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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos courtesy of Ferris Coffee and Corridor Coffee Shop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ian Lockwood Series

March 12 at New Holland Brewery Pub on 8th

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

March 13 at Maas Auditorium Hope College

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local librarian led the way

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

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

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

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

“It’s more than books”

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

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

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

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

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

School year hours:

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

June 18 - August 17, 2018 hours:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Uccello’s Hospitality Group.

Natural lifestyle brand gears up for new retail location on Wealthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Leigh Ann Cobb for Fox Naturals.

Housing NOW! recommendations draw community concern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Mental Health Foundation HQ lends more visibility to nonprofit mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images and video courtesy of OST.

Construction on new Michigan Mile 44-unit Midtown CityZen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local First announces inaugural 2018 Good for Grand Rapids awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fulton Square gears up for full house in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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