GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A former lumber yard on Grand Rapids’ southeast side is the city’s newest event venue.

The team behind The 1530 celebrated its grand opening Thursday afternoon with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

“I’ve had so many folks drive by and stop in and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know this existed,” said Amanda Jones, events director for The 1530. “It’s one of those things that you don’t typically see on the southeast side.”

The 1530 is the latest development by Justin and Nathan Beene, who grew up on the southeast side. The brothers lead the Grand Rapids Center For Community Transformation, which is also housed at 1530 Madison Ave. SE.

“Our mom is white, our dad is Black and we always saw this need for how to create racial unity from a socioeconomic status. And (being) raised in a poor neighborhood, but also having the privilege of going to private schools … we always lived in these two worlds,” said Justin Beene, founder of the Grand Rapids Center For Community Transformation.

He said a Forbes article several years ago naming Grand Rapids the second worst place for African Americans in terms of economics was “the nudge” they needed to act.

“So out of that came this place of creating relationships… between nonprofits and for-profits and community organizations to all kind of live into a collective vision in which they each kept their own organizational structure, but lived into this larger 10-year vision that we call the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation,” Justin Beene said.

Three nonprofit organizations are at the core of the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation: the Grand Rapids branch of the NAACP, Grand Rapids Nehemiah Project and Bethany Christian Services. They help support the center’s three social businesses: Building Bridges Professional Services, Rising Grinds Events & Catering and the newest venture, The 1530 venue.

The brothers say all three social businesses serve as tools to solve social and economic inequalities, moving beyond the social and spiritual methods people typically stick to.

“The natural way that people move out of poverty is that they get a job. They create wealth, they buy a house,” Justin Beene said. “We have to move away from saying, ‘How do we alleviate poverty or make poverty more tolerable?’ And instead we have to ask the question, ‘How do you create wealth? And how do you unashamedly say, ‘We need to create more opportunities for wealth creation in the Black and brown communities.’”

The brothers say they have measured the programs’ social return on investment each year for the past five years and on average, for every dollar invested, there is a $3 cost savings to society.

Building Bridges is focused on hiring and mentoring community members in landscaping and construction, with profit sharing available to everyone whose been there for more than six months.

Rising Grinds is meant to be a “space where the millionaire and the marginalized can come together over a great cup of coffee and have a transformational conversation,” according to Nathan Beene, integrator or the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation.

And The 1530?

“We say really for that, the vision is to be the place for urban transformation, celebration and inspiration,” Nathan Beene said.

INSIDE THE 1530

Stepping into The 1530, you can immediately hear and smell the building’s history as a lumber yard. The pillars and floors are original wood– approximately 120 years old, according to Justin Beene.

Building renovations started about three years ago with windows and the big wooden beams that frame the front entrance, replacing the original wooden beams that burned in a fire. The first set of beams were used for railroad log transfers.

(An April 19, 2022 image shows the replacement wood beams over the entrance to The 1530 venue, located at 1530 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids.)

Nathan Beene says about 60% of the work was done by students and staff on the Building Bridges team and in the youth build program.

“To see people take pride in it as they come through has been really encouraging,” Nathan Beene said.

The teams have replaced windows, refinished floors, added walls, video projectors, a sound system and a garage door that rolls open to reveal an outdoor deck that can seat about 75 people, in addition to the approximately 320-person capacity inside.

(An April 19, 2022 image shows the outdoor deck at The 1530 venue, located at 1530 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids.)

The 1530 features a new 2,100-square-foot LEED-certified kitchen with a walk-in freezer and cooler. The space will serve as a teaching kitchen and incubator kitchen primarily for minority-owned food entrepreneurs when it’s not being used for events.

“Really the value is that we’ll give you a marketplace because we have all these customers coming in. We’ll say, ‘Hey, we have someone who makes an incredible pie. We really want to feature that at an event.’ So (we’re) really working to help those entrepreneurs also get access to business,” Justin Beene explained.

(An April 19, 2022 image shows the colored brick silhouette of the Grand Rapids skyline on the green rooftop deck at The 1530 in Grand Rapids.)

Parking is free and everything inside the 1530 is accessible for people with disabilities. There’s even a wheelchair-accessible elevator leading to Justin Beene’s favorite feature: a green rooftop deck with colored bricks that mimic the city skyline.

He says it’s something they’ve wanted for six years but were told wouldn’t happen.

“There’s something about getting our community up at that space and being on a rooftop deck, a green roof and overlooking your city from that vantage point, that many people never get that kind of privilege… Being on a green roof is kind of something for people who have resources. And there’s definitely not any in our neighborhood — there’s no green rooftop deck,” Justin Beene said. “It shows what I think entrepreneurship innovation and grit can do.”

(Justin Beene looks out at the city of Grand Rapids from atop the green roof deck at The 1530 on 1530 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids.)

For Nathan Beene, the river bar built by the center’s construction team holds the most charm.

Over the next few months, they plan to repurpose the storage containers behind the building into a wine and coffee bar licensed third party vendors can also use.

(An April 19, 2022 image shows the outdoor area at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, at 1530 Madison Ave. SE. The group plans to convert the shipping container into a coffee and wine bar.)

Jones says about $1 million from donors, fundraisers and grants was invested into the space.

“All of the remodeling, all of the new features, a lot of those are because of our donors believing that the space is going to be something that we can give back to our community,” she said.

“It’s a beautiful space and you’re going to have an incredible experience. But in addition to that, you’re actually going to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself,” Justin Beene said.

HELPING THE COMMUNITY HEAL

Before the Grand Rapids Center For Community Transformation and its business partners first leased and moved into the lower level of 1530 Madison Ave. SE a few years ago, the building walls and floors told a different story.

“(We) would drive by this building… as well as the building across the street and just, they had been abandoned and kind of sitting and wasting. And so how do you make something that has been left behind beautiful? How do you make this a sign of hope, of opportunity in our city?” Justin Beene asked.

The center launched a $5 million campaign to buy and renovate the building, located not far from where the Beene brothers used to play basketball and attend church.

“This is where our roots are, and I think it made sense for us as this, the Third Ward, the 49507 community… has been one of the least invested in communities in our city and is about 80% African American,” Justin Beene said.

(An April 19, 2022 image shows the Cottage Grove lounge area inside 1530 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids, which can also be rented for events.)

But then the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Investors took a wait-and-see approach. The center laid off 30 people from its landscaping and construction business and temporarily closed its coffee shop to survive until federal funding and giving picked up.

“We… quickly realized that we were taking on this big challenge where in-person events weren’t a thing. And so it kind of got us wondering what we were going to do with this large space that we’ve been investing in for so many years. Thankfully we started doing virtual events that moved into hybrid events. And now that we’re back to full-time, in-person events, we are seeing a boom in people wanting to get here, get in the space and gather with one another again in person,” Jones said.

The center’s mission drew more support and attention in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

“I think a lot of people kind of said, ‘Well, who’s building relationships across sectors? Who is bringing together people across races and trying to create… a city that’s flourishing, that’s healed or that’s helping the healing process?’” Justin Beene said.

Then, earlier this month, the community was dealt another blow when a Grand Rapids police officer shot and killed 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya.

“It’s a sad sentiment in our city. I mean, in this neighborhood it didn’t happen, but… a few blocks from here. So it’s hard to ask, have things gotten better when you had the most kind of tragic of situations maybe in the history of our city?” Justin Beene said.

“One of our values here is actualizing an optimistic vision where we say even in the midst of chaos, people need solutions. And so we do think about solutions while also acknowledging, the deep pain and history specifically for people of color in this city and in this community and I would say even in our own experiences and our own lives. And so there’s a process of healing that has to happen for our community, for our city, across the country. Far too often, we do skip that process and begin moving towards solutions,” he added.

Last week, The 1530 hosted a community roundtable event with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and community members regarding Lyoya’s death.

“I think having spaces where we can have those real conversations and those relationships, going back to the venue, is critical for our city to move forward,” Nathan Beene said.

The 1530 will be available by reservation Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. to midnight on weekends. The Grand Rapids Center For Community Transformation plans to offer some discounts for people who live in the 49507 zip code. Jones says event rates will range from $75 per hour up to a $2,500 package. For more information, email events@grcct.com.