Boston Square in Grand Rapids builds Kzoo station for food startups

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – A closed Grand Rapids auto body repair and sales shop at the corner of Oakdale Street and Kalamazoo Avenue SE is being developed by the community.

Soon the sign for Good Shepherd Properties will be replaced with one for Kzoo Station, an incubator for food startups that will have a commercial kitchen and cafe.

(Photo courtesy of Alfield Reeves Photography shows the interior of the former Good Shepherd Properties building on the corner of Kalamazoo Avenue and Oajdale Street SE in Grand Rapids before renovations to Kzoo Station .)

This is the first major project of the Boston Square Together Package. Amplify GR has partnered with the City of Grand Rapids, Oakdale Neighbors and the Boston Square Neighborhood Association for the effort, which will bring parks, restaurants, an early learning center and health facilities and welfare to a community still affected by redlining decades later.

“I think a lot of things have changed downtown, (but) there are a lot of neighborhoods that haven’t changed. So I think what’s exciting about this work is that some of them are buildings that I’ve walked past and then past…and seen all my life. And they’ve been vacant for most, if not all of that time. So the opportunity to really be a part of activating these spaces and making them assets in the community is really, really exciting,” Danielle Williams, Director of Economic Opportunities for Amplify GRnoted.

Woman walking in an industrial building
(Danielle Williams of Amplify GR describes the transformation of the former Good Shepherd Properties building into Kzoo Station.)

Williams grew up in the neighborhood.

“My dad got his hair cut at Head N Sole all my life. Both of my grandparents lived around the corner. So the neighborhood itself is really near and dear to my heart and has been a part of my education,” she said.

While a tight housing market has forced Williams to live elsewhere in the city, the group she works for is located in the community he’s now trying to help. Amplify GR is the only organization in Michigan involved in Purpose-built communities, which strives to engage neighbors in every step of improving their community for racial equity and better health, economic and educational outcomes. In this case, the focus is on Boston Square and the entire 49507 zip code area.

People holding large sign in front if green and white building
(A photo provided by Nancy Toledo and Amplify GR shows stakeholders outside the former Good Shepherd Properties building, holding a conceptual rendering of what the space could look like as a Kzoo station.)

“It’s really about focusing on neighborhoods that have been affected by a lot of policies, redlining. We understand that it took a lot of intentionality to create communities that lacked… these resources. And so it will take intention to bring those resources back,” Williams said.

COMMUNITY CONCEPT

Through several meetings over the years, the neighbors have helped shape what Boston Square will look like in five to ten years. It was the community that named Kzoo Station and identified the need for more diverse food options that will also support local entrepreneurs.

Blackboard on a brick building with messages written on it
(A photo from Feb. 2, 2022 shows Boston Square Community Vision Board messages written on a building in Grand Rapids.)

“Food businesses are a big entry point for many entrepreneurs, especially entrepreneurs of color and women,” Williams said.

Part of a $100,000 Amplify GR grant received from the Michigan Department of Agriculture will help by subsidizing the cost of ingredients the Kzoo Station startups will need. Amplify GR works with South East Market, a women-owned business across the street that stocks its shelves with products from other Black, Brown, Indigenous and women-owned businesses.

(A photo from September 15, 2021 shows a painted mural in the Southeast Market as part of The 49507 project.)

“We know these are bands that were in many ways intentionally left out,” Williams said. “It’s a way of being able to intentionally undo some of the negative damage that’s been done to economies, surrounding communities of color, and women’s businesses, so really just making sure those businesses have the opportunity to participate. But we’re also a location-based organization and these are the majority of our neighbors, and so we want to make sure that as economic opportunities arise in the community, they reflect the neighbors who live here.

(Inside the Southeast Market on February 2, 2022.)

“Any time we’re able to increase local businesses’ access to affordable local food, it’s a win. So we’re very happy to be able to provide that to them,” said South East Market co-founder Alita Kelly.

AND AFTER

The future home of Kzoo Station has been emptied. The construction will include polished concrete and industrial vinyl floors, a wall of kitchen equipment and a cafe area, which will open once tenants are operational. Kzoo Station will also eventually offer take-out services and possibly host food trucks.

papers on the floor inside an empty car shop
(Photo courtesy of Alfield Reeves Photography shows the interior of the former Good Shepherd Properties building at the corner of Kalamazoo Avenue and Oajdale Street SE in Grand Rapids.)

Spring GR is now interviewing startups interested in working at Kzoo Station. The goal is to have around 20 companies using the incubator space, mostly black, brown and women-owned, according to Williams.

She added that Amplify GR is also deliberate in the selection of contractors “to ensure that the dollars spent to carry out projects like this are spent locally and with these black and brown and women-owned businesses.” .

scaffolding and cinder blocks inside an empty industrial building
(A photo from January 2022 shows ongoing renovations to the future home of Kzoo Station, an incubator kitchen in Grand Rapids.)

Construction of Kzoo station is expected to be completed in late spring or early summer. With the proper health department approvals, the incubator kitchen could be cooking food and hosting pop-up community events by midsummer.

trash cans and building materials inside a building
(A photo from January 2022 shows the gutted interior of the former Good Shepherd Properties building, which will soon house Kzoo Station.)

Williams said Amplify GR wanted Kzoo Station to be “a catalyst for other things”. Boston Square Together’s next project will be an early learning center. Work is expected to start late this year or early next year, with retail and housing projects to follow.

Van in foreground sign pointing to Boston Square set in background
(A photo from February 2, 2022 shows a sign for Boston Square Together in Grand Rapids.)

“People want to live in neighborhoods with good food, good schools and nice parks. These are things that everyone wants,” Williams said. “This neighborhood deserves these things just like any other neighborhood in our city.”

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