Andrew Donsbach, Apprentice

We are excited to introduce our summer apprentice at 616 Lofts — Andrew Donsbach. Andrew will be sharing his perspective as a millennial with us on our community, the city of Grand Rapids and the field of development. Look forward to future writings from Andrew in our blog.


Likes: days at the ballpark and family time.
Dislikes: slow cars in the left lane.
Likes: overcoming challenges, stimulating conversations.
Dislikes: snakes.


Andrew recently joined the 616 Tribe as the Apprentice for Summer 2015. As he works to better understand the complex world of 616, Andrew will be working heavily with organizational communication to community members of both 616 Lofts and the city of Grand Rapids. From visual communication, to helping with community creation, Andrew is an enthusiastic addition to the Tribe.


Raised in the small town of Effingham, Illinois, Andrew is a student at Eastern Illinois University. He has always had a knack for visual elements & communication, and is driven by creativity. Andrew’s original intent was to pursue his creative talent in either graphic design or architecture, but he eventually settled into a business degree. Through this, he is allowed to explore his creative side while engaging his passion for people.

andrew + 616

While searching for internships, Andrew was introduced to 616 Development through a family member. Urban living and real estate have always been a huge interest of his, making an apprenticeship with the 616 Tribe the perfect opportunity. Andrew first met members of the Tribe in March before being welcomed as a part of the team.

Andrew has developed a strong desire to become a part of the Grand Rapids community, which he feels can be fulfilled through his position. Andrew is excited to work with other members of the 616 Tribe to continue fostering growth in and around Grand Rapids.

Why we should be forgotten

Last week I had the opportunity to visit New York City to participate in a Project for Public Spaces training session that taught principles of placemaking to a group of 20 community advocates from all over the world. At the end of the session, the speaker asked us to relay one important takeaway. Building on the belief that great places require more than impressive design and cool buildings to be successful, I narrowed my “aha moment” down to a powerful statement made by Fred Kent: “We don’t want them to remember us.”

To an ordinary developer that statement could be interpreted as asinine. Of course we want to be remembered; we need recognition and praise and awards and more business. Don’t get me wrong, those things aren’t all bad, but when the end goal is only to achieve those things, we’re missing the point. Placemaking is about inclusion and empowerment. It’s a process that should be accessible to any and all community members and allows for the creation and execution of a shared vision. When developers or designers, or government for that matter, are the sole leaders of placemaking, it limits the outcome.

Prior to attending the “Making it Happen” training, I was a huge proponent for seeking feedback and advice from a neighborhood prior to finalizing a project—some of which I learned from watching 616 Development take that approach. Working with Project for Public Spaces affirmed and further emphasized that strategy.

Cities exist because of people. You don’t need to be an architect or urban planner to know what you want your neighborhood to look and feel like—humans have an amazing psychological connection to their community and surroundings. Without the involvement of the collective community, we can only recognize so many of the improvements that can be made. Even then, we’re likely seeing those changes through a different lens.

The mixed-use, development model that companies (like 616 Development) often choose already requires some consideration for both existing neighborhoods and future inhabitants of the proposed retail, commercial and residential spaces. Mixed-use communities can allow for more options, greater walkability, economic vitality, diversity, purposeful design, density and more. While the intention that is put into these developments pays off, there is so much more to take into consideration as developers move outside the urban core. There needs to be a shift from, “how can this project or building be successful” to “how can this community be successful.” That is a question we aren’t equipped to answer alone.

I hope Grand Rapids continues to challenge traditional planning and development practices. With a place-first approach, we can collectively build communities in which citizens are more invested than the development team. A place designed for the community, by the community, that creates opportunity for interactions and socialization and connections that never would have existed otherwise. That’s what this is really about—creating place, not ego.

616 Development 10-10-13


by Caitlin Harvey

As Director of Community for 616 Lofts, Caitlin approaches the 616 Way of community creation with intentionality and passion. As a firm believer in the connectedness of everything in life, Caitlin works to spark resident relationships, to create and maintain spaces people are proud to call home and to nurture the growth of community in Grand Rapids.



Tribal Thoughts: Change your thoughts and change your world

What things inspire you to be a better person, spouse and employee?

Can these inspirations lead to a better understanding of your place in the community?

How can you use your knowledge and experience to benefit your current situation, and how do you continue to learn and grow?

These are the questions that have been running through my mind over the past year—a time of reflection and growth. I had experienced a variety of clashing emotions and had to talk myself into seeing the glass half-full many times.

One thing I know about myself is that I am a goal setter who is not afraid of doing whatever it takes to accomplish the task. This doesn’t mean that I will step on someone’s back to get there. A better choice is to use an internal pep talk. That can take many forms, for example:

Lead by example.

Optimism and creativity build strong foundations.

There is a bright side to every situation.

A goal is a dream with a deadline.

Helping and mentoring others is a necessary and selfless act that only improves when it is returned.

Doing something positive for another person creates immediate gratification.

When others see the passion and love of life you possess, it radiates.

By having these internal conversations, you will continue to evolve as a person, and that evolution will be seen and felt by your peers. It is contagious and it creates community.

 – chantele

616 Development 10-10-13

Chantele was born and raised in Portland Oregon, a city with many comparisons to Grand Rapids. After spending some time in Chicago, she moved to West Michigan and has spent the past 15 years working in property management and investment real estate in Grand Rapids. 

Chantele has 2 grown daughters, and lives with her husband and a spoiled cat in Byron Center.

Top 10 West Michigan charities for 2013 donations

cub_reporters_featured_imageIt’s that time of year again: time to select a few last charitable organizations to support through end of year donations. Whether you’re making donations from your own personal funds or on behalf of a company, giving is an important part of building and belonging to our community – on a hyperlocal, national and international scale.

Like giving Christmas presents to friends and family, charitable donations are a win-win: they make us feel good, they bring joy to others we care about, and they keep the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future at bay on Christmas eve.

Deciding where to give is just as important a decision as deciding how much to give. Each organization, whether on a hyperlocal or global scale, impacts our community in a different way, and different organizations manage donated funds differently. Not all charitable organizations provide the same services, nor are they equal.

Sifting through the sea of good causes can be a daunting task, so we’ve identified 10 local, national and international organizations we feel offer the most responsible, impactful and sustainable service to our community.

Creative Youth Center

Few issues impact community development more than education. The Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center, modeled after creative writing celebrity Dave Eggers’ 826 National writing and tutoring program, provides tutoring, creative writing classes and press clubs to Grand Rapids’ underprivileged youth. Students who may be struggling with the basics of writing have the opportunity to learn not only writing, but also self expression and creative problem solving. Many students are published through the CYC, opening new worlds of opportunity for Grand Rapids’ next generation of leaders.


Well House

A recent recipient of a $257,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation, Well House provides housing and customized services to those who are homeless in Grand Rapids. No treatment requirements are made on Well House residents; rather, tailored services for mental illness and addiction are made available on an individual basis. The organization utilizes a full-circle approach, rehabilitating vacant homes in the area as housing for the program. Homeless who are served by Well House often volunteer their labor to renovate these homes, and the organization hopes to be able to formally employ homeless volunteers in the near future.


American Red Cross (Greater Grand Rapids Chapter)

Few organizations have the reach, experience or credibility of the American Red Cross. The organization’s official mission is to “prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.” But ARC’s services go far beyond disaster relief; blood services, medical transportation, preparedness and resiliency and emergency training are just a few of the other services this important organization provide on local, national and global scales. Whether a home has burnt down in Midtown or a typhoon has struck the Philippines, American Red Cross is the first to arrive on the scene to help.


YWCA West Central Michigan

Racism; sexual violence; political, social and economic inequality; these problems pose some of the most significant barriers to developing sustainable, diverse cities. Our local YWCA offers services which support victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, child sexual abuse and stalking while working to eliminate racism and empower those members of our community who are often most vulnerable: women and girls.



We’ve all heard Michigan Radio’s spring and fall fundraising pitches: empowering our local media is key to building democratic, informed communities. A hyperlocal citizen journal, the Rapidian unearths stories from our community which wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day. This is a valuable resource for empowering voices and stories from a diverse spectrum of our community.


Oxfam International

Oxfam is an organization dedicated to ending poverty and injustice around the world. Their work ranges from emergency response to ongoing work with education, health, agriculture and infrastructure. By partnering with local governments and other agencies, Oxfam is able to address long-term needs in underprivileged areas long after emergency response agencies have left.


Dégagé Ministries

One of the most well-known of the Heartside ministries, Dégagé offers basic food, shelter and hygiene services to those in our Grand Rapids community who are homeless and disadvantaged. The 400-500 individuals this ministry serves each day are testament to how necessary these services are in our community.


West Michigan Environmental Action Council

This Grand Rapids-native environmental advocacy organization has led the forefront on nationwide issues since 1968, leading the first case against the use of DDT. Today, WMEAC continues to make a powerful local and national impact through campaigns such as Building Sustainable Communities and Protecting Water Resources.


Friends of Grand Rapids Parks

This “citizen driven nonprofit working to protect, enhance and expand our community parks” addresses a critical niche in our larger goal of growing Grand Rapids into a sustainable community: our parks and greenspaces. Most recently, Friends of GR Parks spearheaded the parks millage which allowed for desperately needed maintenance and repair of GR’s urban greenspaces over the next 7 years.


Grand Rapids Whitewater

This exciting Grand River restoration project has evolved from a whispered conspiracy to a fully articulated plan with government backing on local and federal levels. The restoration of the Grand River to its natural, pre-industrialized state will generate endless possibilities for recreation, city beautification and economic growth downtown. GR Whitewater has gained its feet; help this project come one step closer to realization!


Changes ahead for Veteran’s Memorial & Monument Parks


In lieu of the transformation downtown has been making, city planning efforts have recently turned to two key adjacent green spaces at Fulton and Division avenues: Monument Park and Veteran’s Memorial Park. These historic parks sit at the heart of the city center surrounded by countless amenities. A main bus stop, the library, and the Children’s Museum are directly adjacent to these parks, and countless entertainment venues – such as the Civic Theater and UICA – as well as popular bars, restaurants and even daycare centers are located just blocks away.

Despite the parks’ prime location, they have been underutilized and somewhat forgotten in recent years. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War have kept the parks well maintained, but no improvements have been made to incorporate these historic green spaces into the growth and development other areas of downtown have enjoyed. As a result, the parks have experienced some negative activity in recent years, causing these areas to be more of a pariah than an attraction.

But that’s all about to change.

This past October, the City of Grand Rapids formed a Parks Steering Committee to lead the transformation of Veteran’s Memorial and Monument Parks. Since fall the Committee, made up of over 40 area representatives (including our own Derek J. Coppess), has been, with plenty of input from the public, making steady progress in planning improvements for the parks.

So what kind of transformation, exactly, can we expect to see?


A rough initial rendering of Monument Park, as seen from the East side of Division Avenue looking towards the square.

Well, there many things the Steering Committee has had to consider, first and foremost of which is the fact that both these parks are historical monuments and therefore very important to the local veteran community. Any changes to the park must honor and contribute to these memorials.

On the other hand, a core goal of the project is to enhance the value of these parks for public use – specifically for downtown residents, shoppers and the children and families who frequent the nearby museum and  daycare.

It’s been a balancing act. Veterans have been a key voice in the parks’ planning, as have government, neighborhood and special interest groups.

The Parks Steering Community has crafted its mission statement to reflect these voices:

“To work closely with the community to design and implement improvements that enhance public use and honor the service and sacrifice of our local military veterans and significant historical resources.”

More specifically, here are a few of the many items the Committee has been taking into consideration.


A rough initial rendering of the entrance to Veteran’s Memorial Park, as seen from the Southwest corner of Fulton & Division. Plans have progressed since this rendering was developed.

Streetscaping & landscaping

Plans are being drawn to streetscape the Fulton Street-facing side of both parks, visually linking Monument & Veteran’s Memorial Parks and offering clearer, more attractive entrances and walkways to the parks. Landscaping will be done to make lawn areas a more attractive public “hang out”, increase the overhead canopy of trees and to make the parks’ water features easier to maintain.

The areas around Monument Park, which sits directly in front of what will soon be 616 Lofts at the Kendall and our own corporate headquarters, will be streetscaped into a plaza-like area which invites traffic and play.

Public accessibility, amenities & use

The Committee aims for both parks – Veteran’s Memorial Park in particular – to become popular spaces for public use and events. Planning considerations include adding a public restroom, creating an outdoor event area on Sheldon Street and making the bus stop at Sheldon and Fulton safer and more accessible. The parks will also welcome dog walkers.

The parks will continue to serve as war memorials which honor our veterans, and the Committee is exploring ways to enhance the story behind these memorials, making them more accessible and interactive for park-goers – specifically children and families. The monuments in both parks will remain the focal points of the spaces, and signage or a ground plan timeline will be incorporated into the parks to tell the story of the monuments, their history and the veterans which they honor. A digital element, such as QR codes, will make memorial signage a fun, interactive learning experience.

Hear more about plans being made for the park and the ideas behind them from our founder and managing director, Derek Coppess, in the video below.

Tower Pinkster to become 616’s new neighbor at 2 E. Fulton downtown


2 E. FultonThe Grand Rapids Business Journal announced today that Tower Pinkster, one of the area’s most respected architectural design firms, will be making its new home in the former Junior Achievement Building, 2 East Fulton, on the intersection of Division and Fulton. Locus Development, which owns this property, will be working with their new tenant as Tower Pinkster spearheads design of this space.

This is especially meaningful for us at 616, as Tower Pinkster will soon become our next door neighbors as we will making a new home directly across from theirs in the Kendall, at 16 Monroe Center.

Our gratitude goes out to Locus Development for their work on this space and many others which has been steadily changing the downtown landscape. With each forward-thinking development project and the added presence of trend-setting commercial entities like Tower Pinkster, Grand Rapids is getting closer to reaching urban density – and a thriving downtown community.

Read the full story at