housing in a residential community with a less than stellar reputation. But the folks at Dwelling Place say all that is changing. Dwelling Place purchased the 60-unit, three-story building in June and has since gutted the building in preparation for a complete overhaul. The project, including the building's purchase price, will run some $21M.

Besides new interiors for the apartments -- which include new kitchens and bathrooms -- and all-new common areas, Triangle Associates is building  three additions, including a community room large enough to accommodate all residents for special events and a gathering room where residents can meet to for crafts or exercise classes.

“This is a Section 8 property and we’re doing this renovation to preserve the affordable housing in the Grand Rapids area,” says Dwelling Place’s Director of Housing Development Jarrett DeWyse. “We bought the property from MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority), who could have sold this to another developer and we’d have lost the affordable aspect of this housing.”

The apartments (500 Hall St. SE) were built as one-bedroom senior housing in 1984, which included housing for persons of any age who had physical disabilities. Forty of the apartments were occupied. Last December, Dwelling Place helped those residents find temporary housing in some 16 locations throughout the city until construction is finished. Most of those residents will opt to return to what DeWyse says will be, basically, a brand new building.

Upgrades include new HVAC, new windows, an outdoor deck and a community garden area for residents. DeWyse says that conversations with service providers such as Senior Meals and Gerontology Network will put services in place for the residents, something they didn’t have before.

The additions do not add any new apartments, but allow space for enlarging 25 of the apartments to about 700 square feet; the remaining apartments run about 540 square feet, says DeWyse.  

Residents have been invited to join a contest to give the new building a new name.  

Funding for the project came from American Reinvestment and Recovery Act stimulus funds, low-income housing tax credits and MSHDA, says DeWyse.

“The residents can’t wait to get back,” DeWyse says. “They feel we are invested and we are concerned about them, and they feel really good about that.”

Construction should wrap up in March 2012.

Construction manager: Triangle Associates
Architect: Destigter Architecture & Planning

Source: Jarrett DeWyse, Dwelling Place, Inc.
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

29 LEED Townhomes proposed for Grand Rapids' Madison Square neighborhood

Representatives from LINC Community Revitalization will go in front of the City of Grand Rapids April 14 to request approval for 29 townhomes in the city's Madison Square neighborhood.

LINC, formerly Lighthouse Communities, will present its plan for the modern multi-family units, which would be located on nine parcels on four streets near the intersection of Madison Avenue SE and Hall St. SE. The city has already approved development of a tenth parcel on Prospect SE.

The proposal is part of the community development organization's $10 million plan to develop 55 residential units in the area. An additional 21 units will be located at 413 Hall, in the planned Southtown Square mixed-use development.

The plan for the nine Madison Square units includes replacing aging multi-family buildings with the new, modern townhomes. Some of the structures that will be torn down are already vacant, while others are occupied.

LINC Co-Executive Director Jeremy DeRoo says current homeowners will not be displaced, but will have the option to move into the new units. Rent for the townhomes will retain the current rental rates of $500 to $725, and Section 8 assistance will be available to low-income tenants.

"The goal is to provide high quality, affordable housing in the neighborhood," says DeRoo.

All units will be LEED certified, with two to four bedrooms and at least two bathrooms. DeRoo says the project has been well received in the neighborhood, with a petition for the project garnering more than 120 signatures.

"The [housing] design is more modern than is typically seen in the area," says DeRoo. "There is room and a desire for improving the diversity of housing."

The first phase of construction, slated to begin in June, will involve tearing down three parcels that are contaminated and boarded up.

Source: Jeremy DeRoo, LINC Community Revitalization
Writer: Kelly Quintanilla

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Proposed homestyle breakfast restaurant to be only sit-down eatery in Grand Rapids' Madison Square

Grand Rapids' Madison Square business district at the corner of Madison Avenue SE and Hall St. SE could be on the verge of getting its only sit-down eatery, part of a coordinated response to neighborhood demand.

The proposed B & W Breakfast Bar could open in April as part of a $1.7 million renovation of a century-old storefront at 1167 Madison. The project, spearheaded by LINC Community Revitalization, Inc. (formerly Lighthouse Communities), includes LINC's Development Center containing administrative offices, a retail incubator, a co-working space and a community police station.

Robert Ball, owner of Grand Rapids' Southern Fish Fry and a partner in the new venture, will manage the restaurant, says spokesperson T. A. El Amin, a consultant on the project.

"We're aiming for a home-style place, kind of a combination of Waffle House and Cracker Barrel," El Amin says. "We're looking at breakfast and lunch to start, and we'd like to be open from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. If it goes well, we could add dinner hours, and if that goes well, it could become 24-hour."

El Amin says the focus will be a country-style breakfast and lunch menu with favorites like waffles, bacon and eggs, southern grits, and "a little bit of soul food," as well as heart healthy choices such as turkey sausage, fresh salads and homemade soups.

The 1,500-square-foot space will seat 40.

Attracting a sit-down restaurant to Madison Square is part of a broader push to fill gaps in the business district's offerings, an initiative that began with a neighborhood charrette in 2005.

"This is one of the fastest growing areas around and the region is well thought out and well planned, except for the core city," El Amin says. "If we can get something going in the neighborhoods around the core city, we're going to have something really great.

"The next generation will inherit whatever we do now," he adds. "We'll teach them how to grow it and expand it and there'll be no stopping us with what we can accomplish."

Source: T. A. El Amin, El Amin Associates; LINC Community Revitalization, Inc.
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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$5.5M LEED housing, commercial development proposed to spur growth in Grand Rapids' Southtown

Five years ago a neighborhood charrette called for the creation of quality housing and commercial development in Grand Rapids' Madison Square business district, part of a greater Southtown objective that includes revitalization of business districts at Franklin and Hall streets and S. Division Avenue.

Now, after tens of millions of dollars in public and private investments in infrastructure, streets and lighting, new townhomes, commercial spaces, and the Lighthouse Communities Development Center (1167 Madison Ave. SE), nonprofit Lighthouse Communities, Inc. plans to continue the vision with Southtown Square, a proposed $5.5 million LEED-certified development.

Lighthouse has an option to buy the former TJ's Appliance Store (413 Hall St. SE), across from Duthler's Family Foods. The plan is to raze it and construct a four-story mixed use building with 6,600 square feet of commercial space on the main level and 21 affordable-rate apartments above.

"What makes this exciting is that it's not a stand-alone project, but it's connected to the development of the entire neighborhood," says Jeremy DeRoo, Lighthouse co-director with Darel Ross.

"We will have approximately 20 percent of each new commercial development devoted as incubator space for startup retail or services businesses that can function within the district long-term," Ross adds.

The incubators include access to free or discounted business services such as attorneys, insurance agents and accountants, and qualify for training and business plan development through Lighthouse Communities, Ross says.

"We will close on the property once the state approves our application for low-income housing tax credits, which represent over 50 percent of the funding," DeRoo says. "I'm hopeful those will be approved within the next 30 days. If we're not selected, there will be another round for applications and we'll move up the line for approval."

DeRoo says Lighthouse has applied for Brownfield Redevelopment tax credits for remediation of chemical contaminants from a former dry cleaner on the property.

The architect for the project is Grand Rapids-based Isaac V. Norris & Associates.

Source: Jeremy DeRoo and Darel Ross, Lighthouse Communities, Inc.
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Lighthouse Communities' $1.7M development center brings co-working to Grand Rapids' Madison Square

Madison Square's first co-working environment is under construction and owner Lighthouse Communities hopes it will not only bring professionals to the neighborhood, but will show those already in the neighborhood they don't have to go elsewhere to be part of a collaborative workspace.

Lighthouse Communities broke ground on the rehab of a vacant building at 1167 Madison Ave. SE with the vision to renovate and expand the building into new office space for the nonprofit on the second story and several retail incubators on the main level. That idea shifted when Lighthouse decided to provide incubator space in each future commercial development and another 7,000 square feet of proposed incubator space at a planned development at the nearby T.J. Appliance building.

That left room to retain a couple of incubator spaces and develop a co-working environment in the rest of the main level, says Co-director Darel Ross.

"We'll have wireless access, video conferencing, individual work stations and modular furniture for small group meetings, plus a private conference room for rent," Ross says. "The WorkBar Boston in Boston, Mass. is the feel we're shooting for with our 100-year-old building. We'll keep the original wood floors and the exposed brick, but make it really modern, urban and chic."

To help develop its economic development vision throughout Kent County, Lighthouse hired Jorge Gonzalez to fill a new position as economic development director. Gonzalez speaks Spanish and English and is the current president of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Lighthouse just completed wrapping the building's foundation in a protective membrane with a ventilation system to prevent chemical contamination from a former Laundromat from affecting the new development center. The co-working center will be operational by May 2011.

Source: Darel Ross, Lighthouse Communities
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Madison Square Church undertakes $1.3M renovation of former caster shop

Deborah Johnson Wood

Grand Rapids' Madison Square Church is in the throes of renovating a $1.3 million former caster factory into a space where its youth group can give musical and dramatic performances and spend time socializing in a casual, Christian environment.

The building at 1401 Madison Ave. SE, dubbed Madison Place, is just a few doors north of the church. Communications Manager Bill Wiarda says the undertaking is in answer to God's call for the church community to take the gospel to the city.

"Our pastor David Beelen took a sabbatical in 2006 to do some planning, and when he came back, we developed this idea we call Making Room – New Faces, New Places to meet people where they are. There was a lot of redevelopment and revitalization in the neighborhood at that time, so we bought the building."

Volunteers from the congregation worked together to demolish parts of the interior. Wiarda says that once construction is finished, the 8,500-square-foot main level will feature a multipurpose room complete with a stage, sound system, lighting and projection for the youth group; a game room; offices for the youth department; and a kitchen that will supplement the full service kitchen in the church, when needed.

A food pantry, currently housed at Restorers, Inc., 1413 Madison Ave. SE, will have a dedicated space with greater food storage capacity, freezers and refrigerators and direct access from outside.

One surprising feature is a planned woodworking shop for the church's Cadets group of fourth through sixth grade boys.

"They meet once a week to do woodworking projects," Wiarda says. "Right now they meet in the church office basement, which is really cramped. The new space will have equipment and improved ventilation."

Source: Bill Wiarda, Madison Square Church

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

GR's Lighthouse Communities launches on-location retail incubators in neighborhood business district

Deborah Johnson Wood

These aren't your ordinary business incubators: small spaces gathered in one building. These are full storefronts available in three Grand Rapids' neighborhood business districts for below-market lease rates. And they come with free accounting, legal and marketing support, business training and business plan development.

"What we're doing is creating a 'scattered site' incubator model," says Darel Ross, president of Lighthouse Communities, the nonprofit behind the idea. Lighthouse is the developer behind the proposed Lighthouse Development Center that will house six retail incubator spaces.

"We thought, what can we do, not just in an incubator property but throughout all our commercial properties, using the properties as a tool for economic development in the neighborhood business districts," Ross says. "We found as we filled our business incubator (Development Center) there was a demand for flexibility and affordable space. The need was larger than what we could deliver."

Urban Pizza, a take and bake pizzeria owned by Malika Pimpleton, is the first business in the new incubator model. Her retail space in the new Uptown Village building, 950 Wealthy, Grand Rapids is slated to open by April 1.

"Lighthouse pays for her first four months' rent so he can use that money to do her build-out," Ross says. That, along with 12 months of subsidized rent allows the owner 16 months to build clientele, and to get her accounting, legal and marketing needs in order.

Lighthouse has commercial properties in three neighborhood business districts – Madison Square, Wealthy Street and Grandville Avenue – and plans to roll out the new incubator program in all three areas.

"If we can take away some of the expenses and surround you with support, we know you have a legal entity that's best for your business, a solid business plan, and you're working with an accountant all from day one," Ross says. "That makes the neighborhood business districts stronger and lets the business owner concentrate on the business, instead of worrying about overhead and rent."

Source: Darel Ross, Lighthouse Communities

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Have a development news tip for Rapid Growth? Contact us at info@rapidgrowthmedia.cominfo@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Madison Square business incubator has community backing for $1.7M project

Deborah Johnson Wood

Converting a century-old building on the corner of Madison Avenue SE and Hall Street SE into a business incubator, nonprofit offices and restaurant will cost about $1.7 million. But Grand Rapids' Lighthouse Communities isn't worried – the nonprofit community development corporation has already received $500,000 in federal and state funding, another $1 million from local foundations and brownfield tax credits, and Huntington Bank has guaranteed the rest.

The two-story building at 1167 Madison SE has been in foreclosure twice in the last decade, says Jeremy DeRoo, Lighthouse executive director. But after internal demolition, some shoring up of weakened structural points and the removal of a decrepit addition, construction will commence after the state environmental impact review in late March.

"We'll have six business incubator spaces to help entrepreneurs open a business for less than market rate," DeRoo says. "We are expecting to attract primarily retail business because of the location, but not limiting it to retail tenants."

The spaces range from 500 to 800 square feet, and are wired for phone and Internet. Rent starts at $250 a month. Startups can lease the spaces for up to three years to establish clientele, and to use the support services offered, such as networking opportunities, business roundtables and to build relationships with banks, accountants, attorneys and other professionals.

"When they're ready to move out, we'll help them locate space in the neighborhood," DeRoo says. "The goal is to increase the quality of services available to the neighborhood through the businesses in this incubator space."

Lighthouse Communities, now at 1422 Madison, will relocate to the second floor area, doubling its office space. About half of the 5,000-square-foot space will be community meeting rooms.

A 1,500-square-foot addition to be built on the north side of the building will house a breakfast restaurant on the main level, owned and operated by Robert Ball, owner of Southern Fish Fry.

"We expect to open with at least 35 full-time jobs within the building," DeRoo says, "so it's a great job creation opportunity that will continue to create opportunities for the neighborhood."

Source: Jeremy DeRoo, Lighthouse Communities

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Have a development news tip for Rapid Growth? Contact us at info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Madison Square lands CID, stakeholders aim to attract new businesses to continue revitalization

Stakeholders in the Madison Square area came away from last week's Grand Rapids City Commission meeting jubilant after a unanimous vote to establish a Corridor Improvement District (CID) in their district. The group spent the last 12 months working with residents, business owners and property owners to develop a vision plan for the district.

A CID is a tax increment financing (TIF) tool established by the state of Michigan to help local governments fund public infrastructure improvements in commercial corridors. The Madison Square CID district runs north-south along Madison SE from Umatilla to Garden, and east-west along Hall SE from Eastern to Jefferson.

Next steps include appointment of a CID board by Mayor George Heartwell, and drafting of a detailed development plan by the board. The board will submit the plan to the city for approval.

"The city is coming through with their Combined Sewer Overflow project, working on Hall Street right now," says Rebekka Kwast of Neighborhood Ventures. "When they're done there will be better infrastructure, decorative street lights and landscaping." Neighborhood Ventures, Lighthouse Communities and the Madison Square community developed the CID proposal.

The CID board will use the TIF funding to build on the city's improvements by implementing the community's vision to make the corridor more walkable, improve public transit and attract and retain businesses.

Kwast expects TIF funding to be modest – about $5,000 in 2010 up to an estimated $45,000 by 2035 – but the CID designation enables the board to supplement funding through the purchase, sale and lease of property, to hold fundraising events and to market the district to attract businesses, thereby increasing the tax capture.

"I think the CID is going to help to promote a more positive image of the area," Kwast says. "It's going to give leadership to the area and allow local businesses and property owners to instigate change."

Source: Rebekka Kwast, Neighborhood Ventures

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Madison Square business district another step closer to becoming Grand Rapids' second CID

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Encouraged by Uptown's recent victory as Grand Rapids' first Corridor Improvement District (CID), supporters of Madison Square's bid for CID designation say the district could be next in line. Grand Rapids City Commissioners recently passed a resolution accepting the proposal for the CID and on May 12 will hold a public hearing.

In the past five years, Madison Square has received a $100,000 Cool Cities grant, seen new buildings constructed and existing buildings renovated, watched promised redevelopments fizzle and has struggled to attract and keep new neighborhood businesses.

Now the business district at the intersection of Madison and Hall is on the cusp of establishing the means to infuse the business district with the largest influx of funding in its history.

"The community is looking for a vibrant commercial district to support revitalizing the neighborhood and the CID is one way to get there," says Kimberly Van Dyk, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures. "It's the chicken and the egg thing. We need to grow the demand, and we'll grow it if we can get the CID and transit improvements."

Neighborhood Ventures, LISC, Lighthouse Communities and other organizations are catalysts in the development of the CID proposal and in drumming up support from business owners, property owners and the surrounding Southtown community.

Months of planning, a door-to-door survey, a walking tour of the area and community input resulted in a wish list of improvements that includes attracting a bank, a pharmacy and a sit-down restaurant; streetscape upgrades to beautify the area; and buses that run every 15 minutes instead of the current 30-minute schedule.

"One thing that's really amazing," Van Dyk says, "is that the community sent over 200 letters of support (for the CID) to the city commission, plus email and phone calls."

Source: Kimberly Van Dyk, Neighborhood Ventures

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Business incubators coming to new $1.6M project in Madison Square

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Seven new business incubator spaces are only one of the business opportunities coming to Madison Square next year. Plans for renovating a long-vacant eyesore at 1167 Madison Ave. SE, the proposed $1.6 million LEED-certified Lighthouse Development Center, include a restaurant, a recycling center, and office space.

The Madison Square business district has seen a lot of changes in recent years: modern commercial spaces, attractive townhomes, a busy public library branch, the new Gerald R. Ford Middle School and a residential center for senior citizens. And the momentum hasn’t stopped.

The incubator, recycling center, and a breakfast restaurant developed by Robert Ball, owner of Southern Fish Fry, will occupy the main floor.

“The goal [of the incubator] is to take the person who has the dream and the vision for a business but doesn’t know how to make it happen and connect them with groups like Neighborhood Ventures, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, Lighthouse Communities and others,” says Darel Ross, president of Lighthouse Communities, the developer.

“The recycling center will be run by School-to-Career Progressions, a program for middle and high school students” he adds. “They’ll take in recycling and hold classes on green initiatives.”

The second floor will become a hub for community services and a new location for Lighthouse Communities’ offices.

“We’ll have classroom space for our homeowner preparedness classes,” Ross says. “The neighborhood associations, the Boys & Girls Club, and other community groups can use the space.

“Lighthouse Communities develops for community revitalization,” he adds. “You can’t just revitalize buildings, you have to revitalize people or you end up with a community of new buildings but the same social issues going on.”

Destigter & Smith Architects is the architect for the project. To date, a construction manager has not been selected.

Source: Darel Ross, Lighthouse Communities

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Kent County’s Fuller Complex $6.5M facelift includes new animal shelter, access road

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Thoughts of visiting an animal shelter to choose a new family pooch or kitten often brings to mind rows of animals in cages. And while getting a new pet is exciting, it's hard to leave the others behind. 

Kent County aims to make the environment and the pet selection experience more pleasant for both the people and the animals with the construction of a new 23,000-square-foot Kent County Animal Shelter. 

“The new shelter is almost three times the size of the existing one and more centrally located on the campus,” says Bob Mihos, County spokesperson. “We feel the shelter provides an important service to the county and we want to present a healthy environment for that important service.”

Three “get acquainted” rooms—a new feature—provide private spaces where families can get to know their potential pet.

Another significant change is two outside entrances: one for people who want to adopt a pet and the other for bringing in strays and dangerous animals.

Separate holding areas, one for healthy animals and one for sick animals, minimizes the spread of disease. A surgical suite provides space for veterinarians to perform surgeries, if needed.

“We’ve added a training room for those who adopt,” Mihos adds, “where the shelter will offer classes to teach new owners how to take care of their new pets.”

Customers will get to the new shelter via a new access road flanked by people-friendly sidewalks and streetlights.

The $1.8 million road meanders from a new stoplight at Malta Street and Fuller Avenue on the west to the existing entrance on Ball Street to the east, providing easy auto, pedestrian and bicycle access to all areas of the campus, including the Kent County Health Department, the Sheriff’s Department and network180. The road will be completed in October, followed a month later by the completion of the $4.8 million animal shelter.

Source: Bob Mihos, Kent County

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

“Our veterans deserve better” prompts $500K park rehab in Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Before the Comstock Park Rotary Club and a passel of volunteers began rehabilitating a century-old park at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans last May, the veterans-only “garden” space was a covered patio overlooking the maintenance buildings. By this October, they’ll have barrier-free access to the renovated Grotto Park.

“The Veterans Home is an excellent organization with wonderful people, but with no funds, they were doing the best they could,” says Dan Clark, co-chair of the project with fellow Rotarian Todd Vandentoorn. “The Rotary felt that our veterans deserved better than what they had.”

Grotto Park sits in a low area called a grotto, north of the Home located at 3000 Monroe St. NW. The three-acre property is becoming a healing garden with grasses and flowers.

Two bridges originally spanned Lamberton Creek, which runs through the grotto, but one bridge fell apart decades ago and the other cracked in half. The installation of two new pedestrian bridges took place last week. Barrier-free ramp access leads to a circular walkway, benches and shade trees. 

Many of the improvements are the result of local businesses volunteering services, labor and materials—including excavation, concrete, and concrete installation. U.S. Marines stationed at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mt. Clemens provided manpower last spring and will return to install limestone along the creek to prevent erosion, and to build a gazebo, a band shelter and a pergola over a patio that overlooks the park.

The restoration totals some $500,000, including volunteered labor, services, monetary donations and materials.

“There are 750 men and women veterans and their spouses at the Veterans Home,” Clark adds. “Over 550 of them are in wheelchairs. We want to make this park so as many of them as possible can use it.”

Click here to watch a video of the project.

Source: Dan Clark, Comstock Park Rotary Club

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Kent County’s $27M human services complex rises in Southtown

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Construction crews have the bones in place for the long-awaited Kent County Human Services Complex at 121 Franklin St. SE. The steel frame and the concrete floors on all three levels are complete; the mechanical and electrical rough-ins and ductwork placements are in progress. Roof construction began this week, brick and glass installation happens in late August, and final enclosure of the building should wrap up by mid-November.

Crews demolished the outdated former Sheldon Complex building and two houses across the street to make way for the 137,000-square-foot building—the county government's first LEED project—and two surface parking lots.

“Our intent is to provide comprehensive human services all in one location for the citizens of Kent County,” says Bob Mihos, Kent County spokesperson. “It provides easier access to the variety of services we offer, and there’s a bus stop right there so it’s easy to get to for people who use public transportation.”

The Department of Human Services, ACSET-MichiganWorks!, and the Sheldon Health Clinic will share the building. Services include Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services.

The building minimizes energy use with high-efficiency mechanical systems, a reflective roof to minimize heat load and low-flow toilets. It also features low-VOC flooring and paints. 

“Through a competitive bid process we chose Steelcase furniture," Mihos continues. "Part of the selection process was their ability to provide materials that can be recycled.”

The $27 million building will open sometime in May 2009.

Source: Bob Mihos, Kent County Facilities Management and Planning

Photo by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Filmmaking contest for young talent will educate state leaders

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Michigan Municipal League wants to know why young professionals and entrepreneurs in Michigan have chosen to live in particular communities. And the way the organization wants to get its answers is through five-minute videos produced by those young persons.

An exclusive audience of over 500 elected and appointed officials from communities around the state will view the top videos of the Better Communities Video Contest as part of the MML’s annual convention on Mackinac Island in October. The videos are part of a larger discussion on how these municipal leaders can create and sustain desirable places to live that will attract and retain young talent.

A statement issued from the MML notes: We are looking for videos that provide Michigan community leaders with insight on creating, sustaining and improving the desirable and unique places to live in Michigan. Communities with vibrant downtowns, arts and culture, mass transit and overall flexible and diverse environments are what you are looking for, and they attract the 21st Century employers. Make your voice heard in a video showing us what made you stay or what made you move to your Michigan community.

The videos must be uploaded in YouTube format to the YouTube web site by 5 p.m. September 15. A separate email to info@mml.org must include the final link to the video, the name and age of the person submitting the video, address of residence and contact information.

For more details on the video contest, contact the Michigan Municipal League at info@mml.org.

The first place winner receives $300, second and third places receive $100 each.

Source: Michigan Municipal League

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

New Grand Rapids recycler saves 30,000 tons of asphalt shingles from landfill

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In July of 2007, six partners founded Grand Rapids-based Crutchall Resource Recycling LLC (CCR) with the goal to provide the Michigan homeowners, roofers and dumpster companies with means to recycle and reuse tons of a particular petroleum-based product: residential asphalt roof shingles.

In September, the MDEQ approved the company’s request to remove residential asphalt roof shingles from the waste stream. The decision paves the way for CCR to become West Michigan’s first recycler certified to recycle the shingles for vendors who reuse the ground up shingles in hot mix used for road and pavement repair.

In May, CRR ground its first shingles—a recycling service in existence a dozen years in some 15 other states—and since then the company’s Grand Rapids and Lansing sites have recycled 30,000 tons.

“We estimate there’s about 70,000 tons of residential shingles that could end up in the landfills every year just in Kent County,” says Ellie Kane, a company partner. “We think right now we’re capturing 15 to 20 percent of it.”

Roofers, homeowners and dumpster companies bring the shingles to the recycle yard at 631 Chestnut St. SW where CCR tests each load for asbestos before grinding it for reuse. (To-date, CCR has never found any asbestos.)

Thus far, the company’s investment totals approximately $2 million to launch recycle sites in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo with plans to invest another $1 million in future sites in Flint and Southeast Michigan.

“It’s easy for our local consumer and ends up costing them less than disposing of the shingles in the landfill,” Kane adds, “We provide a less expensive product to the hot mix customer and we’re creating jobs.”

Source: Ellie Kane, Crutchall Resource Recycling LLC

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Zeeland one of 17 cities selected for Michigan Main Street program

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The City of Zeeland is one of 17 Michigan cities selected by MSHDA to participate in the Michigan Main Street (MMS) Associate Level program, a two-year opportunity meant to return economic vitality to the state’s downtowns by providing civic leaders with training in organization, promotion, economic restructuring and design.

“We’re thrilled,” says Abigail deRoo, Zeeland’s city marketing director. ‘I see this as providing an outlet for training for city staff that works with our downtown, and training for our downtown board members and our volunteers.”

Before deRoo joined Zeeland’s city staff last year she was Main Street Manager for the City of Clare. After moving to Zeeland, deRoo established four municipal committees based on the four components of Main Street training (organization, promotion, economic restructuring and design), and immediately applied for Main Street status.

“The program provides a strong network of Michigan downtown leaders,” deRoo says. “It gives cities the opportunities to use templates other communities have used successfully to drive their economies and urban designs, so we won’t be reinventing the wheel. And we’ll be able to use the program’s listserv to communicate and find out what other cities have done [to strengthen their downtowns].”

Each committee will train only in its specific area of expertise, attending free daylong classes in Lansing.

Three other West Michigan cities/business districts were also named to the MMS program: Grand Rapids “Uptown,” Belding and Plainwell.

Since its inception in 2003, MMS has spurred some $27 million in private investment and created an estimated 338 jobs in 13 cities.

“We’re just excited to be part of it,” deRoo says. “The state recognizes that Zeeland is committed to improving our downtown and we want to use any and every tool available to us.”

Source: Abigail deRoo, City of Zeeland

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids fundraiser promotes the blues to cure cancer

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Cancer took Becky Bunting’s father at age 50 and, four years ago, the disease took her 53-year-old brother, too. That’s when Bunting decided to do something to help advance cancer research and cancer support organizations. So she founded Blue Persuasion, a Grand Rapids fundraising non-profit initially designed to raise money by selling ‘blue’ things like bottled water or blue-plate specials at area restaurants.

Now Bunting, 49, has added blues music concerts to reach a new audience for the three organizations she supports: Make A Wish Foundation of Michigan, Thirsting to Serve and Susan G. Komen for the Cure Grand Rapids.

“Every event makes money for all three groups,” Bunting says. “We’re trying to enhance what these organizations are already doing. We want to reach a part of the population that may not already be making donations, and to make it fun. Blues music speaks to the heart because it’s fun and it gets people motivated.”

A concert last winter at River City Slim’s featured the local Thirsty Perch Blues Band. But Bunting’s next event, the 2008 Dance of Life Celebration, features Thirsty Perch plus two national blues bands, Eric Lindell from New Orleans and The Homemade Jamz Band, an internationally acclaimed trio of siblings aged 9, 13 and 15, from Tupelo, MS.

“I don’t know of anyone else who’s doing blues concerts to bring people together for a great cause,” Bunting adds. “We have to do more to keep cancer from affecting our lives, and our children’s and grandchildren’s lives.”

Source: Becky Bunting, Blue Persuasion 

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids' promising market potential draws investors to open four coffee shops

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Steve Antaya and his father, Tom Antaya, own Tom’s Food Center and three other successful businesses in Portland, MI. So when they decided to diversify their holdings even further, it seemed a natural move to open their new Biggby Coffee shops in nearby Lansing. But the healthier Grand Rapids economy drew them, instead.

Just over a year ago, the duo purchased the Biggby Coffee on Monroe Center. Since then, they’ve opened one on West River Drive and one on Cascade Road. Last month, they opened the Biggby Coffee at Michigan and Fuller, in a building recently constructed by longtime Grand Rapids entrepreneur Gus Afendoulis.

“We’ve been looking at other opportunities to grow our biz outside Portland, and we got talking with some people who said there’s a heck of a lot more opportunities to grow in Grand Rapids,” says Steve Antaya. “The Grand Rapids area seems to be almost the only spot in the state that seems to have any growth left.”

The new shop serves six different brewed coffees each day, as well as espresso, cappuccino, lattes, iced drinks, blended drinks, and fruit crème freezes. The stores offer a limited menu of bagels, bagel sandwiches and snacks.

The franchisor suggested the Michigan/Fuller location.

“It’s a high traffic corner,” Steve says. “The Michigan Street corridor is really starting to pop, and benefit from the healthcare growth has spread outward from the core city and the visibility of our sight lines is great.”

The Antayas’ four Grand Rapids shops employ 50 people. Steve says he and Tom are looking at four more Grand Rapids properties for Biggby shops, but declined to name the locations.

Source: Steve Antaya, Biggby Coffee

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Oakdale neighborhood reduces carbon footprint with 65 new trees

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

During the last two weeks, Oakdale Neighbors wrapped up the planting of 65 trees and hundreds of flowers in effort to reduce the neighborhood’s carbon footprint, cool off the neighborhood during the hot summer months, raise property values, and slow traffic.

The City of Grand Rapids planted the first 40 trees along Kalamazoo St. in April; Katerberg VerHage Landscape planted another 25 throughout the neighborhood two weeks ago; and this week, teams of youth from the area planted the base of each new tree with flower donated by area greenhouses.

The project includes 15 tree species, many of which are native to Michigan, such as pin oak, burr oak, swamp white oak, red maple and hedge maple. To avoid the need to trim or remove trees that interfere with power lines, the group selected smaller trees for those areas, larger trees for areas with no power lines, and included bird-friendly trees such as choke cherry and juneberry.

The trees have drip irrigation bags to keep them watered, but organizers took the care of the trees a step farther by recruiting neighbors to “adopt” a tree to ensure it is properly watered and maintained.

The Dyer-Ives Foundation, the Frey Foundation, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Fuller Area Neighbors funded the $14,000 project, called Leaves of the Tree Give Life to the Nations.

Source: Tom Bulten, Oakdale Neighbors

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

A river runs through Green Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Grand River might be metro GR's most underutilized natural asset. But the city is brimming with ideas to make its stretch of Michigan's longest river more of a focal point for its redevelopment.

Now Mayor George Heartwell, the Green Grand Rapids steering committee, and other civic leaders want to hear those ideas and advance a more formal vision for the Grand River as part of an overall effort to green Grand Rapids.

On June 25, Green Gathering: Ideas, the first of three public forums, will include the results of the Green Pursuits game distributed in April, a welcome by Mayor Heartwell and breakout sessions on parks, connections, greening, health, natural systems or the Grand River.

Some ideas floated recently include restoring the rapids in the Grand River, designing and building a kayak course, expanding riverside park space, more bike trails, riverside dining establishments. These and other projects, a growing number of residents seem to agree, could simultaneously enhance a degraded waterway and improve the city's ability to retain and attract young talent and new companies.   

Suzanne Schulz, planning department director, hopes the upcoming meeting will attract some 300 attendees. Participants will prioritize their session’s topics and draft a vision statement incorporating the ideas.

The June 25 meeting is at DeVos Place, 303 Monroe Avenue NW, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

To encourage participation: free carpool parking for cars with two or more passengers is available in the City Hall ramp across the street from DeVos Place; Free single-occupancy vehicle parking is available on Monroe NW, one block north of U.S. 131; The Rapid will distribute free bus passes to the first 100 participants; and bike racks will be available in front of DeVos Place.

Source: Suzanne Schulz, City of Grand Rapids

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Activated carbon protects taste, smell of Grand Rapids drinking water

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In an effort to maintain superior taste and smell in its drinking water supply, the Grand Rapids Water Department is treating the city water with activated carbon before the water is affected by any musty odor and taste caused by algae growing in Lake Michigan. The algae particles appear every summer as soon as Lake Michigan warms up and, while harmless, they just don’t taste or smell good.

“We want our customers to like the way our water taste and smells,” says Joellen Thompson, water system manager. “So beginning next week we’ll add activated carbon in small doses before the problem occurs. As the temperature goes up, we’ll add more, and hopefully we won’t have any taste and odor issues.”

Activated carbon is a powder that attaches to the algae particles, becomes heavy and drifts down to the water treatment facility’s sedimentation basins where it is filtered out, taking the mustiness with it.

The city will add the carbon at the rate of two milligrams per liter, going up as high as eight milligrams per liter, as needed. The cost will run about $121,000 to treat 5.5 billion gallons over the summer.

“Every city around here that gets drinking water from Lake Michigan had the problem last year,” Thompson notes. “The problem seems to be increasing and one of the reasons is the increase of quagga and zebra mussels, both invasive species. They eat microorganisms in the water and make it clearer, sunshine penetrates it, the water warms and the algae grow more prolifically.”

Other ways to treat the problem are by using ultraviolet light to kill the algae particles, or by treating the water with ozone. Both processes would require construction of expensive new facilities.

Source: Joellen Thompson, Grand Rapids Water Department

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Geothermal heat pumps boost water conservation by millions of gallons

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Did you know that a 200,000-square-foot office building that uses a conventional heating system and cooling tower—the stack that emits a plume of steam on cool mornings—can use two million gallons of water per year and sends another 20,000 gallons to the sanitary sewer?

geothermal heat pump, by contrast, uses the earth’s constant temperature to heat or cool water (depending on the season) in buried closed-loop pipes, recycling the same water through the loop over and over. No water is wasted, no heat releases into the atmosphere, and the pipes can last up to 100 years.

“The type of soil makes a difference,” says Steve Hamstra of Holland-based GMB Architects-Engineers. The company has installed geothermal heat pumps for over a decade, but is doing more of them now than ever before, including installations at Caledonia High School, which has one of the largest geothermal heat pump systems in the state, Zeeland West High School, Quincy Elementary, two schools in Kentwood, and Davenport University’s Lettinga Campus Academic Building and Residence Halls.

“We do a test bore to determine the type of soil, and then put polyethylene pipes vertically about 400 feet into the ground, it makes a U-turn and comes back up,” Hamstra adds.

“We built Zeeland West High School. It's 200,000 square feet and has 120 of these holes for the heat system. It’s a $2.2 million system, comparable to a conventional HVAC system, but it will save them $80,000 to $100,000 a year and won’t waste any water.”

In addition, GMB just completed the school’s new indoor pool building and is looking at ways to heat the pool by using the geothermal heat system to capture the heat exhausted by the building’s air conditioning.

Source: Steve Hamstra, GMB Architects-Engineers

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Dwindling sturgeon population focus of $119K Muskegon River study

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Lake Sturgeon are the largest fish in the Great Lakes, with females at times reaching longer than six feet and living some 80 years. Their numbers have dwindled precariously over the last century, placing them on Michigan’s Threatened and Endangered Species List.

A new $119,000 study by Carl Ruetz of the GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute and Kregg Smith of the Michigan DNR focuses on the Muskegon River below Croton Dam to determine how many fish are left, their spawning habits and their habitats.

Before 1890, fisherman destroyed sturgeon for ripping their nets, and later overfished them for their caviar. Dams also block streams preventing access to spawning habitats. The fish, as a result of such intrusions, have struggled to sustain their population because of their slow reproduction rates: females don’t spawn until they’re in their twenties; males spawn at about 15 years.

The study tracks the numbers, sizes and genders of adults as they enter the Muskegon River to spawn, the number of larvae emerging from the gravel spawning beds and drifting downstream and, this fall, calls for implanting tracking devices in juvenile fish.

“There are lots of unknowns, like where their rearing habitat is,” Ruetz says. “It’s logical it’s a flat-water habitat that’s rich in food sources, but we don’t know where. The transmitters will help us find out what habitats they’re using and how long they stay in Muskegon Lake and in the river.”

The DNR’s Kregg Smith has studied sturgeon for a decade and brought in Ruetz this year to increase man-hours and talent. He says that in the early 1900s there were millions of pounds of sturgeon in the Great Lakes, but a count during the 2002 spawning season estimates only 50 to 60 fish are left.

Source: Carl Ruetz, Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute; Kregg Smith, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

The Rapid resolves green roof flap to ensure sustainable water management

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Last week’s completion of a project to replace a faulty green roof system puts Rapid Central Station, the home of metro Grand Rapids' regional transit agency, back on track as the most sustainable transit system in the state. The new roof, a tray system manufactured by Spring Lake-based LiveRoof, realigns the building with the complex's other water conservation and energy saving technologies.

The original green roof, manufactured by a different company, was installed in 2004 and failed to perform to The Rapid’s expectations, necessitating the need for a $220,000 replacement.

“We believe this product will meet our needs and we remain committed to sustainable operations,” says spokesperson Jennifer Kalczuk. “We also have large cisterns underneath the platform that collect the stormwater runoff. They spin the water to collect the debris and then only clean water is discharged into city’s stormwater system.”

Rapid Central Station is the country’s first LEED-certified transit facility and is surrounded by rain gardens that reduce the amount of pavement, and thereby reduce the opportunities for runoff of contaminants.

The green roof, which is on two separate sections of the roof, helps maintain the building’s temperature and protects the building from UV damage; the interior floor is made of recycled glass; and the addition of hybrid buses on regular routes conserves fuel and reduces exhaust emissions.

Source: Jennifer Kalczuk, The Rapid

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Wealthy Street walks the talk

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Walkies are here! Grab that special someone, a group of friends, or just meander on over to Wealthy Street for Friday nights of dinner and drinks, shopping, and a movie in the intimate atmosphere of the 60-seat Koning Micro-Cinema.

Community Media Center and Local First have partnered to present 12 months of movies one Friday a month, plus the opportunity to park the car once and make an evening of it strolling the shops, restaurants, pubs, coffee houses and galleries on Wealthy from Union to Lake Drive.

“Sean Kinney approached me about ways we could use his former Grand Rapids Micro Cinema, and we came up with The Walkies, a takeoff on “Talkies,” the name for talking movies,” says Erin Wilson, director of Wealthy Theatre. “The cinema went out of business, but we have the Koning Micro-Cinema here, and Sean is still involved.”

Buy tickets at the door for three bucks or get a full year of movies for a nominal monthly amount: $5 a month gets one ticket for every showing, $10 buys two tickets for every showing, and for $25 subscribers get two tickets to every showing and get to choose one movie to show (the first, Army of Darkness, runs June 27).

“With gas prices what they are this is a great way to get people to spend a Friday night on Wealthy Street,” Wilson says. “We knew it was going to work when Local First became a part of it because this is a perfect event for them.”

Beginning in August purchase tickets online, print them and bring them to the box office. Until then, tickets are available at the door. For information sponsorships, contact erin@grcmc.org.

Source: Erin Wilson, Wealthy Theatre

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Religious planners conference at DeVos Place will generate millions of dollars locally

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau scored a major triple play when it landed the world’s largest religious planners’ conference for January of 2009.

Not only are 500 religious conference planners coming to Grand Rapids for the three-day Religious Conference Management Association’s (RCMA) annual meeting, another 800 people will be in town marketing their own cities to the RCMA board and conference attendees, and the number of new conferences booked after the event will bring a projected $15 to $20 million to Grand Rapids.

“The reason we want to host this conference is it attracts up to 500 potential future customers for conferences,” says Janet Korn, CVB spokesperson. “It lets them see the city and see how well we do a conference, and once you test drive the car, you’re more apt to buy it.”

The tendency is for people to attend conferences near where they live, and since many of the attendees will come from surrounding states, the CVB projects that those folks will see the advantages of booking their own conferences and annual meetings in Grand Rapids.

“The attendees of this conference represent over 3,000 religious meetings,” Korn says. “It’s an association of people who plan religious meetings for a particular church or faith.”

The RCMA always has its conference in winter, usually in warmer climes like San Antonio, a direct competitor for the 2009 conference. But Grand Rapids won out because the Skywalk connects all the downtown hotels to DeVos Place; no one will have to venture into the cold to move between their rooms and the conference center.

This month, the 15-member RCMA board will meet in Grand Rapids for two days to tour the city and choose a conference theme.

Source: Janet Korn, Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Trio of prominent Grand Rapids developers launch investment enterprise

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

If you’ve looked around Grand Rapids and East Grand Rapids this week, you’ve probably noticed new signs advertising properties offered by CWD Real Estate Investment in several commercial buildings.

That’s because three well-known Grand Rapids developers have formed a new enterprise geared toward providing high net worth investors with a portfolio that includes a variety of real estate investment opportunities.

Sam Cummings of Second Story Properties, Scott Wierda of Jade Pig Ventures, and Dan DeVos of DP Fox Ventures LLC created CWD Real Estate Investment, a firm with 14 employees who will work out of a 4,000-square-foot space at 15 Ionia SW, the expanded former office space of Second Story Properties.

“With over 70 years of experience between us, we tend to look at investment in real estate as part of a well balanced investment portfolio,” says Sam Cummings. “Over the course of our careers there are a number of individuals who have approached us wanting to be investors in real estate, and they want to have those investments well managed by people they know and trust.”

The new company will offer clients four investment options: real estate investment, brokerage, property management and development.

“We’ve gained experience in different product types in real estate: I’ve done urban redevelopment, Scott’s done retail, and Dan’s experienced in almost everything and has an extraordinary strategic thinking capacity,” Cummings adds. “We get that diversification of product aptitude that allows us to diversify in product type and in geography. We’re looking at Midwest investments, perhaps beyond that.”

The names of Second Story Properties and Jade Pig will go away, replaced by CWD, although the former Jade Pig—the partnership between Wierda and Brian DeVries—will continue to operate as a separate company. DeVos will guide CWD’s strategic direction while continuing with DP Fox, which owns several auto dealerships and real estate endeavors.

Source: Sam Cummings, CWD Real Estate Investment; Kate Washburn, Wondergem Consulting

Photograph by Brian Kelly for CWD Real Estate Investment

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

GVMC conference explores elements of a 21st century development strategy

How to build successful urban developments, establish entrepreneur-centric cities, and expand public transit and improve commuter mobility are just some of the topics slated for discussion at the annual Growing Communities Conference sponsored by the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council.

Douglas S. Kelbaugh, FAIA, Dean of Architecture and Urban Planning at University of Michigan and a founder of the New Urbanist movement will deliver the keynote address.

Milt Rohwer, president of the Frey Foundation, will lead a photographic tour of Grand Rapid’s progress in building a stronger community, and Dan Gilmartin, executive director of the Michigan Municipal League, will share his perspective on the direction Michigan is headed building and enhancing our cities.

The GVMC also will present its annual Blueprint Award to a recipient who has helped West Michigan achieve the goals of the GVMC.

The conference will be at the Prince Conference Center at Calvin College on June 12.

Source: Grand Valley Metropolitan Council 

$40M Rapid Transit route spurs redevelopment interest on Division Ave

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

This fall the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council (GVMC), in partnership with Kentwood, Wyoming, and Gaines and Byron townships will convene area stakeholders to redesign the business district along Division Avenue between 54th and 60th streets. The proposed development is the first of what could potentially be many multi-million-dollar mixed-use hubs spurred by Michigan’s most sophisticated transit project yet, the $40 million Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

The Rapid, the regional transit agency, will operate the BRT, which will run from 60th north along Division Avenue to the city core, circling past hospitals, colleges, DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena. With 19 designated stops (including stops at 60th and 54th), pre-paid boarding, a dedicated travel lane, buses every 10 minutes, and the ability to change red lights to green, the BRT will speed riders to their destinations.

“When you put in a fixed-route transit service, the land around it immediately becomes more valuable and it’s profitable to develop it more intensely,” says Jay Hoekstra, GVMC planner overseeing the charrette.

The Rapid’s web site reports that the BRT's potential to leverage private investment varies: “…as high as 1000 percent, e.g. Cleveland’s Euclid Corridor…. At the lowest end of ROI is Pittsburgh with 115 percent.

But community leaders are confident the new transit service will accelerate urban revitalization along the Division Avenue corridor.

“This is a good place for redevelopment because there’s a lot of vacant and underused land to develop into commerce centers,” Hoekstra continues.

Hoekstra plans to meet with stakeholders over the summer to prepare for the charrette, which is funded by grants totaling $36,000.

“Downtown is the main destination with the greatest number of jobs and the cultural center,” Hoekstra says. “If it works out, there will be some pretty fine neighborhoods and town centers along the route.”

Source: Jay Hoekstra, Grand Valley Metropolitan Council

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Local First doubles membership, launches economic impact study

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

You’ve probably seen the yellow triangular window clings in area businesses indicating they are members of Local First. But what is Local First?

Local First, a nonprofit dedicated to creating demand for locally owned businesses and educating consumers on the economic impact of shopping at those businesses, logged 40,000 hits on its online directory in 2007. In the last 16 months, the organization more than doubled its membership of locally owned businesses, jumping from 150 members to 370.

Monthly networking events, the Local First Street Party, the Eat Local Challenge, and a new Entrepreneurial Resource Network where business owners share resources and business solutions are a few of the organization’s events to promote locally owned businesses.

“My firm landed three new clients as a result of connecting with a colleague through Local First,” says Craig Clark of Clark Communications. “Local First is the organization to belong to if you own a local business and want to connect with other individuals and businesses that support the triple bottom line theory of sustainability.”

The organization recently commissioned a local study to determine the impact of locally owned businesses on the Greater Grand Rapids economy, and to identify the number of locally owned full service restaurants, bookstores and banks. A similar study in Chicago determined that $73 dollars of every $100 spent at locally owned businesses stays in the community, compared to only $43 spent at national chains.

“We’re taking the study to the next level by asking what would happen if, as a community, we shift 10 percent of our spending from national to locally owned businesses,” says Elissa Sangalli Hillary, executive director. “What jobs would that create?”

The results of the local study will be available in a few weeks.

Source: Elissa Sangalli Hillary, Local First; Craig Clark, Clark Communications, courtesy photo

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Wealthy Street business boom attracts another new restaurant

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The business boom in the Wealthy Street historic district caught the eye of a budding restaurateur who will bring his own brand of homegrown eclecticism to a new building planned for 1015 Wealthy. The Electric Cheetah opens this fall, offering a menu of specials and specialties with a side of live piano music.

Friday night neighborhood perch fries, pies made by mom, specialty soups every day (the beginning of the Wealthy Street Soup Movement), and even, get this, milk and cookies—warm cookies fresh from the oven.

“I’m going to open the place with a very simple soup, salad and sandwich menu,” says Cory DeMint, owner and executive chef. “Two different homemade soups every day, 15 salads, 15 sandwiches and hand-cut French fries. I want to bring food back to what it’s supposed to be—simple, natural and delicious.”

DeMint’s mom will help out by making pies from her family recipe, and everything will be homemade, including the slow-roasted corned beef for the Reubens.

The new LEED building, a partnership between developers Bear Manor Properties and architects DTS + Winkelmann, features the restaurant space on the main level, two apartments above and will be finished by early fall.

DeMint prepares for the eatery’s opening by buying and reselling used restaurant equipment, putting the profits back into the business. The best pieces of equipment he kept for the restaurant.

He’ll furnish the space with tables and chairs purchased from defunct hotels, recovering the chairs with $2,000 fabric he bought from a former Grand Rapids upholstery shop for $25.

Between his prudent shopping and help from family, (brother Todd created the CAD drawings for the restaurant’s interior) DeMint expects a total outlay of just $15,000 cash.

Source: Cory DeMint, The Electric Cheetah

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Historic preservation workshop will cover tax incentives, energy conservation

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Preserving Grand Rapids’ historic buildings and learning how to repair windows in them to reduce energy consumption are the two topics up for discussion at the third annual Historic Preservation Workshop. The workshop, titled Practical Preservation, is sponsored by the City of Grand Rapids, the Heritage Hill Association and the East Hills Council of Neighbors.

The discussions focus on historic commercial buildings, residences, and buildings in historic districts.

Rebecca Smith Hoffman, chair of the Kent County Council for Historic Preservation and co-owner of Past Perfect, heads up the discussion on how to make improvements that will qualify for state and federal tax credits.

Rob Burdick, a Heritage Hill resident and a veteran restorer of several Heritage Hill homes, leads the workshop on repairing windows with energy conservation in mind.

New this year: the discussions will run simultaneously and then repeat so attendees can participate in both workshops.

“This is the first time the city has branched out to involve the neighborhoods,” says Jan Earl, executive director of the Heritage Hill Association. “We are the largest historic district in Grand Rapids and we work closely with the Historic Preservation Commission. We’re very pleased to be a part of this.”

The workshop is free and will run on Saturday, May 17 from one to four o’clock at the Inner City Christian Federation building, 920 Cherry Street SE.

Source: Jan Earl, Heritage Hill Association; Heather Edwards, Historic Preservation Commission

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Kendall student wins top honors in LEED design competition

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

He says he’s an interior designer who thinks like an architect. That thinking is what snagged Kyle Baker top honors for the 2008 Natural Talent Design Competition spearheaded by the U.S. Green Building Council’s West Michigan chapter.

The challenge? To redesign Grand Rapids Public Schools’ 52-year-old Brookside Elementary using LEED’s eco-friendly design principles.

Baker, 32, graduates Saturday from Kendall College of Art and Design with a degree in interior design. He entered the competition last year, but says “I pretty much got my butt kicked.” So this year, he geared up.

“I really wanted to win,” says Baker, who received his award at a USGBC gala event last month.

“I explored cutting-edge technology to determine if the roof shape could hold rainwater to help insulate the school and then be recycled to use in the toilets. I placed a wind turbine in front of the school to produce some energy, and made sure every space in the school has daylight.”

Baker added a second story, and instead of putting a hallway down the middle of the building with classrooms on either side, he put the hall along one side of the building (on both levels) with classrooms on one side and a 25-foot-high window wall on the other.

The two-story lobby has spaces to plant live trees. A catwalk on the second level crosses the space to join two learning areas.

Baker won a $1,000 cash prize and the opportunity to present his design at the November Greenbuild Expo in Boston, MA.

All the competitors’ designs will go to the GRPS for possible implementation.

Source: Kyle Baker

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Earth Day event saves 117,000 pounds of electronics from landfills

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Grand Rapids’ first-ever citywide electronics recycling event paid off big when a whopping 117,971 pounds e-waste was recycled instead of dumped in area landfills. That’s the equivalent of five semi-trailers of e-junk.

Local electronics recycler Comprenew Environmental organized the event as one of many local Earth Day (April 22) celebrations.

“It ended up being ‘Earth Week,’” says Lynell Shooks, Comprenew spokesperson. “We had nine organizations and employers participate around Grand Rapids that week. It was great to have that many open their places up to the public and to their employees to help the city be greener.”

People unloaded everything from mini recorders and old PDAs to a console television in a wooden cabinet.

“We got floor lamps, old PCs and monitors, shredders, de-humidifiers, and just enormous televisions,” she says. “It was like the march of the mighty televisions in our warehouse.”

Comprenew has a zero-landfill policy. Shooks says that 100 percent of the e-waste will be broken down by hand and recycled through places like Lake Odessa-based Franklin Metal Trading Corporation and Doe Run, a smelter in Missouri that receives the leaded glass.

Comprenew is already talking about next year’s event.

“The email going around this week was ‘What are we going to do for an encore?’”

Source: Lynell Shooks, Comprenew Environmental

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Habitat teaches high school, college students LEED-construction ropes

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In 2007, Habitat for Humanity Kent County decided that, moving forward, all the affordable houses they build will be LEED-certified. To achieve that lofty goal, the organization’s Educational Partnership Program teaches green building and LEED techniques to students enrolled in the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Small School of Construction and in Grand Rapids Community College’s M-Tec program.

“The market wants LEED and green homes, and our students are ahead of the curve because they have the knowledge and expertise they’ll need for the construction trades after graduation,” says Pam Doty-Nation, Habitat’s executive director. “We encourage them to go to GRCC’s M-Tec program because they earn college credits in advance for having had the training in high school.”

Doty-Nation says that of the 50 GRPS students this year, many of them, because of finances, wouldn’t consider attending college without the credits already in place.

“This is a great opportunity for them to get ahead of the game on the green economy that will intensify over the next 10 to 15 years,” she says.

The chapter has built 250 affordable homes for people who make just 30 to 50 percent of the area median income — between $18,700 to $31,050 per year for a family of four. Those homeowners purchase the homes with a zero-interest mortgage and must put in 300 to 500 hours of “sweat equity” before moving in.

In Kent County, Habitat receives 1,000 requests for homes each year, but can build only 20.

In 1983, the chapter was the 13th Habitat affiliate in the U.S. There are now over 1,700 affiliates. On April 25, a Rock the Block “un-gala” 25th anniversary celebration is planned.

Source: Pam Doty-Nation, Habitat for Humanity Kent County

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids recycler aims to celebrate Earth Day with 250,000 pounds of E-waste

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Around Grand Rapids, a city that seems to grow ‘greener’ every day, this year’s Earth Day has become “Earth Week.” One local company, Comprenew Environmental, has established electronic waste (E-waste) drop off sites around the city with the goal of collecting some 250,000 pounds of electronics the company will recycle.

“We’ll recycle anything operated by a cord or battery, except major appliances,” says Lynell Shooks, spokesperson. “That could be alarm clocks, blenders, tape players, televisions, old phone chargers, old telephones—a lot of things. I have a bag in my car now with a toaster in it and my old cordless telephone that I’m going to recycle next week.”

Comprenew dismantles the electronics, recycles the plastics, metals and glass and sends them to local recyclers who help keep the raw materials in the local manufacturing community. Last year the company recycled 1.5 million pounds of E-waste, a 50 percent increase over 2006.

With collection sites around town, and by waiving the normal recycling fees, Shooks aims to make the process as easy as possible. And to keep it fun, she entered the Comprenew event in the EPA’s online Great Lakes Earth Day 2008 Challenge.

“If any local business wants to organize E-waste recycling, they can contact us and we’ll help them establish a program,” Shooks says. “There’s a lot of e-waste in residential households. We can’t drive around and knock on doors, but people go to work and we can help their employers set up a free program to make E-waste recycling accessible.”

Collection sites, dates and times:

Source: Lynell Shooks, Comprenew Environmental

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Federal education official announces pilot program in West Michigan

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Differentiated Accountability, a new pilot program announced by the United Stated Department of Education, was one topic of discussion among many for Todd Zoellick when he visited the Grand Rapids and the Rockford Public Schools last month. Zoellick is one of U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ top officials representing Michigan and five other Great Lakes states.

“I met with parents and educators, and a lot of questions came up over assessments to test students,” Zoellick says. “The government realizes that looking at a child at just one point in their school year, say fourth grade, and then later during another year is not the best way to measure student achievement.”

Zoellick says that while some entire schools are not meeting adequate yearly progress, others are not reaching certain standards simply because a handful of students are not achieving. The intent of Differentiated Accountability is to allow states to deal with issues on a school-by-school basis.

“We want to treat different situations differently,” Zoellick says, “but in order to change No Child Left Behind, Congress has to act on it. Until they do, we’ve been authorized to put this pilot program in place.”

Secretary Spellings will select 10 states to participate. Those states must meet the standards of the pilot, and submit a proposal outlining the issues the schools face and how the state would like to address them. Schools will be in the pilot one full year.

During his visit, Zoellick also met with the school superintendents, teachers, administrators and students, toured several schools, observed classes and learned more about the GRPS Centers of Innovation Initiative.

Source: Todd Zoellick, U.S. Department of Education

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids' 'Green Pursuits' anything but trivial

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The powers behind Green Grand Rapids have come up with a fun, creative way to get public input on the future of city parkland, green space and the riverfront. Green Pursuits, a game based on Trivial Pursuit, uses a city map as its game board to help players articulate their vision for the city's green infrastructure.

The game, developed by the Green Grand Rapids steering committee, will get friends, neighbors, church groups, scout troops and others of all ages talking about the city's parks and waterfront while having fun together.

Participants answer questions about how they use the parks and trails, mark up the map with colored markers to show which parks and trails they use, streets that need beautification, and their knowledge of stream corridors. They'll bounce ideas around while enjoying an entertaining couple of hours. Throw in some refreshments and it's a ready-made party with a purpose.

"One of the themes of the Master Plan adopted in 2002 was a city in balance with nature," says Jack Hoffman, who chairs the Green Grand Rapids steering committee. "Our goal is to position the city in terms of the new economy, focused on green issues and sustainability, and in terms of quality of life."

The game is free from the Grand Rapids planning department office at 1120 Monroe. Participants must return the completed game to the planning department so the information can be compiled.

"We'll plan the first community forum where we’ll share ideas based on the results of Green Pursuits, our consultants' recommendations on green infrastructure, water quality issues and stormwater issues," Hoffman says.

In August, the planning department will release a second game that takes participants through the next steps of the process.

Source: Jack Hoffman, Green Grand Rapids; City of Grand Rapids Planning Department

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Design competition aims to put every kid, GRPS students included, in a green school

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In the past decade, West Michigan developers have made Grand Rapids one of the 'greenest' cities on record, and as the Grand Rapids Public Schools continue to upgrade its educational facilities its fitting that one local competition focuses on LEED design principles for the proposed renovation of Brookside Elementary School.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the nation’s leading set of standards for the construction and certification of sustainable buildings.

The 2008 Natural Talent Design Competition asks university level designers or those who have graduated in the past five years to create a plan that incorporates LEED standards into the existing 54-year-old building, or to design new construction using LEED for Schools criteria. The competition is sponsored by the United States Green Building Council's West Michigan chapter

"The USGBC has a goal of having every child in a green school within one generation," says Sam Pobst, chair of the USGBC Regional Council, "and we chose to align with that for the competition theme."

A polluted creek runs through the school's nearly 40 acres at 2505 Madison SE. The property is adjacent to the proposed Salvation Army Kroc Center and both developments will be used as a catalyst for revitalizing the neighborhood.

Criteria from the competition guidelines include:

  • Engage student populations in sustainable design
  • Improve operating conditions for Brookside Elementary
  • Provide a catalyst partnership with the Kroc Salvation Army Community Center
  • Spotlight sustainability efforts in the region
  • Expand public awareness of LEED
  • Showcase a LEED Platinum building

All designs will be shown to the architect of record for the Kroc development.

Designers have until April 14 to submit their plans. Finalists will present their plans at Greenbuild in Boston, MA. Winners will receive cash prizes and will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, at a gala event at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Source: Sam Pobst, US Green Building Council-West Michigan Chapter

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Madison Square takes next step toward Corridor Improvement District

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

With the help of a $17,000 grant from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the Madison Square community is moving the design charrette commissioned by Lighthouse Communities in 2005 to the next level with the creation of a Madison Square Work Plan.

The work plan outlines specific strategies to help neighborhood businesses and residents create a proposed Corridor Improvement District (CID) which, if approved by the City of Grand Rapids under its new CID policy, will position the neighborhood to apply for government grants, loans, and other funding. The funding could be used to market area businesses, develop green spaces, or implement other improvements that will spur economic growth.

"At the end of 2007, LISC served as convener of multiple stakeholders in Southtown to come together around the question 'how do we advance the design charrette, '" says Tom Pfister, LISC spokesperson. "The work plan will move forward different parts of the charrette, like transportation, parking, infrastructure issues, commercial development, rehab of buildings, and the need for more green space."

A task force of some dozen participants from groups including Lighthouse Communities, Madison Square Church, Southeast Community Association, Madison Area Neighborhood Association, Neighborhood Ventures, and others developed the strategies for next steps.

A public meeting in November drew some 50 community stakeholders from the government, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, the Grand Rapids Police Department, and philanthropic organizations for a presentation, suggestions and input. LISC will publish the final work plan report this month.

"This plan has a high degree of organization with community partners," Pfister says. "In order to accomplish the work plan strategies we'll need to have those partners on a variety of task forces where we can tap their expertise and leadership."

Source: Tom Pfister, Local Initiatives Support Corporation

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com

Leadership Grand Rapids evolves into Center for Community Leadership

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Prompted by the success of new programs like Download GR and Leadership Advantage, the organization formerly known as Leadership Grand Rapids recently took on a new moniker: Center for Community Leadership.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce created the CCL to encompass its leadership development programs for new, emerging, and seasoned leaders of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and income levels.

"Our goal is to help professionals define who they are in the community," says Kevin Stotts, CCL executive director.

Offerings include opportunities for professionals new to the area as well as lifelong residents:

  • Download GR – This one-day community orientation introduces 20-something professionals new to the area, or new to their careers, to the area's economic and volunteer opportunities, as well as local hot spots for dining, entertainment and living.
  • Inside Grand Rapids – For established professionals who want to learn about the region and connect with other professionals. Topics include downtown's revitalization, urban green space development, emerging life sciences sectors, and other key issues shaping the community.
  • Leadership Grand Rapids – For current and emerging leaders who want to have a significant impact on Grand Rapids' future wellbeing in the areas of education, arts, economic development, government and public policy, land use and the environment, the role of nonprofits, and the criminal justice system.
  • Leadership Advantage – An eight-part series with guest speakers and a thought provoking format that help participants map out their leadership strengths and growth opportunities.

Program graduate Andrew Brower recommends the program for people who want to dig deeper into community issues. "The reward is diversity in thought and process, and ultimately, the connections that change systems to better serve our whole community."

Source: Kevin Stotts, Center for Community Leadership

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Finalists for national urban leadership award include one from Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

LISC, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, announced this week that Kimberly Van Dyk, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures, is the only finalist from Michigan nominated for a national State Farm-LISC Spirit of Revitalization Award.

Last year, LISC, a recognized powerhouse in the community redevelopment movement, invested $1.1 billion in the revitalization of local communities, which spurred some 3.2 million square feet of new commercial space and 20,400 affordable homes.

Van Dyk's nomination in the category of community leadership recognizes her work in Uptown, a collaboration of the East Hills, Wealthy Street, East Fulton, and Eastown business districts.

"There are three categories and three finalists in each category—community leadership, development, and placemaking," says Tom Pfister, Grand Rapids' LISC program director. "Neighborhood commercial district revitalization is not an easy task and it's quite an honor to be recognized by your peers across the nation."

The Uptown Forward group, spearheaded by Van Dyk, is comprised of business owners and community stakeholders who have worked closely with the city staff and officials to draft a policy for the establishment of corridor improvement districts (CIDs) in the city. The group is currently working on plans to establish CIDs in the Uptown districts.

"Kim has the rare ability to keep the big picture in mind while handling the details," says Baird Hawkins, board member of the Eastown Business Association. Hawkins works with Van Dyk on a number of committees, including Uptown Forward.

"She's very good at bringing together diverse groups of people and keeping them on task," he adds. "Neighborhood Ventures has a miniscule budget and Kim goes way beyond her pay to get done what she needs to do."

LISC will announce the winners at its Urban Forum in Indianapolis on April 29.

Source: Tom Pfister, Local Initiatives Support Corporation;

Photo by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Local interior designer launches website touting 'green' products, principles

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Sue Norman, an active member of the Sierra Club and an organizer of the local US Green Building Council chapter, is an aficionado of all things eco-friendly. But as an interior designer and owner of her own Grand Rapids area firm, Design Is, she had a hard time finding the products and sustainable design information she needed to help her complete a builder's or client's 'green' vision.

So, in January, she launched her own web-based company targeting all aspects of green design and green products specifically for interior designers: Easy To Be Green.

"The site is for interior designers who want to weave sustainability into their practices," Norman says. "The industry doesn't serve interior designers as specifically as I would like, and when I thought about the kinds of services I wanted I thought other designers would like them as well."

While the site features green products, that's a small part of the bigger picture of how to integrate sustainable practices into interiors.

"I include a book review, I research articles on sustainable topics, and I provide snapshots of sustainable concepts like chemical basics, daylight and views, and how to reduce, reuse, and recycle," Norman says. "Every product page has important sustainable attributes—it gives the manufacturing location, where the product is distributed, and a link to each company."

For products like paint, Norman lists the volatile organic compound content. Chemical basics helps designers take into account the entire life cycle of a product from manufacturing through the chemical breakdown in a landfill.

Annual membership fees are $85 for individuals. Norman also offers group and student rates.

Source: Sue Norman, Easy To Be Green

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

New chapter of Rosa Parks Institute aims to prime young West Michigan citizens

The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development just launched its first West Michigan chapter, and though organizers haven't established an office location yet, they have moving ahead on the summer youth program.

The institute, founded in 1987 by Rosa Parks and her best friend of 45 years, Elaine Steele, uses its Pathways to Freedom program to teach 11- to 17-year-olds Mrs. Parks' philosophy of "quiet strength," based on her book of the same title.

Mitch Dennison, a Grand Haven resident, the institute's vice president, and Steele's son-in-law, was instrumental in founding the West Michigan chapter.

"Mrs. Parks was very Ghandi-esque in her leadership, teaching kids how to be non-violent and not overly vocal when trying to express their position," Dennison says. "It's all about how you treat people—your demeanor, your manners, your grammar."

The program takes a groups of youth by bus through Michigan and Canada for two weeks, following the Underground Railroad into the civil rights movement.

The children must address each other as "Mr." or "Ms.," eat healthy, and learn public speaking, etiquette, and proper dress.

"If it sounds very 1950s, it's because it is," Dennison says. "The kids are completely different when they're done with the program. They're more independent, more well behaved, and many come back home with a personal agenda about topics like voting rights."

Organizers are still determining this year's itinerary. Cost of the program is $3,500 per child and includes all expenses. Full and partial scholarships are available for those who need them. To request information and an application, click here.

Source: Mitch Dennison, The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids forum debuts first-ever standards for racism-free organizations

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Partners for a Racism-Free Community have a goal: in 10 years, 50 percent of all organizations in Greater Grand Rapids will achieve the designation racism free.

The clock begins ticking March 28 at the 2008 Partners for a Racism-Free Community (PRFC) Forum, formerly called the Racial Justice Summit, where the first-ever standards and credentialing process for creating racism-free environments will be revealed.

"The PRFC defines racism-free as the individual and systemic condition achieved when all persons, regardless of skin color, feel welcomed and wanted in all places and treat others the same way," says Faye Richardson, chair of the standards and credentialing committee.

The standards target six areas of an organization:

  • Leadership engagement
  • Internal policies, practices and processes
  • External collaborations and relationships
  • Contractor, supplier, and vendor practices
  • Client, congregation, customer and marketplace practices
  • Measurements and results

The process helps organizations determine:

  • What do our leaders practice concerning racism?
  • How do we create a rich environment for everyone?
  • Who are we working with to remove racism from the community?
  • How do our suppliers reflect our values?
  • How are we reaching out to a diverse base of students, customers, or congregations?
  • How do we identify best practices and measure where we stand now?

Several area businesses, nonprofits, and service organizations, including the YWCA, Steelcase, and the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, are testing the pilot program, which started in January. The committee will reveal the results of the pilot to-date at the forum.

"Creating these standards for organizations is very unique to Grand Rapids," Richardson says. "We're hoping it catches on around the state and the country. It's really way past time for us to be eliminating racism."

Source: Faye Richardson, Partners for a Racism-Free Community

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Legislative luncheon targets mass transit funding for Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

On Monday, Disability Advocates of Kent County will hold a Legislative Lunch on Transit to bring state legislators and city, county and township elected officials up to date on the progress of mass transit in the county. The nearly 100 attendees include Senators Bill Hardiman and Mark Jansen and Representative Glenn Steil.

"We’ll talk about funding from the feds for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line and will ask the state legislators to vote for the 20 percent financial match needed to receive the 80 percent federal funding," says Frank Lynn, spokesperson for Disability Advocates.

The federal government approved some $29 million for the BRT, the most advanced transit undertaking in the state to-date. Disability Advocates emphasizes that public transit is a good economic engine. Citing the publication Property Futures by Jones Lang LaSalle, Lynn says that 77 percent of new economy companies rated access to mass transit as an extremely important factor in selecting corporate locations.

"We're hoping that some of the attendees will make a commitment to funding the matching portion of the BRT proposal," Lynn adds. "We’ll also encourage them to fund the comprehensive transportation fund with the full 10 percent of the gas tax allowed by law."

Statewide, the transportation fund pays for road repairs and maintenance, and provides funding for mass transit.

"The potholes we have in the roads right now are because of a lack of a state funding for roads," Lynn says. "A raise in the gas tax provides better roads and an increase in transit funding statewide."

The luncheon is open to the public and will be at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church from noon to 1:30. Cost is $10.

Source: Frank Lynn, Disability Advocates

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

New Belmont organization helps families flower

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

A new baby brings much happiness to a family. But that little bundle of joy also brings fatigue, confusion and, in some moms, extreme postpartum depression.

MomsBloom.org, a web-based nonprofit in Belmont, aims to help Kent County parents of infants from newborn to three months old get the support they need to be successful parents.

“We train volunteers who are passionate about the bond between mother and baby—grandmas, moms, empty nesters, social workers. They provide non-judgmental support to parents of infants,” says Sara Binkley-Tow, president. “We're the extended family for the 21st Century.”

The volunteers provide services at any time of day or night, including emotional and physical recovery from birth, lactation consultation, teaching baby soothing skills for screaming infants or infants with colic, meal preparation and light housework.

The group helps families connect to community resources that can include finding a postpartum depression support group or getting help with addictions.

“Our goal is to reduce child abuse, such as shaken baby syndrome, by reducing the postpartum depression and the fatigue,” says Binkley-Tow, 36.

Binkley-Tow, a certified Happiest Baby Educator, infant massage instructor, and certified postpartum doula, began providing services for parents about a year ago as All In The Touch, the forerunner to MomsBloom. That’s when she spent time caring for an infant who slept all day and was awake all night.

“I went in to their home and cared for the baby during the night so the parents could sleep,” she says. “This is not something parents can prepare for. Many parents are worn out.”

She founded MomsBloom with Angie Walters and Alice Christensen last July. The group received its nonprofit status in February, and begins accepting clients mid-April.

MomsBloom’s services will be provided free to families of any income level. Volunteer training begins in March.

Source: Sara Binkley-Tow, MomsBloom.org

Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Southtown, Burton Heights biz owners ready to take business to the next level

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Eight Southtown and Burton Heights business owners are getting special training to help them grow their businesses to the next level, whether it's expanding the store, offering more products and services, or developing a franchise.

The training is a new four-week program offered by Neighborhood Ventures called Gateway to Business Planning and Expansion.

"The training helps business owners determine how to brand their business and find their niche in the market," says Deborah Chivis, spokesperson for Neighborhood Ventures. "They're learning operations, finance, marketing and advertising and are creating a good business plan."

One of those business owners is Robert Ball, owner of Southern Fish Fry, 1269 Madison SE. Ball, 58, went into business 15 years ago with a dream of developing a franchise. He wants to purchase the building he's in, renovate it to include a dine-in area that will be a model for the franchise, and expand his menu to include steamed and baked entrees.

"The business plan will help me determine what new equipment I need and the amount of money I'll need," Ball says. "I've developed the owner's manual and an operations manual already. The classes are helping me learn about tax issues, insurance, and workman's comp, and make sure the whole nine yards is in place."

When Ball started in the business in 1993, he didn't have anyone to teach him how to run it so he went to the library and researched how to price menu items after he'd bought the food. He's thankful for the training available to him now.

"This class is a blessing," he says.

Source: Deborah Chivis, Neighborhood Ventures; Robert Ball, Southern Fish Fry

Photo of Southern Fish Fry by Brian Kelly

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Sports Commission partnerships could generate $12M in tourism

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The West Michigan Sports Commission spent 2007 building partnerships with local sports associations. Those partnerships, which now involves at least 17 different events, could generate 20,000 tourists and $12 million for West Michigan in the next three years.

"We want to focus on the opportunities out there, like fencing, rugby, gymnastics, and hockey," says Mike Guswiler, sports commission executive director, "Our relationship with the Amateur Athletic Union will bring the 2008 AAU Softball Central Region Championship and a national beach volleyball national qualifier to the region."

U.S. Airborne Gymnastics is one of the commission's new partners. The commission is helping with the annual U.S. Airborne Gymnastics Invitational at Cornerstone University on March 1 and 2. The event attracts 350 competitors and their families from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Canada, and could inject some $185,000 into Grand Rapids hotels, restaurants, shops, and attractions. Winners will move to national competitions as Olympic hopefuls.

"We can raise awareness of any event and what it brings to West Michigan," Guswiler says. "We help put proposals together highlighting the benefits of the area, we identify the needs of the tournament organizers, locate facilities, get sponsors and volunteers, and other services. And it all gets to the underlying reason of why we exist and that's to draw economic benefit to the community."

Other partnerships the commission established involve a variety of events, including the Great Lakes Lacrosse Classic, the Grand Haven Beach Vault, the Men's and Women's Collegiate LAU Rugby Championships and the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions. The latter event, alone, will bring some $1 million to the region.

Source: Mike Guswiler, West Michigan Sports Commission

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

New agency targets water quality in the Lower Grand River Valley

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

A four year effort to create a regional association to restore, protect, and enhance water quality in the Lower Grand River drainage basin has culminated in the development of LGROW, the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds.

LGROW will act as an agency of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, overseeing environmental activities concerning Michigan waterways in an area covering over 3,000 square miles from a point where the Grand and Looking Glass rivers meet in downtown Portland east through Metro Grand Rapids to Lake Michigan.

Ten counties and several rivers and creeks, including the Grand River, Thornapple River, Flat River, Coldwater River, Plaster Creek, and Buck Creek are included.

Funding for operations comes from an Urban Cooperation Board grant and two U.S. EPA grants.

Source: Grand Valley Metropolitan Council

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Cutting-edge satellite system tracks the Rapid in real time

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Rapid has begun installing in its buses Michigan’s only Intelligent Transportation System, a satellite system geared to improve the fleet's efficiency, save money, and improve communications for riders.

“The buses will be transmitting back to our base so we know where our buses are in real time,” says Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid. “Eventually riders will be able to link into our web page and see where a particular bus is right now and when to go to the bus stop to catch it. They’ll eventually be able to upload trips on their cell phones and PDAs.”

In addition, the 19 stations of the future Bus Rapid Transit system along Division Avenue will have electronic signs linked into the system, giving riders the arrival time of the next bus.

Varga says the system will be installed in every bus in the fleet and should be up and running in the next 18 months.

Source: Peter Varga, The Rapid

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

$500K Green Grand Rapids targets the riverfront, a landfill, and other public space

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The 34-member Green Grand Rapids planning committee appointed by Mayor George Heartwell kicked off with a meeting on Monday January 28, 2008 to review its task: determine the issues in need of resolution to improve Grand Rapids parks, the riverfront, and other public spaces.

“The committee is charged with making sure the public participation process is open and inclusive and that all ideas are heard,” says Suzanne Schulz, planning director of the City of Grand Rapids. “They’re also charged with making the tough decisions. For example, how do we view the Grand Rapids Public Schools shared facilities now that the schools have begun selling some of those properties. Historically, we’ve counted those playgrounds as inventory for the parks and recreation department.”

Improving the city’s riverfront, primarily from Fulton Street south to the “S” curve is a key consideration, as well as a direction for usage of the Butterworth landfill, Joe Taylor Park, and the Ball/Perkins Park.

The committee will seek public opinion through a series of meetings with neighborhood associations, community forums, design charrettes for specific park plans, and by providing materials for individual or small group interaction that doesn’t require a neighborhood or city facilitator.

An interactive web site will launch late in February with a mapping feature that Schulz hopes will spark creative ideas from armchair urban planners.

JJR of Ann Arbor is the lead consultant on the project, working with FTC&H and OCBA,” Schulz says. “All the firms have been involved with a number of city infrastructure projects and can hit the ground running, so dollars can be spent on public participation and implementation rather than on a learning curve.”

Source: Suzanne Schulz, City of Grand Rapids

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Neighborhood Ventures extends, accelerates Grand Rapids' revival

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

After just two years, Grand Rapids-based Neighborhood Ventures has become a powerful engine driving economic redevelopment in the city's neighborhood business districts.

The nonprofit organization spun off from the Neighborhood Business Alliance in 2006 with just two staff and a board of directors. Today, two LISC AmeriCorps volunteers and a GVSU intern round out the team that is working diligently to revitalize neighborhood business districts.

"One of the cool things about Neighborhood Ventures is that since we started our first fiscal year in July 2006, every six months we've been able to add a new project," says Executive Director Kimberly Van Dyk.

When Van Dyk says "projects," she means projects with lots of programs associated with them, all geared to help business districts improve, add jobs, attract customers, and spur economic development.

Three current projects target revitalization in the Southtown, Uptown, and Burton Heights districts. A few of the programs available within each project are façade improvement incentives, business recruitment, business training and technical assistance, public infrastructure improvements, and district branding and marketing.

Clean Slate, piloted last summer, hired eight neighborhood teens who worked four days a week picking up trash and planting and maintaining public planters in the Franklin/Eastern business district.

"Our goal this year is to expand it to 20 teens and six business districts," Van Dyk says.

Neighborhood Ventures’ first fiscal year budget (July ’06 to June ‘07) was $180,000, all raised through grants and donations. This year, community support is enabling the group to bump its budget to $250,000.

Source: Kimberly Van Dyk, Neighborhood Ventures

Photograph by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

The Rapid wins approval, and perhaps $29 million, for Michigan's biggest transit project yet

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Greater Grand Rapids is on track to construct the most advanced mass transit system yet in the state of Michigan, a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system serving the Division Avenue corridor from downtown to the southern suburbs.

The Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP) is the first transit authority in the state to win approval from the Federal Transit Administration to apply for a $29.33 federal grant under the  federal New Starts program.

“The FTA reported to congress that this project is acceptable,” says Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid. “That guarantees us the federal money faster.”

There’s $60 million in the federal pot. But the government won’t release the money for the BRT until 2009. The ITP is asking for $1.4 million the first year to pay for a preliminary design, engineering, and a federally mandated environmental study before progressing to a construction grant agreement phase.

“This isn’t just another bus route,” Varga says. “It’s a light rail service on tires.”

A dedicated traffic lane will run along Division from 60th Street, and will circle past Saint Mary’s Hospital, Spectrum Health, DeVos Place, and Van Andel Arena to The Rapid Central Station.

The hybrid buses will run every 10 minutes, will stop only at the 19 stations along the route, and will have “secondary signal preemption,” meaning traffic lights will automatically adjust to longer green lights and shorter red lights. Satellite links at each station will alert riders of the arrival time of the next bus.

“This is significant to be the first in Michigan to get New Starts,” Varga says. “It’s the beginning of Michigan's entry into what I call the modern transportation age.”

The projected cost of the BRT is $36.67 million. The remaining $7.34 million is expected to come from a state grant.

Source: Peter Varga, The Rapid

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Revised Corridor Improvement policy aims to spur revitalization beyond downtown Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Grand Rapids' new Corridor Improvement Authority Policy, which governs Corridor Improvement Districts (CID), is generating a lot of interest. CIDs enable commercial districts to capture some commercial property tax dollars and use them for improvements like new streets and sidewalks, more green space, parking enhancements, or marketing the district.

In 2005, new state legislation allowed local municipalities to establish tax increment financing in the form of CIDs in multiple geographic areas. Grand Rapids' Downtown Development Authority currently has the city's only geographic tax increment district.

The city's CID policy, adopted last November, sets forth the guidelines for designating CIDs and caps the number of new CIDs to four per year.

"The neighborhood business associations have the desire to improve their business districts, but they don't have the money or a mechanism to do it," says Kimberly Van Dyk, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures. The organization was a driving force behind the city's adoption of a CID policy.

Several neighborhood business districts—including Uptown, Madison Square, and Michigan Street—are looking to create CIDs.

To be considered for designation, a commercial district applies to the City Commission with a detailed plan that includes, in part, a map of the intended improvement district and a plan to implement the proposed improvements.

Once the CID is in place, that commercial district can apply for loans, receive grants, and acquire property.

"As 501(c) (6) non-profits, business associations cannot typically access grant funding nor do they have the collateral to receive loans for public improvement projects, " Van Dyk says. "A CID enables the Corridor Improvement Authority, which governs the district, to utilize multiple mechanisms to plan, finance and implement public improvements to the district."

Source: Kimberly Van Dyk, Neighborhood Ventures

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Private investment in Millennium Park spurs development of 20 miles of trails

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

On January 9, Ambassador Peter Secchia unveiled the new Fred Meijer Millennium Park Trail Network, a 20-mile system of non-motorized and nature trails that will run throughout Millennium Park's 1,500 acres.

Private donations fund most of the $9 million project, including a lead gift of an undisclosed amount from the Meijer Foundation. Kent County gave $1.1 million toward the project.

Millennium Park's stretches southwest three miles from Butterworth Street and I-196 to the recreation core on Maynard Street, then extends to Johnson Park in Walker. The trails will create multiple loops of various distances within the park for rollerblading, biking, running, walking, and cross-country skiing. The trail network will connect with the City of Walker trails, City of Grand Rapids trails, and Kent Trails.

"The trail network will be developed over three years," says Roger Sabine, Kent County Parks Director. "Since 1999 we've acquired property, and we've purchased the property from the John Ball Park area along Butterworth all the way to Maynard."

Twelve-foot-wide paved trails and a six-foot-wide trail with natural surfacing feature street bridges and boardwalks over creeks, lakes, and wetlands. A tunnel under Maynard Street connects to the recreation core's playgrounds, swimming areas, and picnic grounds.

Millennium Park runs along sand and gravel mining property, wetlands, and floodplain through parts of Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Walker, and Grandville. Phase 1 of the park's development is complete. The trails will be finished in 2010 followed by the final phase of the park project in 2014.

Source: Roger Sabine, Kent County Parks; Kate Washburn, Wondergem Consulting, Inc.

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Transit agency launches website touting streetcar potential

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The results are many months off, but the streetcar feasibility study launched by The Rapid is well underway. To help residents understand the far-reaching benefits that could accrue to Grand Rapids given a serious investment in the modern public transportation infrastructure, the regional transit agency recently launched an information page on its web site this week.

The study will determine a number of factors, including the location and length of the initial route of the streetcar system, ridership potential, construction cost, funding, how fast it could be built, and the kind of economic development it might generate.

“In the past, Grand Rapids had a well developed streetcar the system that built up Eastown and Cheshire and East Grand Rapids around Ramona Park,” says Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid, “and that is exactly what it can do to re-stimulate the neighborhood business and residential aspects now.”

Transit leaders suggest the initial alignment could be a 3.2-mile loop from Newberry Street south along Monroe to The Rapid central station. That proposed route is expected to be approved as the top priority this week by a task force overseeing the project. 

“It’s an extension of pedestrian activity,” Varga says. “It will also create a new nucleus of riders outside the core that will travel into the core. That’s a key component.”

Streetcar systems don’t come cheap, running from $12 to $15 million per mile to build, but the return on the expenditure is typically 10 to 20 times that as the new transit infrastructure stimulates private investment along and near the route. That's based on the experience of several U.S. cities that have invested in urban trolley systems.

The modern streetcar system has had phenomenal success in Portland, OR, for instance. The initial cost of building the first leg of the city's streetcar system approached $57 million. But the ROI in the first four years alone was some $2.39 billion in residential and commercial development.

Grand Rapids' streetcar project is following the Portland model. Projected costs will be known when the study is completed in June 2008.

Source: Peter Varga, The Rapid

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Deborah Johnson Wood is the development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

With a little help, neighborhood business owners plan new storefronts

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The first ever Design First Clinic took place last week when professional designers and architects from eight firms volunteered their expertise to help the owners of eight Grand Rapids businesses enhance the fronts of their historic buildings.

Neighborhood Ventures, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing neighborhood business districts, established and facilitated the clinic.

The businesses are each part of historic, urban neighborhood business districts—Boston Square, Division Avenue South, Franklin/Eastern, Madison Square, Oakdale/Eastern, and Burton Heights. Each business owner met with two design professionals who offered design suggestions and created renderings of the new facade.

"The clinic was a great success because business owners left empowered to renovate their storefronts and improve their urban commercial business districts," says Kimberly Van Dyk, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures.

Advisors from the West Michigan Minority Contractors Association, the American Institute of Architects, Macatawa Bank, and Neighborhood Ventures offered guidance on good building design, how to select a contractor, and financing options.

Other advisors helped business owners complete Face Forward Facade Grant Program applications, and used the renderings as part of the application. Face Forward is a Neighborhood Ventures program offering grants of up to $4,000 for facade improvements. The grants help business owners improve the look of their buildings. Those improvements can increase customer traffic, public safety, and the value of the building.

Spring 2008 is the proposed date for a second clinic. For more information, contact Deborah Chivis at Neighborhood Ventures.

Source: Neighborhood Ventures

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids Public Schools solicits ideas for high schools of the future

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Grand Rapids Public Schools system expects a big turnout at five upcoming community dialogue sessions that will inform the district's strategy for establishing exemplary learning environments in its secondary schools and boosting student achievement. 

The sessions will build on the community input gathered from over 150 participants at a day-long visioning conference held October 25, 2007.

The purpose of the sessions is to develop building organization and improvement plans for the district's high school facilities. The initiative comes after an aggressive facilities improvement campaign, launched in 2004, which spurred the construction and renovation of nine elementary and middle schools and a tenth school that's on the drawing board.

That Phase I building campaign, financed by voter-approved tax dollars, was completed on time and under budget, an impressive feat considering the skyrocketing costs of construction materials.

"The sessions will be very hands-on," says John Helmholdt, GRPS spokesperson. "This will be a 'roll your sleeves up and get your elbows dirty' chance for the community to form the future of our schools."

Additionally, the district will post an online version of the questionnaire on the district's web site for persons unable to attend the community dialogue sessions.

At the end of each session, participants will learn how the group responded to the questions. The district will mail and email the results of all the sessions to those interested in the results.

The 35-member Facilities Steering Committee will use several work sessions in January to review the information and make recommendations to the superintendent of schools. Planners hope to present the final recommendations to school board officials at a February 2008 meeting so the board can begin the final decision-making process on specific goals and the strategies to reach them.

Click here for the dates, times, and locations of the community dialogue sessions.

Source: John Helmholdt, Grand Rapids Public Schools

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

New church steeple soon to rise over Southtown neighborhood

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church has been in Grand Rapids since 1863, and, next year, the congregation plans to break ground on a brand new 14,500-square-foot facility on the corner of Delaware and Sheldon Streets SE.

This has been several years in the planning. The church razed two houses to make room for the new building. But first the congregation had new accommodations built for the house's occupants and helped them relocate.

The new sanctuary will seat approximately 500 people. An administrative wing offers office space, a fellowship lounge, conference room, classrooms, nursery, and commercial kitchen, as well as a library, and a computer room.

The congregation asked that the building reflect an ecclesiastical and a gothic feel, so, unlike many modern churches, it has a bell tower and a steeple.

The church has served as hub of the community since it was formed 139 years ago, and it's important to the church and the community that the new church remain in the area with an open door to the neighborhood.

The current 5,100-square-foot church at 101 Delaware will be demolished and the lot resurfaced as a 52-space parking lot. Shared parking with nearby businesses will bring the off-street parking availability in excess of the required 105 spaces. 

SKO & Associates designed the building.

Source: St. Luke AME Zion Church

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

From Grand Rapids, Michigan's top 'green' builder executes $28M in LEED projects

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Engineering News-Record recently ranked Rockford Construction Michigan's largest 'green' contractor, based on the company's LEED building revenue in 2006. Rockford is one of two Michigan companies on the list, ranking number 44 out of 50 companies evaluated.

In 2006, Rockford's green projects topped out at over $28 million. That number represents LEED educational facilities, retail shops, offices, banks, and religious and cultural non-profits.

"We're honored," says Mike VanGessell, who co-founded Rockford with partner John Wheeler. "My initial reaction was 'Great! We're kind of where I'd hoped we'd be.' It validates that we're doing the right things, we're benchmarking against the kind of companies we want to be associated with."

Rockford's LEED projects include two world firsts: the first LEED-certified church, Keystone Community, Ada, and the first LEED-certified new construction art museum, the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Other projects include the rectory at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, Grand Rapids; the Blue Cross Blue Shield building, Grand Rapids; the restored D.A. Blodgett Home for Children, Grand Rapids; and renovation of the Alano Club, Grand Rapids.

"I've got to complement Mr. [Peter] Wege who has made sustainable building a prominent issue in West Michigan," VanGessell says. "Even our furniture companies, before LEED was a word, they pushed sustainability in their design and materials. West Michigan has been on the front edge of this movement."

Source: Michael VanGessell, Rockford Construction

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at

New public art symbolizes revitalization of Grand Rapids' Southtown neighborhood

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Nine mobile murals symbolizing the past, present, and future of Grand Rapids' Southtown neighborhood were unveiled Tuesday, October 30 at a press conference followed by a walking tour of the new art installments. Lighthouse Communities commissioned the murals through the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts to get young people involved in the revitalization of the neighborhood.

"We've been working to re-brand the neighborhood as Southtown," says Dave Allen, executive director of Lighthouse Communities. "With the renewed energy and development we thought what a cool opportunity to bring some kids in."

Some 20 art students, part of the UICA's ArtWorks program, spent two weeks hanging out in the neighborhood talking to residents and business owners and getting a feel for the area's character and history.

"The kids heard a lot from neighborhood residents about the unrest in the neighborhood in the '70s and '80s, and learned what it was like when African American moved into the neighborhood and whites left in droves," Allen says.

The "past" murals feature white birds flying out of the pictures, representing white flight. The "present" murals have birds of prey, representing predatory lenders that prey on Southtown. The "future" murals show brightly colored birds coming back, a beacon of hope, and a variety of skin colors depicting the area's multiculturalism.

The murals hang in groups of three. Throughout the coming months, Lighthouse will move the murals to places of revitalization within the neighborhood. Currently, the murals are on display at 1401, 1408, and 1414 Madison SE.

Source: Dave Allen, Lighthouse Communities

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

And the nominees for Best Promotional Event and Best Window Display are…

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The 18th annual Neighborhood Business Awards sponsored by the Neighborhood Business Alliance and Neighborhood Ventures, honor Grand Rapids neighborhood business owners for signage, window displays, renovations, building maintenance, and other efforts that keep the city thriving.

This week, in the last of our series on the awards, we highlight the nominees for Best Promotional Event and Best Window Display.

One of the events nominated for Best Promotional Event was the Creston Car Show, sponsored by the Creston Business Association. On September 15, the third annual car show drew 142 Model A Fords, Lamborghinis, Austin-Healey's, monster trucks, and other autos to compete in a burnout contest and an angled ramp competition in the Creston business district.

"We had a punch card listing area businesses," says Steve Sawicki from Star Collision, one of the show's organizers. "Participants and spectators took the cards to the businesses to get them punched, then they were entered in a drawing for gift certificates from the businesses."

At least one local business logged its busiest day ever, according to Sawicki. So the punch card certainly brought the district's numerous restaurants and bars to the attention of event participants and attendees.

Nominees for Best Promotional Event are:

  • Creston Car show, Creston Business Association
  • GVSU Student Busing Program, The Rapid
  • Eat Local Challenge, Local First
  • Southtown Banners and Bike Racks, Southtown Cool Cities Committee
  • Uptown Trolley Days, Uptown Planning Committee
  • Humane Society Buds and Buddies, Violet Northeast Flower shop

Eastown Antiques was nominated for an award for the third year in its three-year history. In past years, the store was nominated for Best New Business and Best Exterior Renovation. This year, they're up for Best Window Display.

The store has 40 different dealers who sell their wares at 1515 Wealthy SE, but only two of those dealers, Pam Breidenfield and Lynn Shauven, rent the windows. And they do their own displays—Pam features painted furniture and shabby chic décor; Lynn has chandeliers and modern furniture.

"They both have experience with displays of antiques because of having their booths around town before being here," says storeowner Mike Dykhouse. "We have a ton of people who call us on their cell phones as they drive by and want to know how much something is. That's a real nice thing to have. We get a lot of traffic based on what's in the windows."

Nominees for Best Window Display are:

  • Resale with Attitude, 954 East Fulton
  • Amy's Fashions and Joe's Western Wear, 1973 S. Division
  • Eastown Antiques, 1515 Wealthy SE
  • Lamb, 949 Cherry
  • Mena Imports, 966 Cherry

Winners will be honored on November 8 at a gala event at the Wealthy Theatre from 5 PM to 8 PM. The gala is free and open to the public.

Don't forget to vote for your favorites online before November 5.

Source: Rebekka Kwast, Neighborhood Ventures; Steve Sawicki, Star Collision; Mike Dykhouse, Eastown Antiques

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

And the nominees for Best New Construction and Best Re-use of a Building are…

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Fifteen businesses received nominations in the Best New Construction and Best Re-use of a Building categories for the 18th Annual Neighborhood Business Awards. The awards, sponsored by the Neighborhood Business Alliance and Neighborhood Ventures, honor businesses contributing to the City of Grand Rapids' vitality and success.

Rapid Growth readers Readers can vote for their favorite businesses online by clicking here.

Among the nominees for Best New Construction, Uptown Village is a new $5 million mixed-use development at Wealthy and Diamond. The development features affordable living in six townhomes and 18 apartments, and 6,000 square feet of retail space. Limited on-site parking allowed the developers room to create a lawn and courtyard area for future playground equipment, picnic tables, and grills for tenants.

"The thing I’m excited about is that it’s kind of a rebirth of the area," says Chuck Hoyt, spokesperson for developer Lighthouse Communities. "It was blighted so long I think people had just kind of given up on it. Now it’s something the neighborhood can be proud of, and in these tough economic times, people need an affordable place to live."

Nominees for Best New Construction are:

  • 1423 Grandville, Alejandro Martinez, Sr.
  • 629 Michigan, Lacati Group
  • Alger Hardware, 2400 Eastern SE
  • The Green Well Gastro Pub, 924 Cherry
  • Icon on Bond, 538 Bond NW
  • Metropolitan Park Apartments, 350 Ionia NW
  • Midtowne Village, 545 Michigan
  • Uptown Village, Wealthy and Sigsbee Streets
  • Verne Berry Place, 60 S Division

The Douglas J. Aveda Institute had its plate full when it took on the restoration of a former post office turned parking garage, a 14,000-square-foot facility. The $3.5 million dollar investment transformed the structure into an upscale teaching salon with glass garage doors opening to the outdoors, wood veneer finishes, a manicure/pedicure spa room, and 60 styling stations.

"We went as far as to source out a manufacturer to provide historically correct windows for the building," says Gina Lisenby, Aveda spokesperson. "It’s such an amazing building, with the renovations and staying true to its historic integrity it’s beautiful."

Nominees for Best Re-use of a Building are:

Winners will be honored on November 8 at a gala event at the Wealthy Theatre from 5 PM to 8 PM. The gala is free and open to the public. Stay tuned to Rapid Growth next week for the last of our Development News series on the nominations.

Source: Neighborhood Business Alliance; Neighborhood Ventures; Chuck Hoyt, Lighthouse Communities; Gina Lisenby, Douglas J. Aveda Institute

Source: Rebekka Kwast, Neighborhood Ventures; Neighborhood Business Alliance

Photographs by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

West Michigan awards program honors 45 construction projects

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter (ABCWM) received 110 nominees for its coveted 2007 Construction Awards Program.

This year's nominees include notable projects like GVSU's John C. Kennedy Hall of Engineering, Zeeland West High School Pool, Boatwerks Restaurant, the East Grand Rapids Community Center, West Ottawa North High School, the JW Marriott Hotel, and the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre.

"When we started the program in 1985, contractors were not advertising oriented," says John Doherty, ABCWM president and CEO. "They were doing a lot of very unique projects people didn't even know they were doing."

Forty-five prize categories cover several areas of expertise, like structural steel fabrication, restoration glazing, communications and data, interior finishing, religious facilities construction, and green building.

Some 40 independent judges visit each construction site. The judges come from a variety of construction industry segments, including facilities management, building inspection, and architectural and engineering trades.

"Because of the credibility these judges bring to the projects, the award has the benefit of the impartiality we maintain and has more meaning to the winners," Doherty says.

The awards banquet is Thursday, October 25, 2007 at the Pinnacle Center in Hudsonville. Each winning entry will show a three-minute scripted video highlighting the scope of the project, the intricacies of installation, and aspects that make the project unique.

The awards recognize high quality construction by members. And the banquet gives members a chance to see what other contractors are building, and provides opportunities to generate business.

Winners receive three crystal trophies shaped like an urban skyline—one each for the contractor, architect or engineer, and owner. Project managers receive an engraved plaque.

Source: John Doherty, Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

$350K investment brings new bookstore to Wealthy district

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Roni Devlin is a go-getter. She's an infectious disease physician with Spectrum Health. She's writing a book on the biography of influenza.  And she just renovated an 85-year-old former bank building into her home and the place of business for her new venture, Literary Life Bookstore & More.

The former Old Kent Bank at 758 Wealthy caught Dr. Devlin's eye when she did her medical residency in Grand Rapids. Devlin, 39, then moved east to complete her infectious disease training at Dartmouth. As she prepared to return to Grand Rapids to join a practice, she looked in the classifieds for a house and found the bank instead.

"I recognized it immediately and looked into it to see if I could turn it into something that could work for me," Devlin says. "The building is just a really neat space architecturally."

Devlin revamped the two-level rear section of the building into an apartment. The two bank vaults are now her kitchen and her office. Then for two years while she lived there, she worked on the bookstore, investing some $350,000 in the renovations.

The original palladium windows that extend to the 15-foot-high tin ceiling were cleaned and resealed, and the so was the original gray and black mosaic tile floor. Devlin kept the original foyer doors, and added schoolhouse globe light fixtures and a fireplace with seating.

The store opened October 2. A special celebration will be on October 25 from 5 PM to 8 PM; other stores on the block will also be open late.

Bazzani Associates handled the design and construction.

Source: Roni Devlin, Literary Life Bookstore & More

Photograph by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Already a hit in Chicago, LEED-certified neighborhoods get a look in Grand Rapids

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) wants to move the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) concept beyond specific buildings to encompass entire neighborhoods. Grand Rapids and several other municipalities have answered the call to participate in a pilot program, LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System (LEED-ND).

The local LEED-ND Member Circle consists of representatives from 11 companies, 10 nonprofits, and several universities. Metro Grand Rapids is one of 236 US communities researching how to bring LEED principles to neighborhoods.

"LEED-ND is a certification that provides for independent third party verification that a development's location and design meet accepted high standards for environmentally responsible sustainable development," says Linda Frey, executive director of the USGBC West Michigan Chapter, the group heading up the local pilot program.

LEED-ND looks at a neighborhood's 'green' possibilities, including:

  • A smart location with links to housing, jobs, schools, and transportation.
  • Diversity of housing, transit facilities, and road design.
  • Universal accessibility, particularly for disabled people.
  • Local food production.
  • LEED certified green buildings, reduced water use, and reuse of historic buildings.
  • Building designs that maximize solar energy.
  • Minimization of nighttime light pollution.

The group meets to educate themselves on the proposed program and to do preliminary fact-finding.

"When the post-pilot phase begins in 2008, we want to have informed people who can participate in the next step, which is the public comment period at the national level," Frey says. "Based on the feedback, the rating system is revised and improved."

In 2009, the revisions will be put to a ballot using the USGBC's consensus process and approval by the Congress for New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council, before becoming a certified LEED rating system.

Source: Linda Frey, US Green Building Council West Michigan Chapter

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

The nominees for Best Interior and Exterior Renovations are...

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Twenty Grand Rapids neighborhood businesses received nominations in the Best Interior Renovation and Best Exterior Renovation categories for the 18th annual Neighborhood Business Awards. The awards, sponsored by the Neighborhood Business Alliance and Neighborhood Ventures, honor neighborhood businesses for their successes and help market those businesses to the rest of the city.

P & S Party Store at 801 Madison received a nomination for the Best Exterior Renovation. Storeowner Sunny Singh invested $120,000 in new front windows and doors, awnings, paint, security cameras around the building and in the parking lot, as well renovations inside the shop.

"I heard a lot of good comments from the neighborhood," Singh says. "Everybody told me they like what I did. We're a community store, and I wanted to serve the community better."

The Best Exterior Renovation Nominees are:

  • Brandywine Restaurant, 1345 Lake Drive
  • Cornerstone Architects, 440 Bridge NW
  • Hopscotch Children's Store, 963 Cherry
  • Jonkhoff LLC, 906 S. Division
  • Moxie's Ice Cream & Running Dogs, 332 Union
  • O'Brien & O'Brien, DDS, 1503 Coit
  • Atkinson Enterprises, 537 Leonard
  • P & S Party Store, 801 Madison

Literary Life Bookstore & More, nominated for Best Interior Renovation, opened a few weeks ago after three years of renovations. Owner Roni Devlin, an infectious disease physician, renovated the former Old Kent Bank building into a live/work space with an apartment in back of the store.

"We removed the previous remodeling and anything that interfered with the original intent of the architecture," Devlin says. "We kept the original tile floor, the original foyer doors with the plate hardware, the original plate glass windows were cleaned and sealed, and we kept an original bank deposit counter as the cash register stand."

All told, Devlin sunk over $350,000 into the renovation.

Nominees for Best Interior Renovation are:

Winners will be honored on November 8 at a gala event that is free and open the public. The event will be at the Wealthy Theatre from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Stay tuned to Rapid Growth over the coming weeks for the continuation of our Development News series on the categories and nominations, and for the opportunity to vote online for your favorites.

Source: Sunny Singh, P & S Party Store; Rebekka Kwast, Neighborhood Ventures

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids kicks off campaign to raise $300K for city pools

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

With $94,000 already in the coffers, Grand Rapids civic leaders this week launched Making Great Waves for Kids with a goal to raise $300,000 for the operation of the city pools during the summer of 2008.

"Our goal is to open all six pools, and that's contingent on raising the funds, so we're kicking it off earlier this year," says Rosalynn Bliss, city commissioner. "It's amazing how many people stepped up and made contributions last year, everything from $10 to $25,000."

Last summer, the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department received donations totaling $211,000 that enabled the city to open all six city pools, 11 wading pools, and all of the water playgrounds for eight weeks. Nearly 71,000 people used the pools, including 56,780 youths who swam free of charge thanks to the generosity of Bob Sullivan, Glenn Steil Sr., Peter Secchia, and the Tim Sullivan Family.

In 2005 and 2006, budget cuts forced the city to keep three of its pools closed. That prompted Grand Rapids business owner Roosevelt Tillman, with the help of Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss, to launch the fundraising campaign. This year, Mike Van Singel of Rockford Construction will co-chair with Tillman.

The city also collected and gave away 1,640 swimsuits and 600 beach towels. The city offices at 201 Market SW will accept new and gently used swimsuits and towels Mondays through Fridays between 8 AM and 5 PM.

Checks can be made out to the City of Grand Rapids with "pools donation" in the memo section. Send to the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, 300 Monroe Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503-2206.

Source: City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department; Rosalynn Bliss, City of Grand Rapids

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Best New, Longstanding Grand Rapids' businesses nominated for Nov. biz awards

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Some 90 nominations were submitted for Grand Rapids' 18th annual Neighborhood Business Awards, and two of the most popular categories were Best New Business and Best Longstanding Business. The Neighborhood Business Alliance and Neighborhood Ventures sponsor the awards as a way for the community to honor its favorite businesses.

Pink Blvd, 974 Cherry, just opened three weeks ago and is one of the 'Best New Business' nominees. Debbie Otten, co-owner with Kirsten McLin, describes the store as a "very girly store" offering clothing, accessories, and gifts for women who are mid-20s to "hip mid-50s."

"We love fashion and we love clothes," says Otten. "We also love that East Hills is a shopping destination, where people can walk and shop."

The complete list of Best New Business nominees include:

  • Accents Gallery, 1054 W. Fulton
  • Bloom Restaurant, 962 Cherry SE
  • Bobby J's Downtown, 15 Jefferson SE
  • Bravo Market, 1000 W. Fulton
  • David and Bathsheba, 958 Lake Drive
  • El Chisme, 739 Burton
  • Food Smith, 122 S. Division
  • Gathering Grounds Coffee House, 2404 Eastern SE
  • GV's Clothing, 537 Leonard
  • Lavanderia Jalisco, 2151 S. Division
  • Mangiamo, 1033 Lake Frive
  • Nantucket Baking Company, 208 Union NE
  • Pink Blvd, 974 Cherry SE
  • Rosa's Restaurant, 2046 S. Division
  • Sundae's in the Heights, 2404 Eastern SE

Real Food Café, 2419 Eastern Avenue, is a nominee for 'Best Longstanding Business.' For seven years, the restaurant has served up breakfasts, lunches, and pastries, all made from scratch.

"Many customers come here twice a day for breakfast and lunch," says Frank Amodeo, co-owner with his wife, Renee. "About 90 percent of our customers are people who keep coming back."

The complete list of Best Longstanding Business nominees includes:

  • Mahogany Island of Beauty, 956 Hall SE
  • George Katsoris Shoe Repair, 1558 Wealthy SE
  • Harvest Health Foods, 1944 Eastern SE
  • J. Taylor Electric, 1200 Jefferson
  • Jurgens and Holtvluwer Men's Store, 1054 Leonard NW
  • Kingma's Produce, 2225 Plainfield NE
  • Kleiman's Men's Clothing, 424 S. Division
  • Mika's Boutique, 701-703 Eastern
  • Modern Hardware, 1500 Kalamazoo SE
  • Pickwick Tavern, 970 Cherry SE
  • Real Food Café, 2419 Eastern SE
  • Standard Lumber, 1535 Kalamazoo SE
  • Swift Printing, 404 Bridge NW
  • Viking Fitness, 2111 S. Division

Winners will be announced at a gala event from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. November 8, 2007 at the Wealthy Street Theatre. The event is free and open to the public.

Stay tuned to Rapid Growth over the coming weeks for the continuation of our Development News series on the categories and nominations, and for the opportunity to vote online for your favorites.

Source: Rebekka Kwast, Neighborhood Ventures; Debbie Otten, Pink Blvd; Frank Amodeo, Real Food Café

Photographs by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Volunteer landscapers plant $21K of improvements in two Grand Rapids' neighborhoods

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Twenty volunteers brought some $21,000 of landscape design, trees, sod, and shrubs to two neighborhoods last weekend as part of a grassroots effort to give some new homeowners the yards of their dreams. But there was another reason that prompted the workers to give of their time and talents: the opportunity to bring beauty to neighborhoods that need a leg up.

The three homes, on Griggs SE, Nelson SE, and Elmwood NE, had been sitting vacant. Michelle Gordon, a realtor with Keller Williams, helped low-income buyers purchase the homes. The new owners can afford to improve the homes, but not the yards.

"When you have someone move into a home in a city neighborhood, having attractive landscaping will have a domino effect on the neighborhood," Gordon says. "It also boosts the homeowner's confidence level and that helps them be better homeowners, better parents, better at community involvement."

Gordon enlisted the help of landscape architect Jason Haywood of Signature Landscaping, who volunteered the designs and donated plants. Other volunteers came from local nonprofit Our Kitchen Table and the homeowners' rounded up friends and family.

The volunteers planted a variety of plants, including Japanese maple, spirea, and carpet roses. They spread mulch, laid sod, hauled away junk left by the previous homeowners, and tore down a swing set and tree house.

Gordon contacted the Women's Council of Realtors for help in continuing the project next year. The council has set a preliminary goal of landscaping 100 yards. Gordon will chair the event, and hopes to include landscapers and volunteers from all over the city.

Source: Michelle Gordon, Keller Williams Realty;

Photo:  Some of the volunteer crew (Courtesy Photo)

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

80 plus nominated for neighborhood business awards

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

After a flurry of last-minute nominations, Rebekka Kwast, program coordinator for Neighborhood Ventures, reports that more than 80 businesses are now in the running for the 18th annual Neighborhood Business Awards. Neighborhood Ventures and the Neighborhood Business Alliance sponsor the awards, which recognize outstanding Grand Rapids neighborhood businesses in 11 separate categories.

The nominations represent neighborhood business districts (business districts outside Center City's core) from all over the city, including Wealthy Street, Creston, Seymour Square, Franklin/Eastern, West Fulton, West Leonard, and Heartside.

Nominees range from businesses opened just weeks ago, like David and Bathsheba in East Hills, to longstanding businesses like Boston Square's Mahogany Island of Beauty and Ferris Coffee & Nut in Stockbridge.

Winners receive recognition for their ingenuity, building renovation/improvements, and the creative use of signs, awnings, and window displays. The John H. Logie Award recognizes an individual for his or her community contributions to the betterment of the community at large.

The categories are:

  • Best New Business
  • Best Longstanding Business
  • Best Interior Renovation
  • Best Promotional Event
  • Best New Construction
  • Best Reuse of Building
  • Best Exterior Renovation
  • Best Use of Sign or Awning
  • Best Window Display
  • Best Exterior Maintenance
  • John H. Logie Neighborhood Business Champion

Winners will be announced at a gala event from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. November 8, 2007 at the Wealthy Street Theatre. The event is free and open to the public.

Stay tuned to Rapid Growth over the coming weeks for a series of Development News articles on the categories and nominations, and for the opportunity to vote online for your favorites.

Source: Rebekka Kwast, Neighborhood Ventures

Photograph of Marie Catrib's Restaurant by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids' new economic development director brings the Millenial mindset

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

On September 4, Kara Wood stepped into her new position as Grand Rapids' Economic Development Director with many goals for the city already in mind. Wood, 29, previously served as Director of Downtown Core and the SmartZone Liaison for the City of Lansing Economic Development Corporation. Before that, she was with the MEDC and MSHDA. 0

"Kara is the first 'Millennial' to secure a significant position of leadership responsible for development for a major urban area," says Joe Bergstrom, director of MSHDA's CATeam. "My guess is she is probably the first Millennial to have a such a position, not only in the state, but in the country."

Millenials, also known as Generation Y, are the cohort of people born roughly between 1984 and 1994.

"This is a good example of a city hiring someone who has both experience and youth in her corner to help lead efforts in the 21st century economy," Bergstrom adds.

Wood has a lengthy list of goals she'll focus on. Her top priority is implementing a policy on Corridor Improvement Districts (CIDs), a tax increment financing mechanism for commercial corridors widely supported by neighborhood business advocates.

"There are very few [CIDs] in the state of Michigan," Wood says. "The city is putting together a policy and working to get a plan in place for the funds and the ability to sustain that plan."

Other goals include working more closely with businesses in Michigan Hill's SmartZone to ensure they receive important city services; developing the identity of Michigan Hill by advancing the streetscape improvement and beautification plan; adding business incubator space through the WMSTI; investigating possible Renaissance Zone extensions; and making sure development projects in the city get the resources needed to make those projects happen.

Source: Kara Wood, City of Grand Rapids; Joe Bergstrom, Michigan State Housing Development Authority

Photograph courtesy of Kara Wood

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com

Last chance to nominate your favorite Grand Rapids neighborhood biz

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Midnight Friday, September 21 is the magical hour. That's when nominations for the 18th annual Neighborhood Business Awards draw to a close. If you haven't nominated your favorite neighborhood shop, pub, restaurant, or service, there's still time.

The awards, a joint event of the Neighborhood Business Alliance and Neighborhood Ventures, recognize the achievements of neighborhood businesses in 11 different categories. Winners will be announced at a gala event on November 8 at the Wealthy Street Theatre.

"It's exciting for our neighborhood business owners to have their businesses nominated, and we want as many of them as possible to receive that honor," says Kimberly Van Dyk of Neighborhood Ventures.

So far, organizers have received some 40 nominations.

The nomination form is online at www.shopgr.org, and, remember, you can nominate a business in each of the 11 categories or nominate just one or two. Mail the form (postmarked on or before September 21) to the address on the form, fax it to 616.301.1717, or email your nominations and the category to info@neighborhoodventures.org.

The categories are:

  • Best New Business
  • Best Longstanding Business
  • Best Interior Renovation
  • Best Promotional Event
  • Best New Construction
  • Best Reuse of Building
  • Best Exterior Renovation
  • Best Use of Sign or Awning
  • Best Window Display
  • Best Exterior Maintenance
  • John H. Logie Neighborhood Business Champion

Beginning September 27, Rapid Growth will run a weekly series of Development News articles on the award nominees.

Then, on October 4, visit Rapid Growth and vote online for your favorite nominees!

To inquire about sponsoring the event, please contact Kimberly Van Dyk.

Source: Kimberly Van Dyk, Neighborhood Ventures

Photo of Marie Catrib's Restaurant by Brian Kelly

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

GRPS saves $11.5M on school renovations, moves to build new Hall Elementary

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In 2004, with 11 schools on its list to modernize or demolish and rebuild, the Grand Rapids Public Schools won community approval of a $150 million bond proposal. With all 11 of those projects underway or completed, the school finds it has $11.5 million dollars left—that's enough to rebuild the 12th school on the list—50-year-old Hall Elementary located at 703 Shamrock SW.

"In 2003 and 2004, as we were planning the projects, we built in an amount of money for escalation of costs," says David D. Smith, executive director of facilities management and planning. "Through good fiscal management and that planning, we didn't have to spend that $11.5 million [of contingency money]."

The school board approved the plans for the three-story school at their August 20 meeting. The proposed facility will have 18 classrooms, plus art and music rooms and a gymnasium. Plans include a computer lab, in-classroom technology and Internet access, wireless Internet, and a media center.

Negotiations for property adjacent to the school are in the final stages. A parking area and a pick up/drop off loop for children being driven to school are planned.

Construction begins next spring with the new school going up alongside the existing one. After completion, crews will demolish the current elementary building. That space will become a new playground.

Some of the school's 450 students eagerly anticipate the new building.

"The kids have been showing up over the summer asking why the new school isn't ready," Smith says.

Source: David D. Smith, Grand Rapids Public Schools

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

$15.8M Gerald Ford middle school opens in Madison Square

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Grand Rapids Public Schools recently dedicated the new $15.8 million Gerald R. Ford Middle School at 851 Madison SE. The school replaces the former Madison Elementary, which was demolished in 2006.

The three-story, 86,000-square-foot school will have some 500 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders this year. Each grade will occupy one level.

The school has an amazing list of student-friendly learning spaces, including:

  • A 30-station computer lab
  • A 500-seat gym
  • A cafetorium
  • A music room with flexible acoustics for band, orchestra, or choir
  • A media center with a two-story glass wall and over 8,000 books
  • 18 classrooms with ceiling-mounted data projectors for video on demand and Internet use
  • Wireless Internet throughout the building

Each grade's four core subjects will be taught by pairs of teachers who are teamed up by subject: math/science, and language arts/social studies.

"Each pair of classrooms shares a folding wall so the classrooms can open to each other," says school spokesperson David D. Smith. "Six classrooms circle a common space, and open to that space for special activities."

And the outside is just as impressive as the inside.

"For a small urban site," Smith adds, "we were able to pack in a lot of play features."

Those features include a new baseball diamond and dugouts, soccer field, tennis and basketball courts, and a playground, all of which are open to the public as a neighborhood park.

The facility was dedicated on August 23, 2007. URS Corporation and Isaac V. Norris created the design. Triangle Associates managed the construction. Smith expects the school to receive LEED certification.

Source: David D. Smith, Grand Rapids Public Schools

Aerial photograph by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at

Nominations open for 18th annual GR neighborhood business awards

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Neighborhood Business Alliance and Neighborhood Ventures are accepting nominations for top Grand Rapids neighborhood businesses in the following ten categories:

  • Best New Business
  • Best Longstanding Business
  • Best Interior Renovation
  • Best New Construction
  • Best Reuse of a Building
  • Best Exterior Renovation
  • Best Use of a Sign or Awning
  • Best Window Display
  • Best Exterior Maintenance
  • Best Promotional Event

Nomination forms are available at www.shopgr.org or at the Neighborhood Ventures office at 949 Wealthy Street SE. Deadline for nominations is September 21.

The awards will be presented at a gala event at the Wealthy Theatre on November 8.

Source: Deborah Chivis, Neighborhood Business Alliance; Kimberly Van Dyk, Neighborhood Ventures

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Rapid Growth’s Andy Guy to moderate televised GR mayoral debate

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The Neighborhood Business Alliance will sponsor its first ever mayoral debate tonight, Thursday July 26. The debate, which will be moderated by Rapid Growth’s Managing Editor Andy Guy and broadcast live from the Wealthy Theatre, gives Grand Rapids business owners the opportunity to ask candidates George Heartwell, Rick Tormala, Jim Rinck, and Jackie Miller about their ideas for, among other things, picking up the pace of economic development within the city's neighborhood business districts.

“The goal is to help residents and business owners understand which candidate will support businesses in our neighborhoods and stimulate reinvestment across the city as a whole," said Guy, who's also a project director at the Michigan Land Use Institute and a resident of Belknap Lookout. “We've spent the last 10 to 15 years undergoing a dramatic renaissance in the downtown core. One of the major challenges now confronting the city is replicating that prosperity in our neighborhood business and residential areas.”

The NBA asked members to submit questions for the candidates. The NBA then determined which of those questions to ask tonight, according to NBA President Kelly Wolthuis. Audience members may also pose questions.

"Our members know that their businesses play a vital role in the economic health and success of Grand Rapids," Wolthuis said. "But they want to be assured that the person who is voted into office to lead this great city recognizes the importance of neighborhood businesses and is willing to support them in everyway possible."

The evening begins at 6 PM with a time to meet the candidates. The debate runs from 7 to 8:30 PM and will be aired on GRTV cable channel 25.

Source: Kelly Wolthuis, Neighborhood Business Alliance; Andy Guy, Rapid Growth Media

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Ford International Airport begins $115M parking revamp

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The $115 million parking project at Grand Rapids-based Gerald R. Ford International Airport won't officially break ground until September, but crews are already moving the utilities in anticipation of relocating roadways. Beginning the first week of August, several sections of existing short- and long-term parking and rental car areas will be closed and relocated to make room for a new four-story, 4,900-space enclosed parking structure directly across from the terminal entrances.

Phil Johnson, deputy aeronautics director, expects the parking structure alone will run about $70 million.

"Two sky bridges will connect the parking structure to the terminal," Johnson says. "All of the roadways that come into the airport will change to accommodate the various decision points: rental car return, long-term parking, and short-term parking."

Plans include a 600-foot-long canopy between the parking structure and the terminal, a gateway plaza, elevators and escalators from the upper parking levels to the terminal's main level, and a scrolling message board displaying messages of welcome for specific groups or security messages when needed.

A three-story "welcome wall" on the outside of the parking structure will greet arrivals.

"You'll see it as you walk out of the terminal," Johnson says. "It'll have pictures about west Michigan, depicting the lakeshore, downtown Grand Rapids, Meijer gardens, things like that."

This week the airport launched a communication plan called Ramp Up!, which will assist drivers by announcing updates and information throughout the course of the project. Drivers can get the information at www.flygrandrapids.org, airport radio AM 1610, and recorded messages at 616-233-RAMP. October 2009 is the expected completion date.

Source: Phil Johnson, Gerald R. Ford International Airport; Casee N. Willoughby, Seyferth Spaulding Tennyson Inc.

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

GR to hone green space policy as redevelopment surges

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The need for an in-depth investigation of green space needs and use has come to the fore as the City of Grand Rapids embarks on its requisite five-year review of the Master Plan. When the Master Plan was adopted in 2002, the importance of green space in the city was discussed, but no specific public policy was outlined. That’s about to change.

Several events prompted the need to balance parks, bike and pedestrian trails, and other green spaces with the surge of citywide urban development. They include:

  • The sale of public schools properties historically counted as public parks inventory.
  • Heightened pressure to sell property assets to meet current budget shortfalls.
  • A declining number of vacant parcels.
  • Economic benefit of quality of life issues for the attraction and retention of a talented workforce.
  • Recommendations from the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Parks and Recreation.
  • Recent City Commission decisions regarding Garfield Park, Indian Trails Golf Course, and 201 Market.
  • Citizen discourse over public policy decisions concerning parks and green space.

Mayor George Heartwell will appoint a committee, to begin in October, to consider green space usage and a bike/pedestrian trail plan developed a couple of years ago, among other things. Community forums and design charrettes begin in January. The process will take about 18 months.

“The project is only going to be as good as the public input we receive,” says Suzanne Schulz, planning director. “Are there areas where we’re severely deficient in green space compared to what residents want? Do we need to buy more green space, or should we dispose of anything? I don’t know the answers to those questions.”

Source: Suzanne Schulz, City of Grand Rapids Planning Department

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Dozens of volunteers infuse GR parks with color and care

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Several Grand Rapids parks are bursting with color and new playground equipment thanks to the care of dozens of volunteers. City budget cuts and other influences prompted corporations, schools, church groups, and individuals to plant flowers, pound nails, and offer all manner of talents in unheralded service for the enjoyment of city residents and visitors.

“There’s a number of groups out there, and it’s fairly typical,” says Tom Zelinski, parks superintendent. “We have a fairly consistent group of people that’s come to us over the years and that’s helped us out tremendously.”

Last year, Sam Cummings of Second Story Properties learned that the Parks and Recreation Department needed help maintaining the city’s parks because of budget cuts.

“Collectively we’ve worked very hard at building our city back up,” Cummings says. “We’ve worked too hard and long to go backwards. So I called and asked how we could help.”

This is the second year Second Story Properties, the Downtown Alliance, and the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum are maintaining Veteran’s Park. In May, they planted 672 annuals. Once a month, Second Story Properties weeds and picks up trash. Each group takes a turn at watering.

Elsewhere around town, other volunteers are also hard at work. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War maintain Monument Park; Garfield Park Neighborhood Association spread safety surfaces under playground equipment at Garfield Park; Alticor employees constructed Camelot Park’s playground equipment; De Vries Companies plants and maintains the boulevard median on North Monroe; and Joyce Reed created and maintains a perennial garden at Highland Park.

Source: Tom Zelinski, City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation; Sam Cummings, Second Story Properties

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

GR youth camp re-opens after $2M renovation

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Last week Camp O’Malley on the Thornapple River in Alto re-opened its doors to kids after a $2 million renovation. Since 1939, the Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth operated the 40-acre camp which closed its doors for the first time last year because it couldn’t meet health and safety codes.

“The condition of the main lodge pretty much was the reason why the camp couldn't be opened any more,” says Ryan Wheeler of Rockford Construction, the company who oversaw the renovations.

Now the 3,800-square-foot lodge has a new commercial kitchen, new floors, windows, and HVAC, a renovated three-season porch, and a large addition for breakout sessions and activities. Tongue-and-groove pine trimmed in cedar line the walls.

Other improvements include demolishing the camp director’s old residence and building a new one, constructing a new gymnasium/activity center, and renovating 15 other buildings, including camper cabins, staff cabins, and the pool house. All received new roofs, doors, flooring, electrical and plumbing, and the structures were winterized for the first time since they were built.

Another major overhaul involved the soccer and football fields, which were re-graded, re-seeded, and brought up to high school standards.

“So many kids don't have a chance to see a deer in the wild, or swim in a river or canoe,” Wheeler says. “The biggest thing to me was seeing everybody come together and help out with this. Almost every one of our contractors donated services or materials, or they gave us a break on pricing or just did it for free.”

Source: Ryan Wheeler, Rockford Construction

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

GR's neighborhod business districts ripe for millions in development

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Neighborhood Ventures last week presented the initial results of a study of Grand Rapids business districts and the opportunity for new enterprise in those districts. The study is the basis for ReStore Grand Rapids, a new business recruitment program focused on boosting the retail scene.

The study targeted three micro-regions: Uptown (the business districts of Eastown, East Hills, Wealthy Street, and East Fulton), Southtown (the business districts of Franklin/Eastern, Madison Square, Division South, and Boston Square), and the South West Side (the business districts of Grandville Avenue and Burton Heights).

"Some numbers show that in Southtown there is over $20 million to be made in restaurants," says Kimberly Van Dyk, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures, which who partnered with Local First, Grubb & Ellis Paramount Commerce, and Rapid Growth Media to initiate the study.

"In Uptown, there's over $10 million of economic leakage in grocery store sales," she added. "That is pretty powerful stuff."

Next steps are to present the study's findings to area stakeholders and develop the business recruitment program. Van Dyk hopes that, as the regions move forward with their recruitment plans, each will come up with ideas to enhance revitalization efforts and help lure the businesses they need.

Neighborhood Ventures plans to coordinate efforts and oversee the ReStore Grand Rapids program as it develops.

Source: Kimberly Van Dyk, Neighborhood Ventures

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

New study identifies opportunities to stimulate GR business districts

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The initial findings of a May 2007 study identifying retail and restaurant business gaps in south Grand Rapids were rolled out last Monday to some two dozen civic leaders. Neighborhood Ventures, a local economic development organization, hired Saratoga Springs, NY-based Camoin Associates to conduct the study.

"We hope this study will lay the foundation for future business recruitment and retention efforts," says Kimberly Van Dyk of Neighborhood Ventures.

Business owners in three geographic "clusters" first identified where their customers live and then targeted the types of businesses each cluster would like to recruit. Camion Associates then determined the types of businesses each cluster lacked or had in abundance, and suggested a branding campaign to attract needed businesses.

Following is a snapshot of the findings, organized by the suggested branding campaign:

College Entertainment District: 

  • Geographic area includes Eastown, East Hills, Wealthy, East Fulton
  • Residents are mostly Gen Xers, Y Generation, and Baby Boomers.     
  • Potential customer base extends to Rockford and East Grand Rapids.
  • Suggested new businesses include specialty grocers, gourmet dining, coffee shops, pubs, and a wine bar.

African American History and Cultural District:
  • Geographic area includes Franklin/Eastern, Madison Square, Division South, Boston Square
  • Residents are mostly young African American families. The median age is 27 and 35 percent of residents are under 19.
  • 80,000 potential customers in Kentwood, Gaines Township, and Alger Heights.
  • Suggested new businesses include family restaurants, children's apparel, jazz clubs.
  • Suggested events include cultural arts and entertainment festivals.

Latino History and Cultural District:

  • Geographic area includes Grandville Avenue and Burton Heights
  • Residents are mostly young Hispanic families with a median age of 24.
  • Potential customers base includes the City of Wyoming.
  • Suggested new businesses include cafés, pubs, children's apparel, family restaurant with ethnic cuisine.
  • Suggested events include ethnic food, music, and cultural festivals.

A final study will be released soon.

Source: Neighborhood Ventures; Camoin Associates

Photo by Brian Kelly

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Madison Square school has state’s only rooftop garden in public school system

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The ‘green’ roof at Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy is unlike any other public school in Michigan—240 square feet of it is dedicated to growing organic vegetables planted, maintained, harvested, and consumed by fourth and fifth graders. Mixed Greens, a non-profit children’s vegetable gardening organization, is in its second year of teaching about 25 of the school’s students how to grow and prepare the veggies.

“Our aim is to connect kids back to food and get them to understand where food comes from; it grows in the ground, it doesn’t come in a can,” said Emily Martin, marketing development coordinator. “If they’re growing their own food they’ll be a lot more willing to eat fruits and vegetables.”

As part of a partnership program with Campfire USA, the after school gardening program first planted the garden with salad greens and herbs last August. In September, students celebrated with a salad party of tossed greens topped with ranch dressing they made themselves.

This year, students will meet throughout the summer to care for their garden. The curriculum includes: learning about worms, composting with worm castings, maintaining pollinator gardens grown in large barrels near the garden, and cooking and consuming what they’ve grown.

The vegetables are traditional stand-bys like tomatoes and carrots as well as more unusual plants like Long Standing Batavian Lettuce and Traditional Huazontle Red Aztec Spinach.

This year, Mixed Greens will work with 300 students from ten schools in the Grand Rapids and Wyoming public school systems.

Source: Emily Martin, Mixed Greens

Photography courtesy of Mixed Greens
Deborah Johnson Wood is Development News Editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Sustainable business academy prepares students for green economy

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Leaders at Aquinas College’s Center for Sustainability and Calvin College’s Computer Science Program have developed an innovative curriculum for Comprenew Academy, an after school sustainable business and electronics recycling program for inner city high school youth. 150 teens took the semester-long course last year. This year the Academy becomes a two-year program and only 42 teens will be accepted.

Grand Rapids-based Comprenew Environmental started the Academy in spring 2006. Students recycled electronics from individuals and corporations, including Haworth, Cascade Engineering, and Davenport University. Parts were harvested, laptops rebuilt and resold at Comprenew’s store, and the rest broken down and recycled.

“Comprenew Academy is focused on sustainable business, information technology, job training, and learning how to participate in a workforce,” said Lynell Shooks, director of business development.

Aquinas’ sustainability curriculum will include instruction on energy and material processes, the triple bottom line (profits, planet, people), natural recycling processes, energy issues, and closed loop cycles.

The computer science curriculum from Calvin includes the basics of computer recycling, as well as instruction on Internet services, computer upgrades, and basic computer architecture—networking, creating and managing databases, basic web development, and programming.

The students get “paid” for the program in points which can be redeemed to buy things like laptops and desktops—which they may have rebuilt themselves—or components.

“You can be in business, or you can be in the business of changing a community,” Shooks said. “When students come out of the program they have knowledge and skills that impact their lives.”

Source: Lynell Shooks, Comprenew Environmental

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Deborah Johnson Wood is Development News Editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Energy, historic tax credits focus of 2nd annual GR property owners workshop

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

State and federal historic preservation tax credits, boosting a building’s energy efficiency, federal energy tax credits, and general do-it-yourself repairs are the topics of an upcoming workshop sponsored by the City of Grand Rapids Planning Department and the Historic Preservation Commission.

The so-called Preservation Workshop on House Remedies and Tax Incentives is for residential and commercial property owners, whether or not their property is an historic property.

"This past year everybody’s concern has been the rising price of gas for heating," said City Historic Preservation Specialist Rhonda Saunders. "This workshop is focused on getting people the knowledge and tools to help them make their homes and businesses more energy efficient."

  • Robbert McKay from the State Historic Preservation Office will explain the historic tax credits for improving historic properties.
  • Bob Fegan from DTE Energy will present ideas for making a building more energy efficient and will discuss the tax credits provided by the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005.
  • Brian Black will conduct a workshop on do-it-yourself repairs.

"The things participants learn in the energy efficiency portion and the things they learn in the do-it-yourself portion are all things they could use to apply for the tax credits," Saunders said. "This is an educational tool to help people find these avenues."

Although the presentations will be conducted simultaneously, participants can learn from them all; each presentation will be videotaped and converted to DVD for distribution through the Grand Rapids Public Library and the neighborhood associations.

This free workshop is scheduled for 6:30 to 9:30 PM on Monday, May 21, at Central High School, 421 Fountain Street SE.

Source: Rhonda Saunders, City of Grand Rapids Planning Department

Deborah Johnson Wood is Development News Editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

State and commercial realtors form unprecedented partnership

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

On April 25, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced the nation's first agreement between a state and a commercial realtors association. The announcement came from MEDC CEO James C. Epolito during his speech at "Synergy," the sixth annual statewide commercial real estate conference in East Lansing.

For the first time, the 650-member Commercial Board of Realtors (CBOR), the 80 local economic development corporations (EDC), and the MEDC will use the same online resource, CPIX (Commercial Property Information Exchange), to advertise Michigan's commercial properties.

"CPIX is a statewide commercial property database designed by Michigan commercial realtors for Michigan commercial realtors," said Nancy McKellar, executive VP of CBOR. "A lot of marketing web sites own the data once you give to them and they can do anything they want to with it. They can even stop you from using photos you've sent to them."

With CPIX, the brokers can advertise their properties and control the information, the EDCs can advertise EDC or government properties, and both groups can work together to find buyers. Property information must be verified every 30 days (minimum) or that property becomes non-visible after 60 days.

The database is linked to about 100 web sites that have access to national data.

CPIX was created in 2003 with no members and no properties. Today, 2,400 people are inputting properties and information for approximately 20,000 listings, and the database receives 38,000 hits a day, McKellar said. When the EDCs are brought online over the next few months, McKellar expects the number of properties to double.

"The goal is to have every single commercial property in the state on this database," McKellar said.

Source: Nancy McKellar, Commercial Board of Realtors

Deborah Johnson Wood is the Development News Editor for Rapid Growth. She can be reached at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Voters to decide fate of $2.2M for transit improvements

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

On May 8, voters in East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids, Grandville, Kentwood, Walker and Wyoming will decide if they want a 0.17 millage increase to implement Phase 2 of an improvement and expansion plan for The Rapid public transit services.

The proposed Phase 2 improvements include:

  • New regional transfer points and increased connectivity.
  • New/extended areas of service.
  • Increased weekday frequency (15 minutes) on five main routes during peak hours.
  • Improved Saturday frequency on select routes.
  • Additional weekday evening service and additional Sunday service on select routes.
  • New route to northwest Grand Rapids and Union High School

In 2006, The Rapid's ridership increased by one million rides—five times the national average.

"I think we're at a critical turning point," said David Bulkowski, campaign co-chair for Friends of Transit. "Back in the 20s and 30s mass transit was seen as a way to get around, and cars were a luxury. From the 40s to now transit was a social service. Now we're making the switch back to transit being a great transportation option."

Bulkowski cites the route between Grand Valley State University's Allendale Campus and downtown Grand Rapids as a case in point. Many times during the day there's not an available seat on the bus, Bulkowski said. Students see it as a convenient option to get to work, school, and home, creating a generation of riders who want the availability of that piece of urban infrastructure.

Recently raised issues of the adverse environmental impact of pollutants from buses may or may not be moot. A study done in 2000 indicated that increased pollution from buses (versus cars) could be reduced if the buses used low-sulphur diesel.

"The Rapid's been using low-sulphur diesel for 18 months, which reduced certain pollutants by 90 percent," Bulkowski said. "Plus with the addition of the new hybrid buses, we'll be able to determine if it makes sense environmentally and financially."

The ballot proposal is for a total of 1.12 mills—the 0.17 increase and a renewal of the existing 0.95 mills. If passed, an owner of a $100,000 home will pay $56 a year, an $8.50 increase over the current $47.50.

Source: David Bulkowski, Friends of Transit

Deborah Johnson Wood is the Development News Editor for Rapid Growth. She can be reached at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

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GR designer wins regional LEED design competition

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

The US Green Building Council’s NaturalTalent Design Competition was daunting: re-design an existing 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility into a LEED-qualified space and do it in 10 weeks. The winner, Ryan Garone of Design Plus, wasn’t deterred. He out-designed a total of 71 competitors that included 17 teams of architectural design students from 7 different colleges as well as one designer from another firm

The site selected for the re-design is Comprenew Environmental, 629 Ionia SW, a non-profit electronics recycling and resale center. Last year the company recycled nearly one million pounds of discarded electronics. This year they'll double that.

“The competitors looked at the building from the perspective of the owner and designed a green building with a very small environmental footprint,” said Sam Pobst, president of the West Michigan Chapter of the USGBC.

Water conservation, energy consumption, use of recycled and recyclable materials, indoor environmental quality, and land use had to be addressed. Some of the energy-saving features Garone used are:

  • A 6,800-square-foot double wall glazing system with building-integrated photovoltaic cells that can produce 100 kW of energy
  • Solar glass chimney "heat sinks" that work in conjunction with a modular floor to pull fresh air through the building
  • Eutectic salt tubes sunshade system; a salt solution that easily melts and freezes. Each freeze cycle emits one million BTUs of free heat that can be captured to warm the building.

The design had to provide: 30,000 square feet for manufacturing, deconstruction, storage, and recycling; 20 offices and a Board Room; two training rooms; locker rooms, showers, outdoor gathering space, and 4,000-square-feet of retail space.

"A lot of work went into it," Garone said. "I spent from January to March working on it after work and eight hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays."

Garone won $1,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to the USGBC’s upcoming Green Building Conference in Chicago, where his design will be entered in the national competition.

Comprenew Environmental teaches disadvantaged inner city high school students how to run a sustainable business. Currently the program has about 40 students who harvest and reuse electronics parts, rebuild laptops, and recycle the unusable materials.

“This competition gives Comprenew Environmental the material to do a capital campaign for the renovation,” Sam Pobst said.

Teams from Michigan Technological University and Andrews University took second and third place, respectively.

Source: Sam Pobst, USGBC; Lynell Shooks, Comprenew Environmental; Ryan Garone, Design Plus

Deborah Johnson Wood is Development News Editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

115-plus visionaries participate in 2nd WM regional design charrettes

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In 2005, the first West Michigan Regional Urban Design charrettes sponsored by the West Michigan Strategic Alliance (WMSA) and the American Institute of Architects Grand Valley Chapter tackled urban and environmental challenges in the greater Grand Rapids, Holland, and Muskegon Heights/Norton Shores area.

Those charrettes produced more than plans and designs. They generated, to-date, nearly $7 million dollars in funding for the projects proposed by the charrettes.

More than 115 architects, planners, engineers, residents, elected officials, and other members of the WMSA's Green Infrastructure Leadership Council gathered earlier this month to develop possible solutions for several more projects: the Holland Gateway at 8th Avenue and Chicago Drive, the proposed Bus Rapid Transit route on Division Avenue between 36th and 60th streets in Grand Rapids, and the expected growth around Michigan's Adventure in Muskegon County.

"Charrettes normally cost tens of thousands of dollars," said Katie Kahl, WMSA's Green Infrastructure project manager. "All the professional services we got were pro bono."

The sessions produced a portfolio of ideas that contained drawings, a PowerPoint presentation of each plan, and aerial photos of the areas involved—all the tools needed to pursue funding. Community involvement and implementation are needed, as well.

"It's so exciting to see all the planners and designers and people interested in keeping the environment healthy all in the same room together," Kahl said. "That is a natural partnership."

The WMSA plans to do 45 charrettes in the next five years.

More information can be found at the WMSA web site at www.wm-alliance.org.

Source: Katie Kahl, West Michigan Strategic Alliance

Deborah Johnson Wood is the Development News Editor for Rapid Growth. She can be reached at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Southtown apartments recommended for $190K city housing grant

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

In 1990, the Carmody Apartments at 730 and 736 Madison SE had sat vacant for three years, had been vandalized, inhabited by squatters, and were about one month away from demolition. That's when Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) bought them and upgraded the 19 units to some of the first high-quality affordable housing in Grand Rapids.

The two-building complex was built in the 1920s, and although the upgrades were done in the 90s, another $632,000 in renovations is needed.

The Grand Rapids Community Development Department has recommended the ICCF to the City Commission for a $190,000 grant to cover a portion of the renovation costs. The City Commission will make a final decision on the grant award next Tuesday.

"The flat roofs need to be replaced right away," said ICCF Executive Director Jonathan Bradford. "We need to replace parts of the electrical system, all the kitchens and appliances, the bathrooms and fixtures, paint, carpet, and some doors."

The apartments rent for about $500 a month. Utilities are included. That’s about $400 less that market rate apartments with utilities included.

"We've kept it occupied with families," Bradford said. "It's been very affordable for people who make less than 40% of the area median income."

Source: Jonathan Bradford, Inner City Christian Federation

Deborah Johnson Wood is the Development News Editor for Rapid Growth. She can be reached at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Meetings set to vet GR's new zoning ordinances

by Deborah Johnson Wood

The city continues to gather community and neighborhood input before establishing new zoning ordinances designed specifically to implement the Grand Rapids 2002 Master Plan. A series of meetings between city staff and city residents, and follow-up meetings with the Grand Rapids Planning Commission are planned.

"New zoning areas are being planned since the Master Plan was finalized," said Beth Byron, assistant planning director. "[These meetings] are a continuation of meetings that started last spring."

The purpose of the meetings is to determine zoning that will strengthen and maintain the character of individual neighborhoods based on the findings and plan outlined in the Master Plan. The meetings focus on the language of the zoning ordinances, and on getting input from city planners and residents.

City planning staff will meet with residents to determine which issues can be decided by consensus, and which need further discussion. Matters needing further discussion will be referred to the Planning Commission for a tentative decision.

The proposed zoning ordinances will be presented at a public hearing with the Planning Commission on June 14. They will then be presented for a final decision at a public hearing with the City Commission on August 14.

The public is invited to attend the meetings and public hearings. Click here to locate the meeting schedule and the times for the public hearings.

Source: Beth Byron, Grand Rapids Planning Department

In just 5 years, nonprofit catalyzed $20M in Southtown development

by Deborah Johnson Wood

Since 2002, Lighthouse Communities, Inc. has invested over $20 million residential and commercial development dollars in Grand Rapids' south side, and renovated 400 housing units in low-income neighborhoods to stimulate community revitalization. At 6:30 tonight they celebrate that achievement and their first five years in business at a gala fundraising event at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

"Turning a community around is a complex task and cannot be achieved in isolation," said David Allen, Executive Director. "Throughout these years, we have learned to share resources and efforts with partners, and, when it makes sense, to build on current efforts."

Lighthouse has focused their development expertise on the Madison Square and Baxter neighborhoods: renovating vacant houses and renting or reselling them, building new townhouses and retail spaces and leasing them, constructing The Avenue Apartments Senior Housing, administrating Cool Cities grants, creating Uptown Village, and more.

In 2002, its first year in business, Lighthouse completed the renovation of fewer than 20 housing units at an administrative cost of over $20,000 per unit. By creating strategic partnerships and leveraging funds, they have been able to renovate more houses (150 in 2006) for fewer administrative dollars per unit (about $7,000).

They are also an active partner in the Get the Lead Out! initiative to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by making children's homes lead safe.

Looking back over Lighthouse Communities' accomplishments and partnerships, David Allen said "We could never have achieved this level of growth and impact if we were an insular 'we will do it all on our own' agency. We are happy to have come this far with a shared vision in mind."

Source: Lighthouse Communities

Photograph of David Allen by Brian Kelly

$213K Weed & Seed Initiative boosts safety for southeast side neighborhoods

By Deborah Johnson Wood

Officer Adam Baylis has been a community police officer in the Madison Square neighborhood for the past seven years. He has attended block club meetings, talked to school groups, worked with the neighborhood crime prevention organizer, strategized new tactics for dealing with crime, and patrolled his beat on foot, on bicycle, and by car.

Most of this is paid for by the Grand Rapids Police Department. But due to budgetary constraints, some police training and services wouldn’t be possible without funding from the Department of Justice’s Weed & Seed Initiative.

“The police are doing the ‘weeding,’ so half our funding goes to them,” said Lou-Ann Brown, site coordinator for the southeast side W&S program. “The ‘seeding’ is the startup money to get things going in the community.”

In the last two years, the initiative gave nearly $213,000 to community police for foot patrols, stepped up drug enforcement, and other undercover work. Out of that, $25,000 was earmarked by the DOJ for gang-related programs like last fall’s four-day Gang Resistance Education And Training (GREAT) conference attended by Officer Baylis and five other officers.

“At the conference we networked with others, experts talked to us about interrogation of suspects and the psychology involved, and we also took some defensive tactics courses,” Officer Baylis said.

The officers learned how to track and identify gangs, and how to work with young kids to prevent gang involvement. They also learned the history of gangs, which Officer Baylis said gave him a different perspective on the mindset of the individuals.

The CP have put their knowledge to work in an anti-gang taskforce to track and identify gangs and gang members.

Another function of CP officers is to be visible in problem areas at times when crimes are likely to occur. That means working at night, and the Weed & Seed funding has helped pay for the resulting overtime.

While Officer Baylis and others have seen positive returns on their efforts, the stats may not bear that out.

“I don’t have the stats in front of me,” Officer Baylis said, “but these programs may actually show a rise in crime stats because as we’re doing the programs we’re uncovering crime that we may not have been aware of before, and that crime is getting reported.”

Source: Lou-Ann Brown, Weed & Seed Initiative; Office Adam Baylis, Grand Rapids Police Department

Is 10,000-plus parking spots enough?

It’s been said that Grand Rapids doesn’t have a parking problem--we have a walking problem, and people just can't park close enough to where they want to go.

The City of Grand Rapids owns and/or operates approximately 10,000 parking spaces:

  • 4,000 ramp parking spaces in CenterCity.
  • 800 surface parking spaces in CenterCity and surrounding neighborhoods. 
  • 2,000 spaces in two Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) lots located south and west of CenterCity.
  • 2,400 on-street metered spaces throughout the metro area.

These numbers do not include privately owned lots such as those managed by Ellis Parking, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Bridgewater Place, Grand Rapids Community College, and others. The city does not keep an accurate count of these spaces, meaning there's limited public data on the total number of spaces citywide.

The issue of parking need has come up recently in public forums as some local leaders push to add additional parking capacity on vacant lots awaiting development. 

The city's DASH shuttle service carries an estimated 2,000 people per day from parking lots on the perimeter of CenterCity to downtown said Pam Ritsema, Grand Rapids parking system director.

“Rather than having 2,000 passenger vehicles entering downtown, we have ten DASH buses spread out along the route,” Ritsema said.

That still leaves about 8,000 city-owned and operated parking spaces and an untold number of private spaces waiting for cars to occupy them on any given day.  

The city's CenterCity lot, tor example, includes 4,000 ramp spaces, 2,600 of which are leased by corporations. That leaves 1,400 available for downtown visitors.

"On February 13, we had 545 visitors parked downtown at the peak hour between noon and 1 PM," Ritsema said. "A total of 2,400 visitors parked downtown throughout the day."

In other words, out of 1,400 visitor parking spots, 855 were empty on a non-event day during peak usage. Even more are empty during off-peak hours.

Portland, Oregon, a city nationally recognized for its revitalization strategies, purposely limits parking within its downtown.

“Paid parking allows us to use pricing as a tool for managing the number of cars downtown,” said Roland Chlapowski, senior policy director for Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams, who heads the city's transportation office. “We use paid parking to discourage unnecessary car trips. We get positive feedback from businesses because paid parking promotes customer turnover; people can’t afford to park in a spot and leave their car there all day.”

“We’ve tried to make our downtown a place where people want to live,” Chlapowski said. “If you can get people to live closer to where they work, you cut down on traffic right away, but you retain the vitality of having people there.”

Grand Rapids generates nearly $10 million in annual revenue from parking, including fines. It's dubious whether that revenue outweighs the combined costs of time spent stuck in traffic, pollution, limited customer turnover, and the massive amount of land area dedicated to surface lots.

Source: Pam Ritsema, Grand Rapids Parking System; Roland Chlapowski, City of Portland

Photograph by Brian Kelly

Innovative gadget makes city parking more convenient

A year ago, the City of Grand Rapids Parking System Department introduced a new gadget to make it easier than ever to find convenient parking in the city.

That gadget saves drivers money by allowing them to pay only for the time they are actually parked, instead of paying for time left on the meter when they drive away. It eliminates the chance the meter will run out before more money can be added. And the gadget eliminates the need to tote buckets filled with quarters to park around the city.

That gadget is the In-Car Parking Meter.

“It looks like a Palm Pilot that hangs by a hook from your rearview mirror,” said Pam Ritsema, parking system director. “It comes with a debit card that drivers can get in any amount from the city office.”

It works like this:

Let’s say you park at a curbside meter and you want to use your in-car meter. First, you enter a parking zone code provided by the parking system department. You insert your special debit card into the in-car meter to start the timer, you hang the in-car meter on your rearview mirror, and you go about your business. When you leave the parking space, you insert the debit card to stop the timer. The parking fee is automatically calculated and deducted from the special debit account you set up when you picked up your gadget from the city office. Simple, convenient, and easy.

It also practically guarantees parking that’s closer to a driver’s destination than parking in a ramp or a surface lot. And with over 2,400 meters throughout downtown and the city, that’s a lot of convenient parking.

“It’s popular with vendors, realty companies, and people who have a lot of meetings downtown,” Ritsema said. “Seventy meters are currently in use, and we have more available.”

Use of the in-car meter is free, but requires a $65 deposit that is refunded when the meter is returned.

Source: Pam Ritsema, Grand Rapids Parking System Director

The Rapid targets federal funds for $33.6M bus rapid transit system

Last week, the leaders of The Rapid authorized the pursuit of federal funding for a proposed express bus route servicing downtown Grand Rapids, Health Hill, St. Mary’s Hospital, and Division south of Wealthy. But first, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) must be included in the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council’s Long Range Transportation Plan.

The projected cost of the new BRT is $33.6 million, which includes the purchase of up to ten 40-foot, low floor, diesel-electric busses.

“The BRT is the preferred local alternative,” said Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager at The Rapid. “The federal process is rigorous, with no guarantee of funding.”

With a north terminus at Rapid Central Station and a south terminus at Division and 60th streets, the BRT would run along Division Avenue to Lyon Street to Monroe with routing to Health Hill during peak hours. The route would deliver passengers to the core of downtown, Spectrum Health, GVSU Cook-DeVos Center, and Grand Rapids Community College.

A pay-before-you-ride system and dedicated BRT traffic lanes are planned features of the express system. At peak hours, headway will be approximately ten minutes, with a round trip of 80 minutes for the nearly 10-mile route.

The Rapid staff will pursue federal funding for the BRT through the Very Small Starts grants program. If approved, the project could include numerous new substations, traffic signal priority for BRT vehicles, level boarding on busses, and a branding campaign to promote the mass transit option.

The Rapid hopes to present its recommendations to the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council for inclusion in the Long Range Transportation Plan soon. Because the project is still in the planning and research stage, no start date is available.

Source: Great Transit Grand Tomorrows January 24 report; Jennifer Kalczuk, The Rapid

The Rapid proposes $2.2M in mass transit enhancements

The question is simple: do Grand Rapids residents view public transportation as an amenity for the poor, elderly, and disabled, or do they view it as a critical piece of urban infrastructure that adds vibrancy to a community and its economy?

The answer to that question may be the deciding factor on whether or not improvements to Grand Rapids’ public transportation system, The Rapid, will become a reality.

On December 6, the Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP) board voted to adopt Phase 1 of the improvements recommended by comprehensive operational analysis (COA) for The Rapid, the regional bus service.

The improvements include: making existing routes more effective, rearranging current routes to make transfers and route connections easier, and adding a route to Metro Health Village in Wyoming. The costs for making the changes are estimated at $200,000 and are within The Rapid’s current budget.

Phase 2 includes: a new bus route for northwest Grand Rapids, enhanced connectivity of routes in Kentwood, Wyoming, and Walker so riders don’t have to go to the downtown lot to transfer, additional weekend buses, and increased frequency of buses.

The Rapids’ current budget cannot absorb the $2.2 million needed for the improvements. They may require a tax increase of approximately 1.8 mills.

David Bulkowski, executive director of Disability Advocates of Kent County, attended the December meeting and supports the proposed changes.

"If you invest in transit, the community reaps significan economic, social, and environmental benefits," Bulkowski said, adding that, even if a millage vote passed in 2007, the improvements wouldn’t be in place until 2008.

“[If the millage passes] the average taxpayer is going to see their tax bill go up $10 to $15. I can show you how to save that by taking the bus,” Bulkowski said.

As co-chair the Friends of Transit, Bulkowski has helped run millage campaigns for The Rapid in 2000 and 2003. Both times, at least 65 percent of voters voted yes. He said he looks forward to running the next campaign, as well.

Source: David Bulkowski, Disability Advocates of Kent County; Plans for Improvement, Ridetherapid.org

17th Annual Neighborhood Business Alliance Awards honor local businesses

On November 16, the Neighborhood Business Alliance (NBA) honored 11 neighborhood businesses for excellence in areas ranging from Best Window Display to the coveted Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Award. The awards ceremony drew nearly 300 local business owners and their families, city officials, and neighborhood residents to Grand Valley State University’s Loosemore Auditorium.

“[The honorees] are nominated by people in their business district,” said Philip Chaffee, NBA Board President. “There were 100 businesses considered for the award. A selection committee toured all the nominees, and then spent a day deliberating. Every nominee got a certificate of excellence, and the first place winners got a trophy.”

First Place winners are:

  • Best Exterior Renovation: Café Aromas
  • Best Interior Renovation: (Tie) Kitchen Design Studio, Inc., and Grand Woods Lounge
  • Best Window Display: Imagination Creations
  • Best New Construction: David D. Hunting YMCA
  • Best Exterior Maintenance: Belden Brick
  • Best Sign/Awning: Blue Door Antiques
  • Best Reuse of a Building: DeVries Properties for Clearwater Place
  • Best Promotional Event: Poetry Night at the Urban Beanery
  • Best New Business: City Knitting
  • Best Longstanding Business: DeVries Jewelers
  • Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Award: Dwelling Place for Martineau Apartments
  • John H. Logie Neighborhood Business Champion Award: Bob Israels

The Neighborhood Business Alliance is a volunteer organization started by former Mayor Gerald Helmholdt to advocate on issues that affect neighborhood business and to promote the economic vitality of the city.

Over the past 20 years, the alliance has grown to 600-plus member businesses from each of the city’s 20 local business associations. One of the its more recognized marketing campaigns is Shop Outside the Box.

“We basically act as a voice for the neighborhoods,” Chaffee said. “We have committees that are looking at ways to promote the message about local business, the diversity they offer and that they’re unique businesses.”

Source: Philip Chaffee, Neighborhood Business Alliance


Changes to Millennium Park’s master plan unveiled today

Five years ago, Kent County Parks officials developed a master plan for their crown jewel attraction, Millennium Park. Much remains the same – a testament to the planners’ vision – but proposed changes will be unveiled today from 3-7pm at the park’s Beach House.

Millennium Park, which drew nearly 500,000 visitors last year, stretches 1,500 acres along the Grand River on the city’s southwest side. It connects Johnson Park with John Ball Park to amass nearly 1,800 acres of green space total. Inside are picnic areas, a beach with volleyball courts and other facilities, trails, sculptures and a host of other amenities nestled into the natural setting.

Proposed changes to the master plan are huddled in three areas.

Some changes are under consideration for the gateway center on the park’s east end, near John Ball Park. An “international play area” is planned that will suggest such faraway destinations as the Alps and Easter Island to youngsters. A new civic plaza, enlarged trailhead, welcome center and park administrative offices are also possible.

In the middle of the park, officials are planning a commons area, complete with picnic areas, parking, restrooms and education facilities (both a heritage and nature center). The major change here is the relocation of the nature center to cut down on the amount of land disturbed throughout the park.

On the west side, improvements to the wetlands system are planned – including a concerted effort to rip out invasive species of plants. And the park’s trail system will be enlarged to nearly 20 miles, according to the new plans.

To date, nearly $20 million has been spent on land acquisition, construction and conservation. The master plan’s original budget is $25 million; about $15 million coming from the county, $5 million from the state and another $5 million from private donors. Roger Sabine, parks director of Kent County, said additional funding would come from grants and donors.

Source: Roger Sabine, Kent County Parks Director

Madison Square is awarded $100,000 and ‘Cool Cities’ designation

The state awarded the Madison Square neighborhood a $100,000 Cool Cities grant on July 20, to be administered by Lighthouse Communities, a local nonprofit behind much of the community’s revitalization efforts.

About half the money will help pay for new windows and façade upgrades on the Hubb – a 53,000 square foot commercial building at 1515 Madison Ave. that will house internet startups. Owner Horace Demmink has already moved his company, PathWay, a low-cost internet service provider, into the building. He plans to spend nearly $2 million renovating the building and adding a state-of-the-art networking room that should attract high-tech tenants and nearly 160 workers.

Remaining funds will pay for streetscape improvements and other neighborhood ventures.

Madison Square, a tight knit residential community that borders a collection of aging industrial buildings, is poised for major change as new townhouses and businesses continue to sprout. Neighborhood organizers gathered community input earlier this year to better cope with the changes. The end result: a “design charrette” that calls for a community park, improved public transportation, streetscape upgrades, business district signs and rezoning of underused industrial spaces for commercial and residential developments.

Robert W. Swanson, director of the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Growth, said he hopes the Hubb project will catalyze such neighborhood change. Besides the grant funding, Cool Cities designees receive priority access to other state grants, tax credits and services designed to invigorate neighborhoods.

Source: Robert W. Swanson, Department of Labor and Economic Growth; Horace Demmink, PathWay; David Allen, Lighthouse Communities

Photograph by Brian Kelly - Rapid Growth

Madison Square gains new senior housing

After demolishing a vacant local branch of 5/3 bank, the construction of ten new residential units dedicated to senior living are near completion at 1300 Madison Avenue.

The $1.5 million Avenue Apartments will offer one- and two-bedroom units with rents starting at $400 per month to qualifying tenants. Construction is scheduled to be completed in July 2006.

The project reunites Lighthouse Communities, a nonprofit development firm, with design firm Isaac V. Norris and Associates. Their first project in the area was Madison Townhomes, completed in 2005. Vanderkodde Construction is the general contractor for the Avenue Apartments.

Source: Jeremy DeRoo, Lighthouse Communities, www.lighthousecommunities.org

Madison Square plans for parks, walking, and new business

Building a new park on the former South High football field, reusing old industrial sites, and redesigning streets to calm traffic and encourage walking were the key ideas emerging from a recent community planning session in the Madison Square area. Another key idea involves redeveloping the intersection of Madison and Hall to draw more attention to the business district.

Lighthouse Communities, a non-profit housing developer, sponsored the two-day planning and community design session. Focus was on four primary areas, economic development, transportation, housing, and community health. It involved a wide range of participants, including more than 50 residents, businesses, and city staffers. Representatives from the Rapid, the local transit provider, also participated.

The session marked the beginning of a long-term reinvestment plan for the Madison Square district, a neighborhood undergoing dramatic and intense changes. Property values in the neighborhood, for instance, are rising 240 percent faster than incomes.

At the planning session, residents and civic leaders offered numerous ideas for improving the neighborhood. Key themes involved maintaining public green space, recycling underused industrial sites, and promoting a pedestrian friendly neighborhood and business district.

Source: Jeremy DeRoo, Lighthouse Communities, www.lighthousecommunities.org

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