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DGRI offering retail grants

Organization wants to encourage retailers to move downtown.

December 13, 2019
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For the past 20 years, the population touching downtown Grand Rapids has doubled, according to Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., but despite the boom in foot traffic, retail options still are scarce.

DGRI for over the past year has been offering retail incubation grants to encourage retailers to move downtown. To date, seven business recipients have received grants and are bringing a fresh mix of restaurants and retail to the downtown core with more on the way.

Ambiance GR Kitchen & Lounge is an incubator grant recipient set to open early in 2020. The American/Cajun fusion restaurant and bar lounge plans to be a space where “diversity is celebrated, and all patrons feel warm and welcomed.”

“The grant is just a tremendous amount of help to the project,” Ambiance spokesperson Jonathan Jelks said. “We were going to do the business regardless, but the fact that Grand Rapids is incentivizing businesses in that way is extremely unique and creative.”

The total project cost is about $300,000, and Ambiance GR has received a DGRI incubator grant of approximately $45,000.

The restaurant will be located in the former Raggs to Riches restaurant space inside the Ledyard Building, at 125 Ottawa Ave. NW.

Ambiance is focused on being a small, live entertainment venue that hopes to add something unique to the DNA of downtown Grand Rapids, Jelks said. The types of music that will be highlighted are jazz, hip-hop, electronic, salsa and meringue, and more.

“We want to open things up and be a place where artists from Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee come and visit with frequency,” Jelks said.

Construction is expected to wrap up within the next couple of weeks, and Ambiance GR will open to the public early in 2020, pending liquor license approval.

The menu will consist of standard American bar fare and Cajun-inspired dishes, which Jelks said makes the restaurant unique in the downtown space.

“If you’re not in the mood for Cajun, you can still find good burgers and tacos and chicken wings at Ambiance,” Jelks said, “but if you are in the mood for Cajun, definitely come see us because we got some specialty dishes that currently aren’t served here in downtown Grand Rapids.”

Nathan Peltier will serve as head chef at Ambiance. The leadership team consists of Lacy G. Jones as general manager, as well as Jelks, Alvin Hills IV, Jamal Chilton, Jamiel Robinson and Willie Jackson.

DGRI also recently approved a retail grant for Mel Styles to open at 315 S. Division Ave. The custom men’s tailor owned and operated by Archie Sudue aims to provide affordable and high-quality suits to customers in the downtown core.

“We focus more of our attention on custom suits,” Sudue said. “Instead of renting an off-the-rack suit for $250, you can own a suit for $250.”

Sudue has run Mel Styles for about three years but has been chiefly working out of his home. With the new storefront, set to open in January 2020, Sudue hopes to boost his business with foot traffic.

Recently, husband-and-wife co-owners Brian Mosby and Shavyea Mosby moved their shop for Mosby’s Popcorn from its former location in Kentwood, at 6155 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, to Grand Rapids, at 15 Ionia Ave. SW, with help from a DGRI retail grant.

The move was prompted by the need to increase proximity to and visibility within Grand Rapids, which houses its prime customer base and many of the events for which the business is a vendor.

Wyoming restaurant Tamales Mary, with the help of a $30,575 grant, launched a solar- and electric-powered food truck last summer, which operated at Rosa Parks Circle for a six-month pilot project.

DGRI CEO Tim Kelly reported the project was very successful for Tamales Mary, and the restaurant indicated it was considering opening a second restaurant downtown.

Kelly said, with Tamales Mary, Mosby’s Popcorn, Ambiance GR and Mel Styles, the DDA approved approximately $160,000 in grant money made available through tax increment financing.

Six of the seven incubator grant recipients are minority-owned businesses, but Kelly said it is not a requirement for a business to receive grant support.

“It’s a priority of us to activate ground floor space,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of ground-floor commercial space that goes unused. It ebbs and flows, but I would say there are several thousand square feet that are unused at the moment.”

Last week, the DDA approved grants for three of the seven businesses. Husband-and-wife team Shatawn and Nadia Brigham are planning to open an establishment named GRNoir Wine & Jazz at 35 S. Division Ave.

The property is a former sunken lot currently being redeveloped into a $4 million, three-story mixed-use building by Rockford Construction. According to the DDA memo, the Brighams will be investing over $75,000 of their own funds into GRNoir and are requesting approximately $21,000 in grant funds to help underwrite a portion of leasing fees.

The DDA also approved a grant request from Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine. The owners, Gilma and Edward De la Cruz, are immigrants from the Dominican Republic and have been one of Start Garden’s 100 Ideas for the past two years.

The husband-and-wife team plan to open Art Caribbean Fusion at 57 Monroe Center NW. Much of the build-out already is done. The De la Cruzes are investing $5,000 to $10,000 of their own funds into the project and are requesting $36,000 in retail innovation funds to help underwrite a portion of the leasing fees.

Lastly, the DDA approved a grant application from Oh Hello Co., a stationery and planner business owned by married couple Kayla and Alex Benda. The two have been working exclusively online for the past five years but are looking to open a physical location at 40 Monroe Center NW.

The Bendas are investing $25,000 into a build-out of the space and requested approximately $21,000 in retail grant funds to help offset a portion of lease fees.

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