One Out One In

January 12, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Exactly one week after Debra Lambers quietly closed River Bank Books & Music on MonroeCenter, Ron Neihoff quietly opened Neihoff Fine Art Galleries on MonroeCenter

Neihoff Fine Art Galleries opened for business last Tuesday at 87 Monroe Center, across the street from the closed bookstore.

"I'm really pleased. It's looking good," said Neihoff, a talented nature photographer, of his gallery.

Like Lambers, the Downtown Development Authority awarded Neihoff a grant for the build-out of his leased space. But the grant Neihoff received was much smaller — the smallest the DDA has ever awarded for a building re-use project.

Instead of the $50,000 that Lambers received, Neihoff's grant was $2,500. But while Neihoff has invested about $60,000 in his 2,322-square-foot space, Lambers spent $980,000 on her 8,000-square-foot bookstore and café.

Neihoff said he has sold his photographs at outdoor art shows for the past six years — setting up at 35 just last year — and has grown a bit weary of that. And at least for the next few months, he said he and his family will operate the gallery.

"I've been watching the city explode. It's the finest city in the state, and I've got the best spot in the city," said Neihoff.

The gallery is across

Ottawa Avenue
from the new Grand RapidsArt Museum currently under construction.

"This is a great location for a gallery, as it will have a synergy with the new art museum," said Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Downtown Alliance. "Galleries are great uses in downtown, as they celebrate the arts and culture that is concentrated here."

Neihoff is sub-leasing his space from the city's Parking Services Department, a site on the first floor of the century-old PhinneyBuilding. Although the gallery has an entrance from MonroeCenter, it is also located on the indoor walkway that runs from the MonroeCenter parking ramp to MonroeCenter

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler called Neihoff's grant request unusual because a city department is his landlord. When Parking Services built the ramp, the department's director, Pam Ritsema, only wanted to lease enough space for the walkway. But to get the walkway, the department had to lease the entire first floor from Extra Room of Kalamazoo Inc., and Ritsema decided to sub-lease the extra square footage.

Neihoff signed a five-year lease, with two five-year renewal options, and is paying $14 a square foot for his space. City commissioners approved the contract in September.

Fowler said the grant Lambers received has to be repaid, but he noted it was unsecured. He added that the money went for various improvements to 86 MonroeCenter — the SteketeeBuilding — and those upgrades have been made to the structure. Fowler said he is also speaking about the grant with the building's owner, Rockford Development Group.

"The closing of the downtown bookstore was disappointing," he said. "But starting a new business is always risky."    

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