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Tuesday, 15 May 2012 16:34

Repurposing shipping containers could lower start-up cost; group proposes temporary restaurants in customized containers

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Repurposing shipping containers could lower start-up cost; group proposes temporary restaurants in customized containers Courtesy photo
GRAND RAPIDS — Intermodal: Eastown is the nameplate on a new plan to bring high-quality street food to the city. 

The Urban Renaissance Group wants to develop shipping containers into customized small commercial kitchens around the city, offering a temporary location for entrepreneurs to try their hand at running a restaurant. The group wants to test the concept with a location on Wealthy Street, but needs to first get the city's and the historic preservation commission's approval to move forward.

When MiBiz last spoke with the URG, the group had encountered some delays with the historic preservation commission, leading them to secure another Eastown location. The group will again meet with the historic preservation commission May 16. The backup site will be under a purchase and development agreement, while the primary location is currently under lease.

Sources behind the development say Grand Rapids, compared to other vibrant metropolitan cities, lacks street food vendors and the vibe that comes with those businesses.

With the Grand Rapids planning commission's recent approval of the temporary food concession bill, organizers want to create an opportunity for local restaurants and other food-based startups.

Nicholas Mika, business development manager for URG, said the company is going before the planning commission in June for final approval.

The proposed site is a lot that had housed a former Marathon gas station at 1201 Wealthy Street SE at the corner of Wealthy and Fuller Avenue, across from Sandmann's BBQ.

"You look at cities like Portland and Austin: They have fantastic street food with a whole culture built around it," Mika said. "We don't have that yet. It's coming, but we hope this can be one of the catalysts behind that."

While a food market with several vendors is the first step, Mika said putting a building on the site is what the group eventually would like to do.

"It's designed just to be a place holder, so it's just something temporary to do between development," he said. "The overall goal is to do a permanent development there; we don't know what that's going to be yet."

Mika said Intermodal will likely be set up as a nonprofit organization. URG will lease containers to Intermodal, which will then lease them out to vendors.

URG is in talks with a few vendors already, including a pizza company and a gelato retailer, although the company has yet to secure leases as all parties are awaiting the planning commission's decision.

"We hope to be a breeding ground for new restaurants in town with new ideas and (for) growing the food culture," Mika said.

On the other side of the coin, those same potential vendors URG is talking with are also helping the group in understand zoning, permitting and health code regulations.

Mika said the groups is still learning what vendors' needs are and what their price points are.

Originally the idea for the food market came from an OpenIDEO challenge, an online innovation platform for entrepreneurs, Mika said.

Recently, repurposing shipping containers has become something of design trend and metropolitan cities across the globe have adopted the idea, creating homes, "box malls" and food markets with the containers.

"We're paying a lot of attention to how (the market) relates to the neighborhood," Mika said.

What the shipping container kitchens offer is a lower start-up cost for entrepreneurs versus a food truck or a physical restaurant location. Mika said he expects the price to be between $8,000 and $15,000. Rent for a container could range from $250 to $800, Mika said.

URG received its first container from Chicago, which came pre-fabricated with a serving window and insulation. The group hopes to lease three to four containers to start and will also be responsible for fabricating the rest of the containers. Mika said Lamar Construction Co., who they've hired for another project, is helping URG with the retrofits.

The next step for the project is to raise about $30,000 to invest in cleaning up the lot and purchasing common area necessities such as tables and seating.

URG has only been together for roughly eight months. Mika works with founding partner Bob Dykstra and project manger Mike Dykstra. The group also owns the Harris Building at 111 South Division Street in Grand Rapids, which played host to the most recent SiteLab event.

Other projects the URG currently has in development are a high-end boutique retail store on 28th Street and Cascade Road, as well as a new building in Muskegon.


Read 6273 times Last modified on Thursday, 02 August 2012 17:24

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