An interview with ICCF CEO Ryan VerWeys on the Franklin Campus Project

The Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF), in partnership with the Madison Church, is now offering affordable housing at their recent development at 415 Franklin. Completed in February 2021, the project added 41 new apartments, early childhood education classrooms, and other services in a critical location on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, right between the Madison and South Hill neighborhoods. Designed to emphasize beauty and multi-use functionality, residents accustomed to the former Grand Rapids Christian High School building will notice the restored original brick facade marking a building reborn as a functioning space, where once again people live, work and learn. 

Ryan VerWeys, CEO of ICCF says about the project, “There’s a citywide shortage of affordable places for working families with limited assets and income.” So, in 2015, when the Madison Church, an active community organization that has been embedded in the neighborhood for over 100 years, was gifted the 415 Franklin property by Ed DeVries, Madison Church spent years deliberating how to best utilize the space. 

The goal of Madison Church, as VerWeys says, was to “use the property to serve the community, in some way, 24/7.” So, after evaluating their options, they began working with ICCF to transform the space into an indoor neighborhood, with office space for community service providers, early childhood education facilities, and worship space for people to congregate within. VerWeys explained that during initial conversations ICCF saw a clear opportunity to create affordable housing options in a needed area, and given the unique layout of the building, saw the potential for an innovative mixed-use facility. Together Madison Church and ICCF, with input from various community stakeholders, planned and raised funds for a $23 million renovation to the 70,000-square-foot building, which came to fruition in February of 2021. Now with the available amenities and the housing within, the residents are always able to access some level of service here. 

The project repurposed the old Grand Rapids Christian High School that was built in 1948. The building has seen various uses, most recently serving as the headquarters of the Department of Human Services, but it was ultimately abandoned in 2009. Retaining the iconic brick facade, the project restored the three-story building to a beautiful, multi-functional space for the neighborhood. In addition to affordable housing, as a result of a partnership with Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative and the YMCA, early childhood education classrooms have been leased on the ground floor. Newly added office spaces help house administrative functions for service providers. Madison Church has also found a home here, using the enclosed, vaulted glass ceilings of the atrium for worship services. 

The completion of the Franklin Campus also marks a new chapter for ICCF, who have moved their headquarters into the ground floor office spaces. According to VerWeys, it was a decision that helped both centralize their location within the community and foster a deeper connection with those they serve, as they now share a space. Walking into his office in the morning, seeing people use the space so many have been working to prepare, is inspiring to VerWeys who says, “I’m excited to help bring vitality back to the building.”

Photos by Isabel Media Studios

Southeast Strong is a series funded by the City of Grand Rapids that is focused on the multi-faceted neighborhoods of the city's southeast corridor. Through the exploration of the neighborhoods' entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and community members, the series' local storytellers will highlight the resiliency of resident voices and projects, especially during COVID-19 recovery.

Grant Kammer is a freelance writer based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 
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