Ambiance GR aims to open by March 2019 in long-vacant space on Ottawa Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. Ambiance GR aims to open by March 2019 in long-vacant space on Ottawa Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. PHOTO: NICK MANES

New lounge and restaurant proposed for long-vacant downtown Grand Rapids space

BY Wednesday, November 14, 2018 11:49am

GRAND RAPIDS — Downtown could soon see its first African American-owned bar and restaurant in years.

The board of the city’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) on Wednesday morning gave its unanimous approval to issue a new Class C liquor license to the proprietors of Ambiance GR LLC, a proposed bar and restaurant in the basement level of 125 Ottawa Ave. NW.

The below-grade space of about 5,000 square feet at the corner of Ottawa Avenue and Pearl Street is in a building owned by a subsidiary of downtown Grand Rapids’ biggest landlord, CWD Real Estate Investment Inc. The space has sat vacant since 2012 when the previous tenant, Raggs to Riches, closed.

In a memo, the DDA said granting a liquor license to Ambiance would promote economic growth and would operate “in a manner that that would be consistent with adopted goals, policies and plans of the (downtown) district, particularly by promoting the competitiveness and vitality of downtown Grand Rapids as a destination for dining, arts and tourism.”

Final approval of the DDA-granted liquor license still rests with the Grand Rapids City Commission.

Representatives Jamiel Robinson and Jonathan Jelks told the DDA board this morning that they plan to open by March 2019.

Lott3Metz Architecture LLC is the project’s architect and Honor Construction is serving as general contractor.

The representatives said the proposed establishment would have regular live entertainment with a focus on jazz and blues music and “southern contemporary” cuisine. The dining space is expected to seat about 80 people.

Developing a “true downtown neighborhood home to a diverse population” is one of the core goals of GR Forward, a master planning process undertaken by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the nonprofit that administers the city’s DDA.

Both Jelks, a consultant and cofounder of Midwest Tech Project, and Robinson, the cofounder of Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, have worked to create opportunities for minority entrepreneurs.

Speaking to MiBiz last year during a roundtable discussion, Jelks pointed to the city-wide focus of bolstering minority entrepreneurship.

“While I’ve been happy about the recent energy that’s transpiring here in Grand Rapids, a lot of the recent energy wasn’t birthed out of some revelation that fell out the sky,” Jelks said, citing a 2015 Forbes article naming the city one of the worst in the country for African Americans and other statistics like the high unemployment rate in the local black community. “These are things that I don’t think a city that is looking to be respected as a global community can afford to continue to suffer in the age of transparency.”

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