Growing Grand Rapids and beyond: How COVID-19 hit 20 projects in 2020

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids area started off 2020 strong, with dozens of developments planned to open within a year. Then the perfect storm hit, throwing the market into chaos.

A lot has changed in the six months since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered widespread shutdowns of businesses to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Scroll down to find out how 20 projects have fared since then.

>>DESKTOP USERS ONLY: Click on the flags in the map below to jump to each business featured in the story. (Map not supported on mobile versions of website.)


GRAND RAPIDS

Ambiance GR Kitchen & Lounge | 106 Pearl St. NW
Opening Delayed

The “coming soon” banner has disappeared from the guardrail outside Ambiance GR Kitchen & Lounge, but the promise is still there.

Team Ambiance says it has invested $1 million gutting a 5,043-square-foot space in the Ledyard Building at the corner of Pearl Street and Ottawa Avenue and transforming it into an open modern lounge space with a wraparound banquette.

Demolition at the former Raggs to Riches site began in June 2019. Problems uncovered in the historic building created delays, pushing back the anticipated opening date by months. Then the pandemic set in and a riot erupted downtown, causing minor damage to the business.

In an Aug. 26 update posted on Facebook, the owners of Ambiance GR Kitchen & Lounge said the project is 90% complete.

“We plan on opening Ambiance Kitchen & Lounge when it is safe & advantageous for restaurants, bars & events/nightlife to operate at a lucrative capacity again & when we are able to serve our beautiful community in the way you deserve,” Team Ambiance stated in the post.

The owners say when work is complete, Ambiance GR will be the only Black-owned full service bar and restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids.

Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine | 55 Monroe Center NW
Open

The answer to calls for a brick-and-mortar version of the El Caribe food truck, Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine opened July 10 after months of delays.

Owner Gilma De La Cruz says that at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the health department temporarily halted all restaurant inspections. The pandemic also posed challenges in creating the menu she wanted because of food prices and securing the hand sanitizer dispensers the restaurant needed.

Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine showcases food and art from the Dominican Republic, where De La Cruz grew up. He restaurant has been collaborating with House of Wine next door to create food and wine pairings.

Art Caribbean Fusion’s indoor dining is open at limited capacity. Takeout orders can also be enjoyed in the social zone right outside the business.

The restaurant is located in the deli side of the former Grand Central Market, which closed in January. The other half of Grand Central Market shut down six months later.

El Caribe food truck also continues to operate in the area.

Arvon Brewing Co. | 1006 Division Ave. S.
Open

Arvon Brewing Co.’s first taproom began welcoming beer loyalists on Feb. 21, but closed about three weeks later under state directives meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

During the roughly three months the Grand Rapids taproom was closed, Arvon Brewing Co. shifted to selling beer curbside and by delivery.

Co-owner Brett Bristol says the newly expanded Arvon Brewing Co. didn’t qualify for much help from resources like the Paycheck Protection Program because funding is based on 2019 finances and staffing, when Arvon Brewing Co. was operating out of a 700-square-foot production facility in Grandville with fewer employees.

Nevertheless, between expanded weekly delivery statewide and sold out releases, Bristol says production has jumped about 50% since March.

“All-in-all, we are doing well. Our team is incredibly resilient and like everything else has handled the pandemic with the best attitude and willingness to do whatever it takes to survive and thrive. Our fans are as amazing as they come. We couldn’t be more grateful, there is no question that we wouldn’t have made it without their support and our awesome team,” Brett Bristol wrote to News 8 in late August.

Guests can reserve a seat in the taproom online. Walk-ins are also welcome as capacity restrictions allow. Outdoor patio seating is also available.

Canopy by Hilton | 131 Ionia Ave. SW
Open

The pandemic pushed the opening for Studio Park’s $50 million hotel from June to Sept. 8.

COVID-19 also changed how Canopy by Hilton operates. In addition to mandatory mask usage, extra hand sanitizer dispensers and traditional cleaning procedures, the team at Canopy by Hilton sanitizes each hotel room, sealing the door when finished.

The eight-story hotel at the corner of Ionia Avenue and Oakes Street SW took more than two years to build. It includes 155 hotel rooms, a fitness center, a ground-floor restaurant called Portico and Knoop, which owner and operator Lodgco Hospitality says is the largest rooftop restaurant in Grand Rapids.

Guest rooms at the dog-friendly hotel range from $150 to over $300 a night.

This is the 23rd Canopy by Hilton location worldwide and the first of its kind in Michigan. The next closest location is more than 300 miles away in Columbus, Ohio.

Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse | 122 Oakes St. SW, Suite 120
Reopening Oct. 1

The one-room studio located in Grand Rapids’ Studio Park development opened in early January but was forced to close about three months later under an executive order aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus.

Fitness centers were poised to reopen on June 25 after a judge ruled in their favor, but their hopes were dashed by an eleventh-hour ruling from the Michigan’s appeals court. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer finally cleared the way for reopening on Sept. 9, with restrictions.

Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse plans to transition from the online and outdoor classes it began holding in July to indoor sessions starting Oct. 1

“We are excited to open, but want to insure that we are doing so responsibly,” the business added in its Sept. 4 announcement on Facebook.

The yoga studio says when it reopens next month, classes will be limited to 25% capacity, masks must be worn at all times, everyone must practice social distancing and pre-registration is required.

At full capacity, the studio near the corner of Ionia Avenue and Oakes Street SW fits about 50 students.

GRNoir Wine & Jazz Room | 35 Division Ave. S.
Under Construction

Owners Nadia and Shatawn Brigham originally hoped to open their wine and jazz bar in April, which is National Jazz Appreciation Month. But the pandemic had other plans.

Construction on GRNoir finally got underway in early August. The owners said if all goes well, the work should be finished in 90 days.

GRNoir’s alcohol license request cleared city hurdles and is now in the hands of state regulators for assessment. Co-owner Shatawn Brigham says the team is currently focused on the digital and retail sides of the business.

GRNoir is located at the corner of Division Avenue and Weston Street SE, which sat empty for several years. The new space will host live jazz performances.

The Brighams are focused on providing a meeting space for minority professionals and support for Black winemakers, whom they say account for less than 2% of the industry. Eventually, the owners want to label their own wines.

“Our wine offerings will be amazing, and no matter where you find yourself on the spectrum of experience with wine, GRNoir will have just what you need,” Shatawn Brigham told News 8.

Inner City Christian Federation Madison Church development | 415 Franklin St. SE
Opening Delayed

The dozens of individuals and families at the top of the Inner City Christian Federation’s waiting list for affordable housing will have to wait a little longer than initially planned to move into this new development.

The $23 million project will transform the former Grand Rapids Christian High School into ICCF’s new headquarters, a new campus for Madison Church’s Franklin campus, an early childhood education center, common areas and 41 affordable housing units in southeast Grand Rapids.

Joanna DeMoor-Tannor with Madison Church says several organizations are collaborating on the project and how the space will be used.

Michelle Covington with the ICCF says construction on the development stalled in mid-March for about 45 days until Gov. Gretchen Whitmer deemed it essential work because of the homes it will provide.

Covington says workers are currently adding finishes to the upper floor apartments, dry wall to the third floor and working on the building’s exterior, which includes restoring some elements of the historic fascade. The project also includes adding a parking lot on nearby Morris Street.

Madison Church is expected to announce the early childhood education provider in September.

Covington says the renovations were made possible by a $9.5 million low income housing tax credit, a $1.9 million historic tax credit, about $250,000 from the city of Grand Rapids’ home fund as well as donations from the community. DeMoor-Tannor says Madison Church has collected about $3 million of the $4.9 million it needs for its portion of the project.

A local developer donated the long-vacant building at 415 Franklin St. SE to Madison Square Church in 2015, which partnered with ICCF to utilize the space.

DeMoor-Tannor says if all goes well, the project should wrap up in February 2021.

Küsterer Brauhaus | 642 Bridge St. NW
Opening Delayed

Owner David Ringler says the pandemic and consequent shutdowns brought work on the German beer hall to a screeching halt.

Ringler, who also owns Cedar Springs Brewing Company, had hoped to open Küsterer Brauhaus in July or August before the pandemic changed plans. Now he’s aiming for a 2021 opening.

Named for German immigrant and late brewery owner Christoph Kusterer, Küsterer Brauhaus will include a three-barrel brewery producing signature Küsterer Bier, Bavarian beers and Cedar Springs brews.

The Meat Up Gastropub | 11 Ionia Ave. SW
Plans Scrapped

Restaurant owners Elizabeth and Andy Rosario planned to transform the longtime home of J. Gardella’s Tavern into a three-floor lounge-style restaurant with a menu focused on Argentinian cuts of meat. Then COVID-19 reached West Michigan and the market changed.

Elizabeth Rosario said the uncertainty for downtown business played a role in their decision to withdraw from the deal.

“This was a very tough decision as we were extremely excited about proceeding with this venture,” she wrote in June, adding that she hoped for a brighter future for all small businesses.

A representative for the real estate firm working with the current owners of J. Gardella’s says the business is in discussions with a new potential buyer of the building, which is one of the oldest storefronts in a historic district of Grand Rapids.

Michigan Meadows | 2233 Michigan St. NE
Open and Under Construction

Before COVID-19, developers planned to finish this 87-town house development by late June. Add in the shutdowns and delays prompted by coronavirus, and construction crews are now on track to finish the project by November.

Located just east of Medical Mile in Grand Rapids’ Michigan Oaks neighborhood, Michigan Meadows features 23 buildings and 6 acres of woods.

Jason Wheeler with Pure Real Estate Management says contractors have completed installing streets, sidewalks, street lights, landscaping, driveways and building about 70 of the upscale units, which cost a minimum of $1,795 a month to rent.

PURE Real Estate Management began leasing the two and three-bedroom town homes shortly after the first building was complete. Wheeler says 60 units are already occupied and the remaining 10 are leased for future “remote move-ins,” which uses a key lockbox to curb the number of people in the unit on moving day.

The Morton boutique hotel | 55 Ionia Ave. NW
Opening Delayed

The plan to convert three floors of The Morton downtown into extended stay hotel rooms also hit a roadblock during the pandemic. The project’s targeted opening date for this year has now been pushed back to 2021.

Once the transformation is complete, 32 of the building’s 85 units will be high-end hotel rooms.

The Morton’s owners believe revamping the building’s empty apartments and condominiums into boutique hotel rooms will help eliminate vacancies and make the ground floor commercial space more marketable.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation signed off on the project in December.

(Left to right: Photos provided by Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market show Pinktail Poke and High Tide Soda.)1

Pinktail Poke, High Tide Soda | 435 Ionia Ave. SW
Open

First came the craft sodas, then the poke bowls.

High Tide Soda opened in late December but celebrated its official grand opening in February when Pinktail Poke served up its first bowl.

Both businesses are owned by Jeff Butzow, who also operates Fish Lads and Carvers at Downtown Market Grand Rapids.

COVID-19 has trimmed traffic through the Downtown Market, prompting the venue to alter its business hours.

However, the pandemic hasn’t changed the grab-and-go business model at Pinktail Poke and High Tide Soda, which is also available for delivery through Uber Eats.

Planet Fitness | 234 Market Ave. SW
Opening Delayed

Planet Fitness’ newest location was supposed to open in late spring, then a hotly contested executive order came down, closing fitness centers for nearly six months. Add to that a roughly two-month pause in construction work because of the pandemic and it’s still unclear when the gym will open.

PF Michigan Group is leasing a 24,797-square-foot space in the mixed-use development dubbed 234 Market. The building also includes apartments and a smaller commercial space.

Like other Planet Fitness locations, the gym includes cardio and strength machines and the PF Black Card lounge featuring tanning, hydromassage and massage chairs.

Planet Fitness plans to offer special deals on memberships before and around the facility’s grand opening.

Pux Cider Taphouse | 311 Fuller Ave. NE
Opening Delayed

People in love with Schaefer Cider Company’s line of hard ciders can soon savor one while enjoying views of Fuller Park.

Pux Cider’s Grand Rapids tasting room was expected to open in the first fiscal quarter before 2020 went off the rails.

Despite delays, the building looks starkly different than it did nine months ago. Outside, the owners have repainted the brick, removed the awning and replaced the ramp with a new concrete front patio. Inside, they’ve painted and added drywall, lighting, a bar and other fixtures. The plans also call for a retail area inside.

If all goes well, the Schaefer family plans to open Pux Cider Taphouse next to The Cheese Lady shop in a few weeks.

Residence Inn by Marriott | 10 Ionia Ave. NW
Opening Delayed

Developers of this 146-room hotel had set their sights on a Sept. 1 opening. That date came and went with plenty of work still left to do, thanks to pandemic-prompted delays.

In June, the Downtown Development Authority agreed to change its funding support agreement to ease the blow of the Residence Inn’s roughly $2 million loss from the delayed opening.

Andrew White, general manager for the Residence Inn in downtown Grand Rapids, says construction delays have pushed the opening date for the 13-story hotel to this winter.

The 5,555-square-foot triangular building at the corner of Ionia Avenue SW and Fulton Street will include a ground floor for businesses and a walkway over Louis Street that connects the hotel to an existing parking ramp.

Speciation Cellars | 928 Wealthy St. SE
Now Open

Speciation Artisan Ales opened its first taproom July 31 in Grand Rapids’ Eastown neighborhood.

The business is set back from Wealthy Street, nestled between buildings. Its white, minimalist walls are set off by a mural of living petoskeys over the bar area. Barrels and brewing equipment line the west wall of the building.

Co-owner Mitch Ermatinger says COVID-19 sped up plans to add a new air exchange to the century-old building. The pandemic also pushed the business to turn its parking lot into a dog-friendly patio to help compensate for half-capacity seating inside.

In mid-August, Speciation Cellars brought back a popular vinyl record-playing event, albeit by reservation only.

The new taproom’s drink menu is available online. Outside food is allowed since Speciation Cellars has no kitchen.

Speciation Artisan Ales continues to sell its beer and wine for delivery or curbside pickup — a business method that sustained the brewery during the pandemic shutdown.

Tupelo Honey | 140 Ottawa Ave. NW
Opening Sept. 29

People itching for Southern fare from the first Tupelo Honey restaurant in the Great Lakes region are finally getting their wish.

Executive chef Eric Gabrynowicz says the restaurant at the corner of Pearl Street and Ottawa Avenue NW was 80% complete with pandemic restrictions set in, temporarily stalling construction and making its planned spring opening impossible.

By early September, crews were putting the finishing touches on Hyatt Place’s ground-floor restaurant, which includes an indoor beer garden-style dining area, a 24-tap bar and mural paying homage to Grand Rapids’ Beer City culture.

Outside, Tupelo Honey added patio seating bordered by planters and shaded by umbrellas.

Tupelo Honey took its first table of guests Sept. 22. The restaurant will celebrate its grand opening on Sept. 29. Visitors can expect all the food favorites, including honey dusted fried chicken and shrimp and grits.

Wise Men Distillery tasting room | 146 Monroe Center NW
Opening Delayed

With COVID-19 construction delays over, crews are busy transforming the old Tanaz salon into a new tasting room overlooking Rosa Parks Circle.

At full capacity, the 700-square-foot space in McKay Tower will seat up to 25 people. The bar will carry all of Wise Men Distillery’s traditional spirits and serve up cocktails with a nod to downtown Grand Rapids’ culture.

Opening the tasting room was top priority for Wise Men Distillery before the pandemic hit and Amazon came calling for hand sanitizer. The production pivot helped Wise Men Distillery stay afloat when restrictions forced its bar to close.

Wise Men Distillery General Manager Tom Borisch says if all goes well, the downtown Grand Rapids tasting room should open in October.

BEYOND GRAND RAPIDS

Amazon distribution center | 4500 68th St. SE, Gaines Township
Now Open

Amazon’s first fulfillment center in West Michigan opened March 8, just days before the pandemic officially reached the area.

Weeks later, Amazon announced it was ramping up hiring to keep up with a spike in online orders. The company ultimately hired more than 1,000 employees in West Michigan.

In May, the assistant general manager of the new $150 million Amazon facility tapped Wise Men Distillery to produce much-needed hand sanitizer for his workforce, which had grown to 3,000 employees.

This month, Amazon announced another hiring binge to keep up with surging online shopping. The behemoth company plans to add 100,000 employees worldwide, including more than 1,500 in the Grand Rapids area.

The Pack Indoor Dog Park | 5205 West River Drive NE, Plainfield Township
Opening Delayed

It’s months later than initially planned, but pups soon should run free inside the state’s first indoor off-leash dog park.

Located off West River Drive NE near Jupiter Avenue in Plainfield Township, The Pack will feature TVs and a bar overlooking the open dog play area which will have epoxy flooring. The plans also include Wi-Fi-enabled workspaces for pet owners, a fenced outdoor patio and a kitchen with limited food and beverages, including some alcoholic options.

COVID-19 precautions stalled work on the facility for months. Construction work also hit a snag during the summer because of an unforeseen infrastructure issue.

The Pack is currently hiring part-time employees who will work in the kitchen or with the dogs.

If all goes as planned from here on out, co-owners Joelle Wrona and Raechel Macqueen expect the facility to open mid-November.

Dog day care will be $30 a day with package discounts available. The dog park fee will be $30 for five visits or unlimited yearly access for $200.


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