ADA — The future of the quaint village of Ada lies in creating a moderately dense, mixed-use downtown where residents and visitors alike can live, work, play and eat.
Stakeholders in the village’s downtown area — located 10 miles east of Grand Rapids in the shadows of the global headquarters for direct-selling giant Amway Inc. — say they see significant opportunity and demand to capitalize on the growing number of people around the country moving to walkable communities.
“I think (those trends) fit us like a glove,” said Bob Kullgren, board chair of the Ada Downtown Development Authority (DDA). “It’s very clear on both the residential and retail side of things, there’s way more demand than supply. People want to live in downtown Grand Rapids. I think there’s an equal amount for whom living in a small, little place is very appealing to them.
“We’re hoping the development that might happen is kind of multi-generational. We’re not looking for just empty-nesters. We’re not looking … just for Millennials.”
The village, with support from Amway, has created a multi-phase plan that will get rid of some existing shopping centers and create new residential and mixed-use buildings.
While the exact number of residential units remains unknown, Kullgren said he believes the demand could support around 100 new units in the village’s downtown.
Beyond residential, the burgeoning district has already begun to attract a variety of new business tenants. Grand Rapids-based general contractor First Companies Inc. plans to begin construction this spring on a new two-story building — that will have the capability of having a third story added to it for potential residential use — with an interior design and architecture firm already lined up as tenants. The building is scheduled for delivery in fall 2016, according to First Companies Vice President Kevin Vreugdenhil, who declined to disclose the total cost of the project.
“From a contractor point of view, it’s exciting to see smaller cities pull new business in and put money toward updating their downtown,” he said.
The concept of transforming the village of Ada into a mixed-use downtown predates many of the trends bigger cities such as Grand Rapids are now experiencing.
The desire to have a mix of residential and retail around the area came out of a series of design charrettes in the mid-2000s, Kullgren said.
The challenge: The village core has a mix of property owners, some of whom did not share the vision presented by several of the residents.
“Under those circumstances, it’s hard to make things happen,” Kullgren said. “So we were fortunate that along the way, Amway took notice of the fact that there were certain impediments to our dreams coming true. They managed to acquire some properties and consolidate ownership. … Now that these properties are under common ownership, it’s more likely that future development has the possibility of happening.”
To accomplish the goals set forth by the planning process, the township aims to invest in three major infrastructure projects: parks, streets and parking solutions.
Specifically, Kullgren said the village wants to increase public green space, particularly along the Thornapple River; recreate its network of streets with a “focal point” in the village and connect with main roads such as Fulton Street (M-21) to the north; and conduct a parking study to ensure the village has “adequate parking” to support the kinds of retail and restaurants it hopes to attract.
To support the various infrastructure investments, the costs will be split between Ada Township and Amway. Kullgren said the costs are estimated at about $13 million.
The village hopes to have the infrastructure projects completed in three to four years, he added.
The village of Ada joins a list of West Michigan communities trying to reinvent their small town downtowns. Municipalities such as Sparta, Cedar Springs and Hastings all have sought out ways to reinvigorate their main street districts and bring new investment to their communities, as MiBiz has previously reported.
Like many of the aforementioned towns, craft beer will play a part of the revival in Ada, too.
Matt Michiels, owner of Ada-based craft brewery Gravel Bottom Brewing and Supply, said the current brewery is maxed out at its existing 2,000-square-foot facility and will use the downtown redevelopment plans as a catalyst for expansion.
Gravel Bottom plans to build a new 10,000-square-foot facility that will allow the craft brewery to grow its capacity tenfold to between 2,000 and 3,000 barrels annually, according to Michiels.
“I’m just excited to be part of the development,” Michiels said. “I’ve wanted to be part of a small community and not just a tax ID. This will help us become a destination.”
Michiels projects spending between $2.5 million to $3 million on the expansion, which he hopes to begin by the middle of 2017.
Helping to facilitate the growth of existing businesses such as Gravel Bottom Brewing and creating an environment that will attract new companies fit the goals Kullgren outlined to MiBiz for the current redevelopment project.
“I think one important thing for a village of (our) size — which is smallish — it needs a good mix of residents and retail,” Kullgren said. “There’s very high demand for residential and I think that’s true throughout West Michigan as it grows. I think retailers understand that having people live in the village and being able to walk in the village to their establishments is an important thing.”