Business awards go to builder, commissioner and realtor


The new Rockford Construction headquarters on the city's west side earned the Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Award during the city's annual neighborhood business celebration. Photo by Chris Pastotnik

The two-year reign of the brew pubs is over, as a notable builder won the city’s most prestigious neighborhood business award last week.

Rockford Construction was named the recipient of the coveted Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Award last Thursday evening at the 24th Annual Neighborhood Business Awards, which was held at Wealthy Street Theatre and sponsored by the Neighborhood Business Alliance and Neighborhood Ventures.

Rockford captured the honor for converting the vacant and polluted Miller Products site at the corner of First Street and Seward Avenue NW in the Stockbridge Business District into a stylish and ecologically sound headquarters for its 200 employees.

“This is a great building reuse project that offers respect to the surrounding neighborhood by using the existing building for the most part, as it incorporates features that soften the previous industrial use into a people-friendly office environment,” said Mark Lewis, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures.

“Skylights, smart lighting technology, a green roof and interior paneling milled from previously infested ash trees cuts down on resources used, as well as neighborhood impact. New ground-floor commercial spaces on the south end set the stage for new ventures. And the second-floor conference rooms give a bird’s-eye view on the potential that stands ready and willing in the surrounding neighborhood,” he added.

Rockford, which has revived many downtown structures over the past 15 years, invested $4.7 million into redeveloping the property.

“There already is a certain buzz on the street how this neighborhood investment could act as a catalyst to boost even further redevelopment efforts in the area,” said Lewis.

By giving the honor to Rockford, the two-year run of new breweries winning the award came to a halt. Harmony Brewing Co. won it last year, while Brewery Vivant won in 2011.

The choice also marked the first time in recent memory that a business on the west side of the Grand River won the Grand Award.

City Commissioner James White won the John H. Logie Neighborhood Business Champion Award. White was elected to the commission twice, but decided not to run for a third term. He has been active with the city’s small businesses during his tenure and he served on the Michigan Department of Commerce’s Committee on Small Business.

Shaun Biel of Spectrum Health Real Estate won the P. Michael Wanroy Volunteer in Business Award. Biel was honored for the time and energy he has devoted to advance the Monroe North Business District. The Good Neighbor Award went to Paul Amenta and SITE:LAB at 54 Jefferson Ave. SE, a popular ArtPrize venue. Amenta was recognized for the contributions he has selflessly made to the local community.

The Outstanding New Business Award went to The Cakabakery at 1436 Wealthy St. SE. Jason Kabaker owns it. Breton Auto Body, owned by George Vanderlaan, was named the Best Longstanding Business. The body shop is at 1480 Kalamazoo Ave. SE.

The Local Epicurean and owner Mary Ford won the Best Interior Renovation award. Her shop is at 111 S. Division Ave. Lewis said the recognition marked the marriage of a thriving business with a vacant neighborhood storefront.

“The open design melds the retail sales floor with the production area, as well as a quaint ‘chocolate bar’ seating area. This great project creates a sense of Old World charm in the historic Harris Building,” he said.

Newcomer Roman Petrack won the Best Exterior Renovation honor for work he did to Kangaroo Kitchen and Catering at 1007 E. Fulton St. The building had been a record and CD store for decades.

Third Coast Development Partners, owned by Dave Levitt and Brad Rosely, won the Best Reuse of a Building Award for turning the former Miller Zylestra retail store and lumberyard at 833 Michigan St. NE into a modern medical office building.

The Best New Construction honor was given to Chad Miller and the Walgreens store at 800 Leonard St. NW. “Using the latest state-of-the-art technologies in the pharmacy area, this store format is the first of its kind in the West Michigan market. A major investment like this one sends a clear signal that Grand Rapids neighborhoods are definitely on the radar for outside development opportunities,” said Lewis.

Eric Vorpi, who owns the Cheshire Grill at 2162 Plainfield Ave. NE, was given the Best Neighborhood Restaurant award, and Sherri Taylor, who owns City Antiques at 954 E. Fulton St., picked up the Best Window Display award.

Putt Putt’s Bar, 1148 W. Fulton St., and Jason Novak won the Best Exterior Maintenance Award, while John Rusilowski and Pickwick Tavern, 970 Cherry St. SE, won the Best Neighborhood Pint honor.

The Best Promotion Award went to the Holiday Shop Hop and its organizer, Kelly LeCoy. The event has become a staple in the Uptown Business District, which consists of four southeast side commercial sectors.

“With almost 80 participating retailers and restaurants, and special events in all four neighborhoods, it’s clearly the biggest cooperative marketing event of the year,” said Lewis. “The selection committee found it fascinating that this amazing event, which celebrates its 10th year on Dec. 5, has been overlooked for an award up until now.”

Eighty-four businesses were nominated this year across the dozen categories, with the Outstanding New Business grouping leading the way with 19. Heartside and East Fulton each had two winning entries, the most of the city’s 20 business districts.

Heartside had the most nominations with 18. East Fulton was next with nine. The three west-side districts — West Leonard, West Fulton and Stockbridge — combined for 21 nominations.

“The 2013 selection committee spent notably more time in the three business districts on the west side of the river reviewing nominees this year. You can really sense the energy building on that side of town with the completion of major construction projects like the GVSU Seidman Center and the new Rylee’s Ace Hardware location on West Fulton,” said Lewis.

“Heartside is yet another area that is really exploding right now. We honored five Outstanding New Business nominees from that district this year, yet we could have had twice that for the number of new shops and services that have recently opened up,” he said.

The Neighborhood Business Awards is the city’s longest-running economic development event of its type. The celebration’s major sponsor was DTE Energy; Mayor George Heartwell presided over the awards ceremony.

“Two things really stood out in 2013,” said Lewis. “Business-district investment comes in all shapes and sizes, and every corridor in the city is ripe for new business opportunities.”

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