GRAND RAPIDS — Three Grand Rapids women on a mission to “keep Creston funky” have entered into a partnership to bring back Gaia Cafe and The Division Avenue Arts Collective LLC, this time in the city’s north quarter neighborhood.
The partners are under contract to purchase a vacant 4,972-square-foot building at 1553 Plainfield Ave. NE, which has commercial space on the ground floor and a two-bedroom apartment on the second level.
If everything goes to plan, the building will house Gaia Cafe, the beloved vegetarian/vegan restaurant formerly located on Diamond Avenue in the East Hills neighborhood, and The DAAC, an all-ages venue for music and visual art, exhibitions and community meetings. Plans for the building also call for another commercial space, likely an office or studio.
The project will go before the Grand Rapids Planning Commission on Thursday, Feb. 14 for a hearing on a special land use related to The DAAC.
Lizzie Grathwol, DAAC board member Charity Lytle and Gaia owner Andrea Bumstead hope to start renovations in April. The partners would co-own the building, with Grathwol serving as the building manager.
“The building itself is already super funky,” Bumstead said. “I’m excited to see how we can build out this space and do something that’s very usable, but also very funky.”
Searching for space
Both Gaia and DAAC were displaced from their previous locations, and Lytle and Bumstead have been on the hunt for new sites ever since.
Gaia Cafe, a beloved vegetarian/vegan restaurant founded in 1982, was previously located at 209 Diamond Ave. SE. Bumstead, a longtime employee, bought the branding and recipes from former owner Rick Van Dam, who closed the business and sold the building in 2014.
Bumstead has since raised more than $30,000 via a Kickstarter campaign to reopen the cafe, although several opportunities for a new space fell through, she said.
“Gaia isn’t for me, it’s for the community,” Bumstead said. “It’s about giving the community back what the community deserves.”
Bumstead eventually connected with Lytle, who had been on a similar trajectory in trying to find a home for The DAAC, which occupied space on Division Avenue for 10 years. After the building was sold to a new owner, The DAAC then moved to a couple of temporary locations, but has not since had a permanent home.
“I have been feeling like we have enough community support and people want to see us back,” Lytle said. “This is one of the last-ditch efforts to bring it back, because we’ve tried so many different iterations.”
The search for a new location led Lytle to approach Bumstead about partnering with her and Grathwol. Lytle and Grathwol had both served as co-founders of the nonprofit Girls Rock Grand Rapids.
Grathwol, who had prior experience as an owner of residential rental properties, offered to help and found the proposed Creston location. The longtime vacant building remains “in need of significant repair,” she said, noting it has no power, plumbing or HVAC.
If granted a special land use by the Planning Commission, the partners will need to complete an environmental study on the building and then finalize the purchase agreement, Grathwol said.
Lytle is requesting the Planning Commission grant the DAAC a special land use permit for community center and assembly space, as the group plans to host live music performances and after-school arts programming for youth. The space would have a capacity of 99 people.
No on-site parking is available, so the group also is requesting a parking waiver from the city. According to city documents, the current parking need is 43 spaces. Lytle said there is potential for an agreement with neighboring Berean Baptist Church for use of its parking lot. On-street parking also is available on Saunders Court and Plainfield Avenue.
The three partners believe their proposal will bring forth development and activity that aligns with the Creston neighborhood.
Nearby activity includes the proposed Boop de Boom Coffee Lounge LLC, which is targeted to open this year at 1511 Plainfield Ave. NE after owners raise needed capital, according to an announcement in January on the company’s Facebook page. The coffee shop had originally targeted to open in the building now being considered for Gaia Cafe and The DAAC.
Grathwol hopes that the new businesses can benefit each other and help enhance the neighborhood.
“The hope would be to bring foot traffic to Creston and make it a place for people to come and walk around, shop, eat food,” Grathwol said. “There’s quite a bit going on there right now.”