WRITER | PAM TOIGO
PHOTO | CITY OF ADA
Nestled along the Grand River in West Michigan, in a quiet corner east of Grand Rapids, lies a little town with a big future.
Ada is in the midst of a $13 million redevelopment project that will provide a complete redesign of the 21-acre downtown area over the next several years. The project, called Envision Ada, includes new infrastructure, public amenities, housing, restaurants, and storefronts, all with the goal of making a walkable downtown that encourages visitors.
The project began in 2006 when Ada business owners voiced concerns about the lack of local businesses. Plans at that time were not put into motion, however, due to lack of engagement and the ensuing economic downturn.
But in 2012, the town’s main business, Amway Corporation World Headquarters, approached the township board to ask if it was still interested in the project. The answer was yes, and with the formation of a Downtown Development Authority and a pledge from Amway to contribute half the cost of the project, plans began to move forward.
Fast-forward to current day, 2018, and what you will find in downtown Ada is very different than what was there five years ago. Still under construction and with three more years to go, the progress has been slow but steady.
The goal of the Envision Ada plan is for the village to compete with other upscale downtowns around West Michigan, including cities like Rockford and East Grand Rapids. One of the first completed businesses was the opening of anchor tenant Kingma’s Market in the fall of 2017. Kingma’s, a locally owned market offering unique local products, fresh seafood, in-store coffee bar, and fresh, hot food from a small in-store Fish Lads restaurant, has set the tone for the local flavor that is to come in the village.
As construction of the new buildings is completed, tenants have slowly moved in. Some businesses are new to the town of Ada, like the local activewear boutique To and Fro, while others, like upscale florist Artisan Flowers, have been a steadfast part of Ada for decades.
For these longtime tenants, the slow progress of the reconstruction of Ada, while exciting, has not been without its challenges.
Conducting her business for the past 14 years in Ada’s historic Little Red Schoolhouse, Artisan Flowers owner Daisy Rzesa was forced to move her business when the building was purchased by Amway heir Cheri DeVos. The 159-year-old building was refurbished and relocated in the town and is now home to the Ada Village General Store. In the meantime, Rzesa has moved into her new location in the redeveloped part of Ada Village.
“It’s difficult and expensive to move your business and then to try to keep it going during construction while roads are blocked and customers can’t access your location. It has not been easy,” says Rzesa. “But you can look at things in a negative way or a positive way, and I choose to look at it positively. I have loyal clients in Ada, and they are the main reason I have stayed,” she concludes.
Further concerns the Ada village businesses have had to address are the lack of parking and higher rent prices. Both issues are being addressed within the township.
Still to be completed are projects including the creation of a new riverfront park and the new river walk running parallel to the Grand River and Ada Drive, a community center, and a brand new Kent District Library branch. Development has also begun on 25 residential condominiums as well as 25 townhouse units and 22 single family homes.
Overall, business in the area is currently down 30 percent due to construction, according to the Downtown Development Authority. With three years left on the project, it could prove to be a difficult haul for current tenants.
“These are the times we count on the loyalty of customers who want to support local businesses,” says Rzesa. “In the end, when the village is completed, it will all be worth it.”
Even with the continued construction, strollers can be seen in town, with consumers shopping, dining, and enjoying the various community activities Ada hosts. With its completion, the residents of Ada and surrounding areas will have a lovely new town in which to work, visit, and play.