Street Talk: Retail guessing game


Now that Woodland Mall has its first official replacement for when Sears closes in March, speculation by consumers and real estate agents alike can continue for the seemingly endless amount of space the vacancy will leave.

Von Maur, an Iowa-based department store, officially was announced last week by the mall’s owner, Philadelphia-based PREIT, but the store was long rumored to be heading to West Michigan thanks in part to a map on PREIT’s website. Not to mention a Business Journal story from 2010 hinting a Von Maur might be on its way to town.

With the large space from Sears, a long-time anchor tenant at Woodland, being torn down after its closure this spring, Woodland is left with up to 313,000 square feet of retail space to replace. With Von Maur slated to build just a 90,000-square-foot building, there’s plenty of room to work with, and, according to commercial realtors, national brands and recent trends, Grand Rapids is an enticing place right now for retailers to enter for the first time.

“We will see a lot of activity from national realtors vying for the new space,” NAI Wisinski of West Michigan broker Rod Alderink said in a report following the Sears announcement. “After many years of speculation, we can finally move toward additional available space in a highly desirable area.”

As the main retailer from PREIT’s “proposed” Woodland map has come true, perhaps some of the others will, as well.

REI, a Denver-based outdoor supply retailer, has been seen on multiple proposed real estate center maps in Grand Rapids and even rumored to be searching downtown and the West Side, but the Sears Automotive outlot site now is calling.

Shake Shack is opening a location later this month in Detroit, so the fast-growing and trendy burger joint might not be that far-fetched in Grand Rapids, either.

Diversity boost

In an effort to enhance religious diversity and inclusion, Grand Valley State University is moving its Sylvia and Richard Kaufman Interfaith Institute from the University Development Division into the university’s Division of Inclusion and Equity.

Jesse Bernal, vice president for inclusion and equity, said the move will allow the division to expand its work in religious diversity and further the university’s strategic plan to be more diverse and inclusive.

“Interfaith dialogue and understanding, as well as religious tolerance, are more important than ever in today’s world,” Bernal said. “As part of our framework for inclusion and equity at Grand Valley, the division seeks to embrace diversity in its fullest sense.”

President Thomas J. Haas said the reorganization bolsters the goals of the institute and GVSU to broaden campus interfaith resources.

Douglas Kindschi, Kaufman Interfaith Institute director, said the institute’s move is a shift that will help advance the mission of fostering greater interfaith understanding and dialogue on college campuses.

In 2015, the institute received a $50,000 grant from Grand Rapids Community Foundation to support interfaith efforts on local college campuses by funding student interns.

The grant also helped the institute expand an interfaith service initiative that began in 2014. Through the initiative, congregations around West Michigan participated in various community service activities, including interfaith builds with Habitat for Humanity, volunteering at food pantries in Grand Rapids and bringing renowned interfaith speakers to GVSU, such as Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core.

The GRCF grant was follow-up funding to a similar grant the institute received for its 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding, which hosted more than 300 events with the goal of exploring commonalities and differences in the religions of the world.

Wild fire

A fire at the two-story Wild Bunch Biker Club, 706 Wealthy St. SE, last week did at least $170,000 in damage, according to the city of Grand Rapids.

The fire broke out just before noon Feb. 2, and it took firefighters nearly an hour to bring the blaze under control, with responding units finally clearing the scene at approximately 4:30 p.m.

No one was in the building at the time of the fire, and no one was injured.

Neighboring business Elk Brewing also suffered approximately $1,000 in damage as a result of the fire.

Following an investigation, the Grand Rapids Fire Department reported the cause of the fire was radiated heat from operating electrical equipment.

The East Hills Council of Neighbors is working with Wild Bunch owners Searea and Mary Russell in hopes that the pair will eventually be able to reopen the private motorcycle club in the same location.

“The Wild Bunch Biker Club has been in the East Hills neighborhood since 1985,” said Rachel Lee, executive director of the East Hills Council of Neighbors. “So, they are an important part of the neighborhood history and fabric.”

Lee said the club lost 30 years of memories and pictures in the fire.

“It’s very sad,” she said.

There is no timeline yet for how soon the biker club could be back up and operating.

Blanket statement

Draped over the back of a chair in the late President Gerald R. Ford's office at his presidential museum is a navy blanket emblazoned with the University of Michigan's famous Block M.

When Ford passed away the day after Christmas in 2006, the blanket was laid on a pew at Ford's funeral in honor of former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, who would have been an honorary pallbearer at the service had he not passed away a month earlier. But according to Marty Allen, a personal friend of the Fords and chairman emeritus of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, securing that blanket was trickier than one might imagine.

The timing of Ford's death happened to coincide with Michigan football's most recent appearance in the Rose Bowl, and the team already had jetted out to Pasadena, California, to prepare for the game. So, when long-distance runner Greg Meyer, who was working for U-M at the time, headed over to the equipment room to find a blanket to act as proxy for the legendary coach, the offices were empty.

After searching and failing to find a suitable covering, Meyer called up the team's equipment manager in California.

"I'll give you a number; call them and they'll be able to help you out," was the message relayed.

So, Meyer called the number — and the phone sitting at the desk next to him began to ring.

Defeated, Meyer left the offices empty handed. But as luck would have it, a local family was willing to lend its Michigan blanket for the service. That loan was extended when the former First Lady visited Ford's gravesite the next day, wrapped in the fleece. And extended even further, when Allen was tasked with notifying the family that their blanket had been repurposed.

In its stead, the family received a thoughtful note from Betty Ford, thanking them for their generosity, Allen said. And the blanket remains, Block M proudly rotated to center, over the back of a chair in the presidential office at the Ford Museum.

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