ADA, Mich. (WOOD) — A decade ago, village leaders came together to come up with a new vision for Ada.
Ten years later, the 200-year-old Ada is a bustling community hub with shops, restaurants, events and beautiful greenspaces.
Ada first put together an idea for the Envision Ada plan in 2006, then came together again in 2013 to put together a more detailed vision. Construction started in 2015.
The township has worked with developers to ensure the design of each building fit with the vision. It wanted to have an aesthetic that paid homage to its history and fit with some existing buildings, like a property built in 1854 that now houses JH Realty.
“What we’ve tried to do is incorporate old and new together,” Township Supervisor Ross Leisman said. “There is a theme in some of the design of 1870s to 1940s that’s put into a lot of new buildings.”
Ada put in place form-based code zoning, he said, which allows the township to regulate things like the size of windows and design details. Leaders wanted to create a unique design that looked historical.
Village East of Ada, an apartment complex set to open in the next few months that will include 92 units across four buildings, worked with the township for about seven months to get a look that fit the area, Leisman said.
The Amy Van Andel Library, a Kent District Library branch, opened in 2021 as a community hub. The $11 million project that combines modern and old design features, was largely built with donated funds, Leisman said.
Walk along Ada Drive near Headley Street and you’ll see a variety of shops, all put up in the last five years but designed to look like older buildings.
The stores and restaurants throughout the village are primarily regional chains or small retailors, from children’s store Tip Toes and coffee shop MudPenny to Myrth, a pizza and pasta shop set to open up this month, and Zeytin, a Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant that’s been in Ada since 2006.
Other shops that recently opened in the village include Plumfield Books, a bookstore that offers books and wine tasting, and the Ada Village Pharmacy.
‘RECLAIMING PUBLIC SPACE FROM CARS’
“They’re all creating this … walkable, gathering, social aspect to the downtown,” John Said, the director of planning for Ada Township, said.
In between some shops are throughways to keep the area pedestrian-friendly and a parking lot hidden behind the development.
“You’ve got that pedestrian focus … reclaiming the public space from cars and giving it back to the people,” Said explained.
He explained the township focused on the details to make it safe and easy to walk, like adding bump out areas at crosswalks to make it easier to cross the street.
Ada has been working on creating a township-wide walkway that connects shops, housing and parks together.
RIVER MARKS THE FRONT DOOR
Along the Thornapple River sit Legacy Park and the Van Andel Pavilion, a popular place for music events that was put in around two to three years ago. Restaurants with patio seating face the river, along with the in-the-works Ada Hotel, set to open in 2024.
Before the project, businesses put dumpsters and delivery areas facing the river, Said and Leisman explained.
“Nobody took advantage of that local amenity — they turned their back to the river. We’ve made it our front door,” Said explained.
Across from the river sit several acres of undeveloped land. The township plans to acquire the majority of the land up to the Grand River and turn it into a public park.
“The open space, the parks and the connecting trails are a big part of the vision. We’ve done surveys, we’ve done planning and that is something that’s really important to the residents,” Leisman said.
The major redevelopment projects are mostly completed. Moving forward, the township will focus on filling in areas. It recently picked two artists to paint murals onto bridges that lead into the village.
There’s also plans for more housing. Six housing units will be coming to an area of Thornapple River Drive and Headley Street, while a housing development along the river will bring a total of 88 units.
Construction is also underway on a building next to the Ada Hotel, which will have retail space and offices.
‘THIS IS A PLACE TO BE’
Said and Leisman explained they want Ada to be a place where people can “live, work, play, eat, shop.”
“People walk it, they love it,” Said explained.
Both men said their kids enjoy visiting them and going downtown.
“They love it, but they don’t recognize it from growing up,” Leisman said.
Ada hosts several events throughout the year that draws crowds, such as Beers at the Bridge, Music on the Lawn and Christmas events. People often go to the village’s covered bridge, built in the 1880s, to take photos, and Ada lights it up for Christmas.
It also offers a social district, so people can pick up a cocktail to-go and walk around.
Leisman said a lot of the projects came about because of private funding.
“There’s a very active partnership between the local government and the private sector to make all of this come together,” he said.
He invited people across the region to come check Ada out, noting that it has an active business association and a Downtown Development Authority that can help new businesses.
“This is a great place to visit. It’s becoming a regional place to come and hang out,” he said. “Whether you want to shop, whether you want to go to a restaurant, whether you want to hear a concert or you want to walk on a trail, this is a place to be.”