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The Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives plans to purchase and move to a former medical office building at 245 State St. SE (above). The Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives plans to purchase and move to a former medical office building at 245 State St. SE (above). COURTESY PHOTO

Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives plans move to larger location

BY Monday, March 07, 2022 11:53am

GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives plans to relocate to an 18,000-square-foot, three-story space in Grand Rapids’ Heartside neighborhood, which would be a major expansion for the organization.

The museum plans to purchase a vacant former medical office building at 245 State St. SE and move in by the end of this year or spring of 2023, said GRAAMA Executive Director George Bayard III. The museum is currently under contract to buy the property.

GRAAMA’s current 2,100-square-foot space on Monroe Center Street, which was commemorated late last year as Breonna Taylor Way, in downtown Grand Rapids holds only about one-third of the museum’s offerings, Bayard said. GRAAMA has occupied the downtown space since December 2018.

“We knew we needed more room as soon as we moved here,” Bayard said. “It sufficed for the first maybe year, but as we expanded our programs, we couldn’t do everything we wanted to do and tell all the stories we wanted to tell.”

When GRAAMA formed in 2015, the museum was collecting oral histories from older African Americans in Grand Rapids and West Michigan with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Michigan Humanities Council. The oral histories continued to grow and lead to additional artifacts, Bayard explained. 

“We’re looking to tell the story of African Americans in Grand Rapids from about the 1820s, when the first people of color started showing up, to the present time and beyond,” Bayard said. “We want to leave room to honor people that have impacted the community in the past and future.”

In addition to displaying more archives, the new space will also house the We Are LIT! bookstore, an as-yet unnamed business, and offer six offices for rent on the third floor. The first floor will serve as a museum reception area and can host events with a seating capacity of about 400 people, Bayard said.

The current property owner, Downtown Medical Properties LLC, purchased the site for $1.5 million in 2005, according to city property records.

GRAAMA plans to hire four people and recruit new volunteers for the larger space. A capital campaign launching this month initially planned to raise $5.3 million to renovate the space, though project costs will likely reach $7.5 million, Bayard said.

A contractor has not yet been identified, though Grand Rapids-based Isaac V. Norris and Associates P.C. will serve as the architect for the project. 

“We really deserve to do more for this community,” Bayard said. “This is the second-largest city in the state and we have way more than what a 2,000-square-foot building can hold.”

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