Tag Archives: Grand Rapids

Monroe North’s untapped potential to produce leading edge medical and technology startups

Grand Rapids’ Monroe North is positioned to be THE hotbed of leading-edge technology startups –so why isn’t it the nucleus of incubator development?

The SmartZone on the west end of the Medical Mile stretches north of Michigan Street a few blocks. Within it and adjacent to it sit vacant buildings where researchers and technology gurus could be changing the world, creating jobs, drawing employees to the neighborhood to work and live, and investing millions in VC dollars.

The stage is set, the curtain is ready to open, but the show is far from ready.

The Planning Commission recently approved an Area Specific Plan — a three-year-long project launched and guided by the Downtown Development Authority — outlining the vision for pedestrian and transit access to and from the Medical Mile and to and from downtown, and a vision for public access to the river. The ASP also incorporates a vision for pedestrian access to nearby Belknap Lookout — where thousands of furniture craftsmen lived when the furniture factories buzzed with activity. Those workers, including my great-grandfather Henry Hoenicke who was a brass polisher and lived on Shirley St. NE, traversed the hill to and from work every day. The steep dilapidated stairway is still there near Division and Newberry (??), covered with brush.  That daily trek to and from med-bio and technology startups is totally feasible if access was available, making living in Belknap a prime residential option.

Admittedly, I haven’t done the research to find out if there are buildings designated as brownfields in addition to the upcoming Imperial Metals rehabilitation, but if there are it would be a tremendous boon to the district to get them cleaned up and rehabbed. If I had the money myself, this is one area I’d be watching very closely for economic development and I’d be rallying the city to open the area to the rest of the downtown and the hill.

But longtimers in the business district — Jack Buchanan who renovated the Brass Works Building and is tackling the Imperial Metals rehab, and Jim Zawacki, owner of Grand Rapids Spring and Stamping — don’t hold out much hope of attracting technology startups to the SmartZone — it’s been in existence for years and no one’s jumping on it. Zawacki’s take is that building owners don’t want to develop the incubators. Buchanan says a core issue is employee parking — there isn’t any. Perhaps the lack of interest is because of the parking issue — which is a definite problem and one not easily fixed.

Developing parking is nuts-o in the finance department. Suzanne Schulz of the city planning department told me recently that each space in a city ramp costs $20,000; a surface parking space costs $7,000. As I said, nuts-o.

With Boardwalk, Monroe Terrace, Landmark Lofts and Newberry Place, housing has  boomed and people are living in delightful urban neighborhoods close to the , downtown and parks. Icon on Bond sits empty — how sad for the neighborhood and the city. But there are galleries and pubs/eateries making a go of it — so I think the district is primed for technology startups to set up shop.

The way I see it, if developers don’t build some high-tech incubators in Monroe North soon, the window of opportunity will close.



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My return to the city — what’s that hammering in my chest?

Last Saturday, I returned home to Grand Rapids after a weeklong writer’s conference on Glen Lake in beautiful northern Michigan. As I approached the city, heading south along US-131, River House rose into view. Almost immediately I felt my body tense and my heartrate jump. I expected the tension to disappear, but it didn’t. It’s still with me, a week later, albeit not as strong as it was.

I’ve read a lot of articles about how living in an urban environment creates stress: traffic, people, noise, activity, air pollution, etc. But I didn’t think that applied to me. Until this week. I’ve paid close attention to my environment this week — noting the undercurrent of traffic noise I hear when I’m at home (a mile from I-196), noticing that there’s never any total darkness at night and that I’m always aware of people being around, even when I’m walking my dog in the early morning and no one is in sight.

Don’t get me wrong — I love living in GR, I’ve been here 14 years and I’ve never been happier living anywhere. In fact, I’d love to live downtown in the heart of it all.

But I wonder, at what cost do I live in Michigan’s second largest urban area?  For all the conveniences of living close to stores, entertainment, fab dining, coffee shops, friends, bike trails and green spaces, is it worth it?

I think that I think it is… but I can no longer ignore the effects of living urban.

So, fellow urbanites, that brings me to my next steps — but what are they? Yoga? Meditation? Prayer? Knitting? What do you do to help yourself cope with living in the city? What brings you the physicality of peace in the midst of the hubbub?

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My Giant Little Town

The joys of second guessing!

The Grand Rapids Press article by Troy Reimink about the new promotional video to promote our city (actually west Michigan….unless Grand Rapid’s urban sprawl has made it’s way to the lakeshore) is copied below.  But first, a little conversation among friends.

The video is OK.   It was commissioned by the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.  Obviously it is meant to promote Grand Rapids and the lakeshore as a place to visit, spend some money and have a little fun.   As you can read in both the article and the comments (from the Mlive peanut gallery) it’s open to debate if this video really captures the soul of this area.

I know when I visit somewhere, it typically is because of a great, natural setting (Leelanau Peninsula), specific events (Memphis in May), specific attraction (Great Wolf Lodge, Cedar Point, Detroit Tiger game)  or world class attractions and restaurants (Chicago).

Which leads me to a question, is Grand Rapids at the tourist destination level yet?  It is a great place to live, work, raise a family, and play.  The quality of life is outstanding!  However, unless you are here on convention business, I don’t know if it is vacation-worthy.   Certainly, expanding Grand Rapids to include the lakeshore region, especially Saugatuck, Holland and Grand Haven changes the picture…those cities and surrounding areas are certainly vacation-worthy but I don’t really consider Grand Rapids to be lakeshore. (I know, it’s about marketing)

For what it’s worth, if I was responsible for promoting Grand Rapids as a tourist destination I would do whatever it takes to create, develop, promote “buzz-worthy, memorable, big idea” events and attractions.  As an example, here are couple of ideas in the pipeline:

ArtPrize. Love it, hate it, don’t care about it….it doesn’t matter.  If it can live up to it’s vision, and attract world-class artists (and hopefully thousands of subversives) to the city for a two-week period, this really will be something memorable and unique.  It will certainly generate a buzz.  It will be talked about.

Another project that could change the landscape is the Grand Rapids Whitewater initiative.  If you haven’t followed this very closely you should.    Without damaging the existing fishing experience, this project would create a stretch of whitewater that would attract recreational rafters, kayakers, and other water-loving enthusiasts to downtown Grand Rapids.  Although we might not realize lengthy stays in area hotels, it would bolster the experience of those who are staying here all ready plus attract the “day-trippers” who would probably be hungry and thirsty after a day on the river.

Back to the video. Call it second guessing or back seat driving. Call it whatever you like, but it is a great debate for anyone who feels that enhancing our city, for both residents and tourists is critical to the quality of life we enjoy in Grand Rapids.   What do you think of My Giant Little Town?

Does the ‘My Giant Little Town’ campaign with Brian Vander Ark capture the best of Grand Rapids?

by Troy Reimink | The Grand Rapids Press

A scene from the tourism video "My Giant Little Town" by Brain Vander Ark.

A scene from the tourism video "My Giant Little Town" by Brain Vander Ark.

My Giant Little Town ( < click on this link to view the video)

We’ll have a story up on this soon, but we wanted to share some video from a campaign to promote Grand Rapids, which features a song called “My Giant Little Town” by former Verve Pipe singer Brian Vander Ark.

As one of the city’s better-known musicians (assuming Anthony Kiedis was unavailable), Vander Ark is a natural choice for the clip, put together by the Grand Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau as part of its “Michigan’s West Coast” campaign.

His track reflects the “big city but not” reputation Grand Rapids has managed to develop. Take a look/listen:

Brian VanderArk performs ‘My Giant Little Town’

Vander Ark last year provided vocals for a song titled “This Time,” which was part of a feel-good marketing campaign for Detroit (understandably a tougher undertaking) and for the Detroit News and Free Press newspapers:

But getting back to the Grand Rapids promotion, a lot of the images are obvious — city skyline, Meijer Gardens, art museum, etc. — and fairly generic. One (and by “one,” I mean “I”) can’t help wondering if the producers missed a chance to include some of our city’s more idiosyncratic elements.

I would have suggested some of the following:

• The fluoride monument

• Rob Bliss Urban Experiments (zombie walk, pillow fight, chalk flood), etc. On second thought, maybe portraying the city as overrun with zombies might not have the desired promotional effect.

• Adults playing kickball


• Outdoor events such as Festival of the Arts, Eastown Street Fair, the Local First Street Party, Avenue of the Arts, Founders Fest, etc.

• The thriving culture of bikes, scooters, mopeds and the like

• The weather ball

Any other suggestions for how to sell our city?

E-mail Troy Reimink: treimink@grpress.com


  • Well Michigan is into cars. Get a race going like St Pete, Florida does. GR would have way bigger crowds.
  • Sell GR as the home of the two most successful con artists in history; DeVoss & VanAndel
  • This ad portrays Grand Rapids as a quaint, quirky, wannabe metropolis.
  • How about the visitors bureau makes an ad that portrays Grand Rapids for what it is truly: the most successful city in Michigan, the fastest growing in Michigan (in the country?), and the future of a state looking for its footing.
  • We are always going to be a “giant little town” unless we act like what we are trying, and want to be.
  • our Giant little Town, home of the Keebler elves.
  • The CVB should stop selling to the world that Grand Rapids has a CVB. Get rid of the logo and and CVB precense. Sell the city, not the CVB. It’s as if Meijer’s hired an ad agency to do a commercial and the agency put in their watermark at the trailing end. Now wouldn’t that be hysterical?
  • Walkable? Wow! Walkable… I want to go there!
  • Grand Rapids is also known for being a college town. I think if I was VanderArk I’d have dug into that culture a little more… and maybe the coffee shop culture a little bit, too. But then, I’m a recent college grad and current coffee lover, so I guess that makes me biased. 🙂

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50 Things TO DO Before You Turn 50 in West Michigan

  1. Attend a real memorable, intimate  concert
  2. Attend a real memorable big concert
  3. Throw a really cool party
  4. Buy a new grill
  5. Canoe the mighty Kalamazoo
  6. Enter the Hot Dog Hall of Fame
  7. Conquer the Fifth-Third Burger
  8. Get the band back together
  9. Volunteer
  10. Become the next Wolfman
  11. Sing
  12. Go perch fishing
  13. Become a citizen journalist
  14. Make a film
  15. Spend the day in Milwaukee
  16. Be catered to
  17. Smoke a stogie
  18. Learn to cook
  19. Start a business
  20. Record a CD
  21. Turkey hunting with Rod Benson
  22. Learn to play the guitar
  23. Become a home brewer
  24. Fly fish with Glen
  25. Run a long ways
  26. Do something good
  27. Buy a new bike
  28. Learn something new about coffee
  29. Hobnob at a film festival
  30. Birdwatching for raptors
  31. Get a dog
  32. Throw a really big party
  33. Catch some rays
  34. Ride your bike a long way
  35. Watch a sunset
  36. Write a book
  37. Golf, golf, and more golf
  38. Become a master gardener
  39. Chill
  40. Make the world a better place
  41. Barbecue with the best
  42. Buy some beef
  43. Go on a Mission
  44. Go to a favorite restaurant
  45. Las Vegas junket
  46. Chicago junket
  47. Detroit Tiger junket
  48. Begin training
  49. Do something cheesy
  50. Find a steal

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$20 Tuesdays at Restaurant Bloom

For those of you who have never tried Restaurant Bloom, you are missing out on a culinary gem.  When you walk down Monroe Center in Grand Rapids, you may have looked into the window of the former Cafe Solace window and thought, “Wow, that place looks like it would be expensive.”  But on Tuesdays, you get a three course taste of culinary at its best for a mere $20.  

My friend Kimberly and I went today for an early dinner and here is what we had…

Deviled Eggs

A Trio of Deviled Eggs: Classic, Smoked Paprika, and Scallion. (The scallion was my favorite!)


Roasted bass, braised cabbage, potato, and lemon vinaigrette. (The braised cabbage was amazing!)

Panna Cotta

“Hard boiled egg” panna cotta (Vanilla Panna Cotta with what I think was a frozen apricot mousse center) with toasted coconut and apricot.  The crunch of the toasted coconut, the chew of the dried apricot, the creamyness of the panna cotta and the cold of the apricot mousse all mixed in your mouth for an incredible bite. That was my dessert. Kimberly’s dessert was…

carrot cake

Carrot Cake with a Sweet Pea Ice Cream and Cream Cheese Icing.  The Sweet Pea ice cream really tastes like peas!  You would never have thought to pair it with the carrot cake, but it mixes with the cake and the icing and really balances out the denseness and adds its own layer of flavor.

Everything was amazing, the food, the experience over all, it was a nice escape from the real world.  I left completely stuffed and in a happy daze.  I would highly recommend you try it.  Every week the menu is different and you can sign up to receive the new menu by email.

Visit their website by clicking here.

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3 Awesome Things to Do This Weekend in Grand Rapids

Getting in a slump because winter just won’t quit?  Spending a lot of time at home watching TV and eating pizza?  Why don’t you spice things up and do something fun this weekend?  Here are three events that are top on my list:


1. Kids at Heart – The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is throwing a fundraising event for adults only.  Have a blue martini while playing the pvc pipes Blue Man style!  Hit up the pasta bar and get your fortune told.  Have a cheesecake pop while watching the magician! Check out an exclusive showing of the Secret Art of Dr. Seuss.  All the while feeling good about yourself because the money goes to keeping the museum open for the kids.  Come on, its all about the kids.

2. Awesome 80s Prom

– From the NY show’s websiteThe Awesome 80s Prom is a blast-from-the-past party in the style of Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding and The Donkey Show set at Wanaget High’s Senior Prom… in 1989!  All your favorite characters from your favorite ’80s movies are at THE PROM, from the Captain of the Football Team to the Asian Exchange Student, from the Geek to the hottie Head Cheerleader, and they’re all competing for Prom King and Queen. And just like on “American Idol”, the audience decides who wins, all while moonwalking to retro hits like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go!”  Come “Back In Time”, to quote a Huey Lewis tune, and join the breakdance circle or just sit back and watch the ’80s drama unfold.  Come on, you know you have a Members Only jacket somewhere… and if you’re lucky, you’ll even get to dance with The Captain of the Football Team.

3. Women’s Expo – From the informational website: Bigger and better than ever, Women’s Expo will feature more than 400 booths, seminars and presentations on two stages during its three-day run atDeVos Place. Last year, more than 15,000 attended Expo, making it the largest single consumer event in the region for women. From shopping to sampling new foods to talking with physicians and other professionals, Women’s Expo gives attendees access to a broad range of products, services and presentations under a single roof.  The event will showcase old favorites – from on-site massages to cooking demonstrations – along with new offerings – including golf lessons from local pro Patti Butcher to artwork from nationally renowned artist Paul Collins – to create the popular annual event, which has come to be known as “spring break for women.”

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Give your Honey, a Honey Wheat for Valentines Day

I recently had the pleasure of taking a tour of Founder’s Brewery.  First of all, I love Founder’s beer.  If you have never had it, go to the grocery store (or if you live near Grand Rapids, MI go to Founder’s) and buy some.  I really like their Honey Wheat and I never say no to a pitcher of their Pale Ale.

Founder’s was founded by Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers and opened its first location in the Brassworks Building (on Monroe Ave) in 1997.  The two met at Hope College and at the time there was only one brewery in Michigan: Bell’s.  They both loved home brewing and finally decided that it was time to start doing what they love. 

Dave was the one who gave the tour and mentioned that his Mom taught cooking lessons while he was growing up, so he had always been in the kitchen with her.  He says that the kitchen work really gave him the base of how to work with flavors that he now uses in making beer.

Along with building a brewery, they added a Tap Room, which kept them afloat for a long time.  But finally they said, “we need to do something different.”  So they completely revised their business objective to “Its all about the liquid.”

They also started focusing on more unique beer styles, for example Scotch Ales, to entice new segments of the market.  When they introduced their now popular Dirty Bastard to their investors, they were told “No way, you can’t sell that, its offensive!”, so they sent it to a beer competition and won 1st place in the Scotch Ale category.  “We figure, either you fly or you fall and die.  We’re gonna go down on our own terms.” Now, Founder’s is the 7th highest rated Brewery in the World and the 3rd highest rated brewery in America.

It doesn’t look like they are going to fall and die any time soon.  Just less than a year ago, they moved to a new, larger location on Grandville Ave.  “We had to move because we couldn’t fill all of the orders, we were only filling 50%.”  Even with the new building they said that they aren’t filling 100% of the orders.  Is an expansion in the workings? “Hell Yes!”


So, to sum up, Founder’s Brewery is growing  by following the best business objective I can think of: by putting their product’s quality first.  I highly recommend you try what they’ve been brewing.

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