A west side story of revitalization in Grand Rapids

Posted at 12:10 AM, Aug 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-13 00:10:33-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It's an area referred to by one business owner operating there as the "it" spot.

With Grand Rapids' west side poised for a major revitalization—with several businesses and buildings under construction—it's yet another business district in the city getting some new life.

The former "Little Mexico" restaurant on the corner of Bridge and Stocking St. will soon house the new "Harmony Hall" brewpub, a spinoff of the popular Eastown Harmony Brewing Company.

Jackson VanDyke, co-owner of Harmony gave FOX 17 a tour of the construction progress Tuesday. The new pub will house three 10 barrel fermenters and two 20 barrel fermenters to brew beer right on site.

VanDyke says they're aiming to be open by early 2015 and choosing to expand their business in the west side wasn't much a difficult choice.

“You could feel the vibrancy of the neighborhood, you could feel that there was momentum happening, and when we saw the opportunity we jumped on it,” he said.

The VanDykes aren't the only ones jumping  at opportunities on the west side, Laura and Seth Porter are working on opening a new gastropub just up the street called "The Black Haron" with a menu focused on Michigan-centric dishes.

“We really love the feel of this area, with downtown being just a quick walk across the bridge," said Laura who is originally from the west side area.

The couple says they plan to open the bar and kitchen, which will feature 85 seats, by November. They also plan to reuse some old wooden beams taken from the roof to make tables for dining.

“We’re shooting for an urban, retro feel to it," Seth Porter said. "We have a 100 year old building here and we wanted to kind of bring that back and celebrate that because it is a part of the west side.”

Celebrating the west side is something Grand Rapids city commissioner Walt Gutowski knows well, having lived there his entire life. Playing a key role in the revitalization efforts, the goal now is to return Bridge St. to its glory days.

"Everything you wanted was here, and people came together, and we see that momentum happening again here just like it did back in the day," he said. “I’ve been here my whole life... the west side is the best side.”

On the to-do list still: possibly adding a median down Bridge St., along with working to improve walkability in the area, and developing a strong neighborhood core.

“What we’re hoping for and what we did our plan about was to bring residential units back here, bring ownership back here, bring business ownership, whether small or large it’s place people feel is home," said Grand Rapids commissioner David Schafer.

With several vacant storefronts now seeing new life, including the new upscale clothing store "Denym," the general mood among business owners is optimism.

"Just seeing this area start to grow... and then seeing it transition was exciting and we wanted to contribute to that," said "Denym" owner Katie Harney.

“Obviously the more the merrier, we’re excited for the new restaurants coming in and there’s a lot of other businesses too on the west side that have come in and support us as well which is awesome.”

Rockford Construction, with its headquarters in the west side, along with 616 Developments is also rehabbing an old red brick building on Alabama Ave. to turn into condos.