Street Talk: Parking lot party


As John Wheeler embarked on what likely will become a signature project on his résumé of developments that have changed Grand Rapids, a whole load of people showed up at the groundbreaking last week.

The entire “partnership” team on The Warner Building, 150 Ottawa Ave. NW, gave their remarks to a crowd gathered on the 125-space Ellis Parking surface lot in the center of downtown.

The partnership group had a lot to overcome to get the building off the ground, as noted on the Business Journal’s front page this week, but now it’s all laughs.

Warner Norcross and Judd Managing Partner Doug Dozeman, Chemical Bank Regional President Joel Rahn, Ellis Parking President Mike Ellis, Concept Design Vice President Tom Tooley and Peter Secchia made their remarks.

Of particular note was a joke by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. President and CEO Kris Larson on how Ellis would never sell the lot — he didn’t, just leased it.

Experience Grand Rapids President and CEO Doug Small was there to ensure the city’s latest hotel is off the ground smoothly, while Amway Hotel Corp.’s Rick Winn was there to witness the start of a project he’ll soon manage.

City commissioners Dave Shaffer, Ruth Kelly and Joe Jones were in attendance to bless a project at the city’s center.

Fresh breath

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss' Greening Initiative is getting a breath of fresh air from Grand Rapids high schoolers.

Students from four GRPS schools collaborated to produce "Breathe," a public service announcement in support of the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and the mayor's initiative to help the city reach 40 percent tree canopy.

The collaboration was coordinated by The Mosaic Film Experience, which united students from City High, Grand Rapids Montessori, Innovation Central and CA Frost with video production professionals from the city. Video equipment was provided by Gorilla and lights and additional equipment provided by Lowing Lighting and Grip. Carbon Stories helped the students develop a creative idea and produced a behind-the scenes video of the work.

“This creative community collaboration was a result of an ongoing conversation between The Mosaic Film Experience and Mayor Bliss about how we can activate our city’s young people, engage them with real-world learning opportunities in digital media and engage them in sustainability,” Mosaic Film Experience Founder Skot Welch said.

Bliss said she was impressed by a sneak peek of the PSA, which will debut at the July 7 Movies in the Park at Ah-Nab-Awen Park.

“I am encouraged that students are rallying around the Mayor’s Greening Initiative and that so many of our great community organizations are supporting our youth,” she said.

Following its premiere, the "Breathe" PSA will air before the remaining 2017 Movies in the Park events.

Out with a bang

East Grand Rapids’ annual Fourth of July Celebration will honor the life of longtime resident Eileen DeVries.

“My mother always said she ‘wanted to go out with a bang,’” daughter Rachel Mraz said. “Supporting the Fourth of July Celebration seemed one of the best ways we could make this happen for her. She very much loved the East Grand Rapids community, so we hope everyone will come out to celebrate her incredible life and the place we’re lucky to call home.”

DeVries, who died May 16, was known locally and nationally for her more than 40-year career as a top advisor at Merrill Lynch. An avid golfer, she also pioneered women’s golf rights in 1992 by successfully bringing state legislation forward that banned discrimination against women for prime tee times on weekends. A lifelong lover of gardening, DeVries traveled the world to see unique gardens, eventually having an orchid, the Eileen DeVries Vanda, named after her.

“Eileen was a firecracker of a woman, so it seems only natural to honor her this way,” Mayor Amna Seibold said. “We are grateful to her family for supporting the Fourth of July Celebration, which has become an annual tradition in our city.”

The day will include free family-friendly activities from morning until night. All events, except the Reeds Lake Trail Blazer and parade, will be held at John Collins Park. This year’s festivities feature the 5K run at 8:30 a.m., the parade at 1 p.m. and a water-skiing show on Reeds Lake at 1:30 p.m. Fireworks over the lake begin at dusk.

Closing a decade

HR Solutions Group of West Michigan is marking 10 years in the HR consulting and outsourcing industry.

A celebratory gathering and open house for clients was hosted by the West Coast Chamber of Commerce on June 22 at the HR Solutions Group office, 56 E. Main Ave. in Zeeland.

HR Solutions offers niche HR services focused on supporting growing entrepreneurial companies.  It aims to help companies achieve growth objectives while attracting and retaining employees through innovative HR programs and policies.

More than 100 local companies have partnered with HR Solutions Group over the past 10 years.

Owner Amy Kraal said she feels “blessed” to be in business.

“We have had the privilege to work alongside many smart and talented business leaders,” she said. “It’s fun to see how getting the right people involved can achieve amazing results. I am very proud of our team and how we help our West Michigan community.”

HR Solutions Group is a privately held business that employs nine staff members. Kraal founded the practice in 2007 after working at Varnum Consulting in Grand Rapids. The company moved two years ago to downtown Zeeland to centralize the office and better support local clients, the community, member organizations and area nonprofits.

In 2016, the firm started a second company, Know My HR, which provides required Michigan employer labor law postings and HR software.

In tune with the community

A longtime Grand Rapids Symphony violinist, Diane McElfish Helle, is one of five orchestra musicians in the U.S. to receive a Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service from the League of American Orchestras.

The program, made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund, celebrates orchestra musicians and the inspirational work they do in their communities.

McElfish Helle was honored for leading the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Music for Health Initiative, a program that sends symphony musicians into area hospitals to assist with patient rehabilitation, to create supportive physical, emotional and spiritual experiences for patients, and to support the friends, families and providers who care for them.

With funding from the Perrigo Company Charitable Foundation, Music for Health was launched in 2013 by a group of six GRS musicians, led by McElfish Helle, at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.

“Music not only has the power to warm the heart and nourish the soul, it also has the ability to heal,” Grand Rapids Symphony President and CEO Peter Perez said. “In the worst of times, when people are affected by illness or injury or are recovering from stroke, brain injury or dementia, music offers comfort, support and encouragement.”

McElfish Helle, who is completing her 37th season with the Grand Rapids Symphony, was presented with the award at the League of American Orchestras’ 72nd National Conference in Detroit.

The awards include a $2,500 grant to each musician, as well as an additional $2,500 grant to the musician’s home orchestra to support professional development focused on community service and engagement for musicians.

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