GRAND RAPIDS — Leaders of The Diatribe Inc. are planning a mixed-use building that would house the nonprofit’s offices as well as retail storefronts, apartment units and a performing arts venue.
The nonprofit, which uses performing arts to empower young people to share their stories and raise awareness of social issues, has signed an option and purchase agreement for an 18,338-square-foot building at 2040 S. Division Ave. The Diatribe works with about 5,000 students a year across 20 to 30 schools.
PURE Architects is designing the project, which calls for a full renovation of the building. Plans include creating offices for The Diatribe staff, programming space on the main floor for about 30 students at a time, a venue in the basement where students and artists can perform, two retail storefronts for local Black and brown entrepreneurs, as well as eight apartment units to house creatives.
The building would likely qualify for brownfield tax credits that the organization is pursuing, said The Diatribe Executive Director Marcel “Fable” Price.
The nonprofit is working with Kennari Consulting to plan a capital campaign to raise money for the project, which could break ground in 2023, Price said. Organizers plan to prioritize working with minority subcontractors for the renovation project, Price added.
The new building would allow the nonprofit to expand its programming and be able to host events at its own venue for the first time, said Gleason, who serves as a teaching artist and the director of education at The Diatribe. The nonprofit’s current offices are located in the Garfield Neighborhood Park Association building. The group used to hold a weekly open mic, poetry slam and feature showcase at Stella’s Lounge called The Drunken Retort before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
“This building will be a beacon for so much of what The Diatribe stands for, which is pushing against the grain,” Price said. “This is made by us for folks like us and will also hopefully serve as an example that you can do it here — there are not many creatives who can build to this capacity.”
The location is important because it is located near several schools that The Diatribe works with on the south side of Grand Rapids, Price said.
“The south side is where we want to put our roots and we have been putting a lot of our energy into through the 49507 Project,” Price said.
The Diatribe launched the 49507 Project in May 2021 to invest in local artists and businesses through public murals while raising awareness about social issues including gentrification and redlining, which has disproportionately affected communities of color in the 49507 ZIP code.
“This project will grow the business district and make us more transparent,” said G. Foster, who serves as a teaching artist and experience manager at The Diatribe. “We are the first Black, brown, queer-led nonprofit in West Michigan centered around the arts. We’re trying to beautify the neighborhood and we already have a reputation for coming into this realm and having relationships in this area.”
As the pandemic continues to affect in-person learning opportunities at schools, Gleason said the new building gives students another reliable place to gather.
“The visibility and having that physical space is so important, and people will be able to hang out and work on poetry but also just have safe space,” Gleason said.
The Diatribe also plans to house local and out-of-town artists in eight apartment units planned for the building.
“We have some creative and inventive ideas that will really pour into creatives economically and not only serve the creatives but give them opportunities to make capital,” Price said. “Seven of the apartments will be for rent, and one will be used sort of like an Airbnb to bring in artists from out of town.”
The building also contains two retail storefronts that range in size from 1,000 to 1,400 square feet. The Diatribe plans to partner with Black and brown entrepreneurs to bring them into the building at an affordable rate, Price said.
“We know we’ll bring a certain amount of traffic to the area, but we also don’t want to add competition to existing businesses,” Price said. “We’re talking to some Black women who are creative entrepreneurs about potentially moving here. These will be hyper-affordable to ensure the successfulness of their businesses.”
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