GRAND RAPIDS — The West Grand neighborhood in Grand Rapids soon will offer residents and visitors the ultimate trifecta when it comes to craft alcoholic beverages.
That’s because a local cidery plans to open a tasting room in the growing neighborhood along West Leonard Street, a development positioned to complement its neighboring businesses: a microbrewery and a craft distillery.
While having locally-made beer, booze and cider available at consecutive addresses may be a boon for craft beverage fans, those developments and others underway in the immediate area signal a renaissance for one of Grand Rapids’ hardscrabble neighborhoods.
That’s a vibe that Jason Lummen, owner of Grand Rapids-based The People’s Cider Co. LLC, wants to tap into as he plans to open the company’s first off-site tasting room. If his plans are approved by the city next month, he hopes to have cider flowing by May at 539 Leonard St. NW, next door to craft distillery Long Road Distillers LLC and two doors down from The Mitten Brewing Company LLC.
Lummen admits that his plan to move into 450 square feet of space is fairly modest in the broader scope of Grand Rapids development, but it’s indicative of a period of growth not just for his nearly four-year-old business, but also for the West Grand neighborhood as a whole.
“It’s not too much of a stretch and it’s responsible for us,” Lummen said of the tasting room. “It allows us to keep the blue-collar ethic of the cider company intact and allows us to do something to get into what’s going on (on West Leonard). We’re just very fortunate to piggyback with (Long Road) and the guys at The Mitten and to have supportive neighbors.”
The move would give People’s Cider more exposure than it has at its current tasting room and production facility at 600 Maryland Ave. NE near Oak Industrial Park in northeast Grand Rapids, Lummen said. The site would offer seven ciders on tap — including one guest tap — and would be open to guests bringing in outside food.
If approved by the city, Lummen would rent the West Leonard Street space from Long Road’s owners, Kyle VanStrien and Jon O’Connor, who were also drawn to the opportunities presented by the neighborhood revitalization. Indeed, VanStrien and O’Connor plan to “double-down” on that revitalization with a proposed new mixed-use development of their own.
They’re in the early planning stages of converting an abandoned and contaminated gas station property at 555 Leonard St. NW into a two-story or three-story project with potential apartments or offices upstairs and a ground-floor commercial tenant that’s “complementary” to neighboring businesses.
Currently, the Kent County Land Bank Authority is using state funds to clean up the contamination at the 96-foot by 132-foot site. Following the remediation process, an entity controlled by the owners of Long Road plan to acquire the property.
VanStrien said he wants to attract some mixed-use development to the area along the West Leonard corridor similar to what’s developed in neighborhoods like East Hills and along Bridge Street in recent years.
“We need more density and to build up the population so that they can support the businesses,” VanStrien said.
“We believe in developing in a good urban context,” he said. “We see opportunity in this neighborhood and we are putting our money where our mouth is.”
The West Grand Neighborhood Association welcomes the prospect of adding new housing and other businesses to the area.
Interim Executive Director Annette Vandenberg told MiBiz the neighborhood strives to support developers, provided they attempt to accommodate all income levels and make a push to hire people already living in the West Grand area.
“Anyone who’s willing to create jobs and housing for all income levels, we think that’s a great idea,” said Vandenberg, adding that the neighborhood association board is in the process of drafting a letter of support for the proposed People’s Cider tasting room.
She added that the board is aware of the proposed gas station redevelopment, but the parties have not yet had formal talks.
“Nothing functions here without the support of the community,” Lummen said. “That’s the big thing. I love the vibe and it’s the residents that will continue to support these things. People are walking from their houses to come to these establishments, and it’s more and more people everyday.”
While plans for the gas station site remain in the early stages, VanStrien and O’Connor said they hear increasing demand for newly built quality housing options in the neighborhood.
As proof, they noted that many staff members at Long Road now live in the immediate area.
Other investors appear to be taking note of the demand as well. A drive or walk down the West Leonard corridor shows multiple older buildings — many of them vacant — quietly being worked on and at various stages of construction and redevelopment.
Additionally, the property at the southwest corner of Leonard Street and Broadway Avenue went up for sale in early January for $1.5 million, according to the property listing. The site consists of two single-family homes and four commercial buildings with frontage on Leonard Street. It last sold in 1999 for $60,968, according to property records.
Long Road’s owners say they’re hopeful more developers come into the West Grand neighborhood and activate many of the vacant buildings in the area. And while they’re confident that their proposed mixed-use project will take place, VanStrien and O’Connor said it was too early to offer a specific timeframe for the redevelopment because the growth and sustainability of their distillery operations must take priority.
Since launching in late May last year, Long Road has focused on ramping up its distribution efforts and already expanded with an upstairs event space and music venue. In the coming months, the distillery also plans to release a variety of small-batch aged ryes and whiskeys.
As they continue to develop the plans for the mixed-use project, they’re watching the neighborhood grow and eyeing needs that could be filled in the ground-floor commercial space at the redevelopment.
“The first two things that came to our head were cider and coffee,” O’Connor said of needs in the neighborhood. “We saw this as a really great opportunity to do something unique in the fact that I can’t think of another place in this country where you can get beer, liquor and cider in consecutive addresses and independently owned and operated. … The fact that we have three independent things is just a unique opportunity to sort of put a foothold here as this corner of craft beverage making.”