GRAND RAPIDS, MI — An economic development organization for Black businesses is creating a space for Black entrepreneurs to network, learn and test their concepts at a brick-and-mortar storefront.

Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses is renovating a vacant building at 2012 Eastern Ave. SE into a co-working and retail space, business incubator and all-around “epicenter for Black entrepreneurial empowerment, growth and cultural discovery,” said the organization’s founder, Jamiel Robinson.

Robinson said GRABB is putting out a bid package for the renovation work shortly and that he anticipates the space will open in spring 2022.

The Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses Hub at 2021 Eastern will feature a work lounge for large events like the organization’s Sankofa Mixers and Market, curated panels, guest speakers, networking events and local programs for community entrepreneurs. The organization plans to curate a number of opportunities for business, personal and professional growth.

The retail portion of the building will operate much like the co-working space, with a number of people selling their products in one space. It will be an extension of the incubator program.

“We are looking for entrepreneurs who sell clothes, food-based products, personal care products and types of consumer product goods to join us in the co-retail space,” Robinson said. “The retail space is a part of our larger incubator program that supports existing and established Black consumer product goods businesses and product based entrepreneurs that are eager to test their concept in a brick-and-mortar location.

“We will provide retail and product-based entrepreneurs with a sizable white boxed retail space in our District 2012 building.”

Founded in 2012, GRABB started as an initiative to build awareness and support for Black businesses in the Grand Rapids area.

GRABB later became a nonprofit economic and business development organization aimed at supporting Black entrepreneurs and businesses to create prosperity and revitalize predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Part of revitalization work includes reactivating vacant buildings, like the one at 2012 Eastern.

“We believe reactivating spaces that have long been vacant is vital to increasing the vibrancy and neighborhood economy by serving the existing neighborhood while attracting people from other parts of the city and county to spend their dollars,” Robinson said.

The concept and programming behind the 2012 Eastern space has been in the works since about 2017, according to Robinson.

Robinson said the pandemic has created a need for more flexible workspace in the city.

“The pandemic created an opportunity for entrepreneurs and businesses to reassess their current space needs, how they do their work and how often they need to physically be in office spaces with their team members,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Grand Rapids City Commission approved a 10-year Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Exemption Certificate for the development at 2012 Eastern, as the building is determined as “functionally obsolete” and will require “significant investment and rehabilitation” prior to use.

The tax break will reduce local taxes, such as those from the county, city and area improvement authority, on the property by about $7,386 per year. The project is expected to generate $1,644 in new income city taxes annually, according to city commission documents.

City officials say the project will create four new full-time jobs and retain two more.

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