Downtown living connections


Rooftop potlucks have proven to be popular among building residents living in various 616 communities. Courtesy 616 Development

Imagine you’re a young professional who’s recently moved to downtown Grand Rapids to start a new job. You have no family or friends here, and the only people you know are co-workers.

How do you start making social connections?

One Grand Rapids-based real estate developer seeks to answer that question through a little-known role called a “resident liaison.”

What exactly is a resident liaison? Glad you asked.

About four years ago, 616 Development was looking for a way to create a sense of community and a neighborhood feel for its properties. Residents lived in the same building but weren’t very connected to each other, to 616, or to the city, said Caitlin Harvey, director of community for 616 Development.

Then one day, a resident at 616 Lofts on Pearl and 616 Director of Development Monica Steimle were chatting about various ways to better connect the residents to the Grand Rapids community. From that conversation evolved the idea of a resident liaison — a person who would live in one of 616’s properties and would serve as a connector for the building and a sort of concierge for the city, Harvey said.

“We have a resident — someone who lives in each building — who also is a liaison, so they bridge the gap between 616 management and that community engagement piece of our mission that we’re trying to bring into our buildings,” she said.

“Our purpose is for community creation, and that’s only so easy. Even me, as the director of community — I can’t be everywhere, every time.”

That’s where resident liaisons come in. Some of their main responsibilities are to greet new residents in their buildings and give them a roster and a welcome gift bag filled with things like coupons to local businesses and information about Grand Rapids.

The resident liaison, who can sometimes be asked to solve any building conflicts that might arise, also offers to help connect new residents, especially those who’ve recently relocated to Grand Rapids, to the city’s vibe.

“(They) find ways that they can understand what that person is looking for, and if (new residents) want, they have someone show them around the city and bring them to a networking event,” Harvey said.

“And now they, at least, know a neighbor, so if they need a cup of sugar or need someone to let their dog out, (they have) that instant camaraderie. … They’re these people’s neighbors — they’re experiencing everything they’re experiencing.”

616 started the resident liaison program about four years ago, and after seeing that residents took to it so well, decided to have one in each of its properties. It’s looking to add several more resident liaisons when its project at 820 Monroe Ave. NW is completed.

Selecting who should be a resident liaison isn’t complicated, Harvey said. Anyone who fits the requirement of loving Grand Rapids and wants to connect people to the city would make a good choice. Another aspect might be finding people who have moved to a new city themselves, so they are better able to empathize with newcomers, she said.

In return for their efforts, resident liaisons can receive rent discounts, gift cards or other types of rewards, Harvey said.

Unsurprisingly, most resident liaisons have experience with event planning, marketing and public relations work, Harvey said, and at one point in time all of them were involved with volunteer work.

It makes sense, she said.

“We really want people who are passionate about the city, (about) helping people connect to Grand Rapids. We really want people who are passionate about people and want to help people connect with other people, so it won’t be such a lonely transition to a new place,” Harvey said.

This is what happened to Ann Arbor native Ziev Beresh when he moved to Grand Rapids in 2012 after finishing up at Michigan State University. Beresh, who was working as a freelance media consultant and digital marketer, moved around to a couple of different locations and then discovered 616 when he wanted to live closer to downtown.

When Harvey asked him and his partner if they were interested in becoming resident liaisons last February, they decided to try it, he said. They are now the only resident liaison couple, he said, meaning the building he lives in, 616 Lofts on Pearl, has the advantage of having two resident liaisons.

“Day to day, it’s just having interaction with residents. It’s being friendly, getting to know them. We also help promote any 616 events and local events that are happening,” Beresh said. “If there’s someone new who moves in, we make sure to greet them and give them a welcome bag and let them know they can come to us if there’s anything they need.”

Beresh said so far he and his partner have loved the role. Overall, it creates happier and more engaged residents, he said. In fact, he said he has never received a complaint from a resident.

“We love being so close to everything downtown and meeting people. It’s a great chance to be plugged into the downtown community. 616 Lofts tends to attract people that want to be connected and network in downtown,” he said.

“We love Grand Rapids and we definitely have familiarized ourselves with downtown and the other districts so we love giving recommendations for things to do downtown,” he said.

It also creates business opportunities. When Beresh’s next-door neighbor told him she was opening a business called Apothecary Off Main in MoDiv, a retail incubator in the heart of downtown, he jumped on board. That connection sparked Beresh to launch Sana Organics, which is now his full-time job and a growing business. He is the company’s owner and CEO.

“I’d actually been researching natural remedies and other products for my friends and family and was ready to turn it into a business,” he said.

“I spent six weeks turning this formula into a company and brand that we could put on the shelves, and it coincided with ArtPrize so we had a ton of foot traffic. … Now I have a growing company because of that meeting. It really worked out great.”

Harvey said one of her favorite aspects of the role played by 616 Lofts’ resident liaisons has created is the friendships that have been created because it. She remembers how two new residents, one from California and the other from Arkansas, met through their resident liaison.

“Now they’re pretty much best friends,” she said. “And it really helped them both, coming to a city where they knew zero people,” she said.

“It wouldn’t have happened … (except for) one of our liaisons, who knew they had moved from different cities, to connect them and spark something.”

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