Ron Cook lived in Italy for 15 years while working as the president of La Marzocco, an espresso machine manufacturing company. Now, he owns two restaurants in downtown Ada.
Cook and his wife moved to her hometown in 2010 during the economy’s downturn.
At 62 years old, he said he “didn’t bother” interviewing for a new job, but he needed to figure out something to do.
They bought a house in Ottawa Hills, and in 2012, he opened Nonna's Pantry, at 591 Ada Drive SE, which was meant to be a coffee shop but now serves breakfast and lunch. Three years later, at age 69, he opened his first full-service restaurant across the street, Nonna's: The Trattoria.
He said opening those restaurants where he did was just “dumb luck.” It seems he was in the right place at the right time.
That’s because Ada Village is in the midst of a $13-million redevelopment project that will provide a complete redesign of the 21-acre downtown area within up to three years.
The project, called Envision Ada, includes new infrastructure, public amenities, housing and storefronts, with the goal of making a “walkable” downtown that encourages visitors.
Amway has partnered with the township on the project, each entity contributing half the project cost. That partnership is what allowed the project to get moving, according to George Haga, Ada Township supervisor.
“It’s a private-public partnership that is working well for the community,” he said.
Construction plans along Ada Drive include a retail building owned by Ada First, which is in operation and contains five businesses: Alkalign Studio, Dixon Architecture, DMC Designs, Lown Homes and Union Bank; the Ada Drive Plaza Building, which opens next year and will contain eight businesses: Artisan Flowers, Edward Jones, Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery and Supply, Michigan Software Labs, Peacock Alley Needlepoint, Pilates in Ada, Protravel International and Sprinkles Donuts; the Kingma’s Market building, which is in operation and contains three businesses: Kingma’s Market, Fish Lads and Rowster’s Coffee; and the new Settlers Drive that provides access to the new buildings and the river off Ada Drive, to be completed in December.
Other plans for the area include a Spectrum Health building, gas station, McDonald’s and a 12,000-square-foot retail building, all opening in 2018.
A realignment of Headley Avenue, connecting it to the Thornapple Bridge, was completed last year.
Also included in revitalization plans is the creation of a riverfront park and the new River Street, running parallel to the river and Ada Drive, to be completed in December. The first phase, to be finished in spring of 2018, includes a raised plaza that contains a private business inside the Ada Township Little Red Schoolhouse and new restrooms. In 2018, the area adjacent to the Thornapple River will receive bank stabilization and park amenities.
There is a capital campaign beginning to raise about $7 million, tentatively, for the riverside park, as well as a new building to house a community center and a Kent District Library branch, to be located on the south side of Headley Street, adjacent to the Community Church.
There also are plans for 25 Bronson Street Residencies condominiums, as well as 25 townhouse units and 22 single-family homes.
“I think the public is still very supportive of what we’re doing and excited to see the construction of the various businesses that are moving into the community,” Haga said.
The median household income for the Ada Township ZIP code is $112,466, according to a 2015 economic analysis by The Chesapeake Group, an independent financial advisory company.
Cook said he already has begun to feel the initial effects of the project: an interest in Ada from people who live outside Ada. Since construction has begun, he’s received customers from neighboring communities such as East Grand Rapids, which he said wasn’t common before. He looks forward to more activity in the coming months and looks forward to “having two or three more restaurants” in the future.
Talk of the project started in 2006 when Ada business owners voiced concerns about lack of businesses. Plans were halted due to lack of engagement and the economy’s fall.
In 2012, Amway approached Haga about whether the township was still interested in the project. He said yes, and they started forming plans based on public input.
A Downtown Development Authority was created to help oversee the plans.
Ashley Jolman, executive director of the Ada Business Association, is glad residents will have the ability to access all their needs without having to leave Ada. Ultimately, she sees Ada becoming a destination, a “place where you can spend the day.”
Jolman said she looks forward to what the changes will do for the village and its culture. She added the construction is creating a synergy that will portray Ada as a more attractive place to live, work and visit, which will benefit all the area businesses.
The steps Ada has taken so far to create more of a community environment already have paid off.
The township started a Beers on the Bridge three-part concert series in 2016. Nearly 2,000 people attended the last event. With so many people ready and willing to spend time in the community, Jolman said she is glad the development will allow those opportunities to continue.
“People are here; they just need a reason to come downtown. We’re going to have so many reasons next summer,” she said.