GRAND RAPIDS — The owners of one of the few Black-owned businesses in downtown Grand Rapids say Ambiance GR Kitchen & Lounge has closed after being open for less than a year.
The business “remained highly profitable since its opening,” but the decision to close the business effective Nov. 4 was made based on “the persistent safety issues that have increased all over downtown, in an unprecedented way,” according to a statement posted to Ambiance’s Facebook page on Nov. 4.
The short-lived but popular nightclub owned by Jonathan Jelks, Jamiel Robinson, Lacy Jones, Alvin J. Hills IV, Jamal Chilton and Willie Jackson, was located at 106 Pearl St. NW inside the Ledyard building. The owners worked through construction delays and staffing challenges for several years that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic before opening Ambiance with a 2022 New Year’s Eve party.
“Grand Rapids is a growing city, and it’s got its eye on becoming a destination city, and that can’t happen without having a mentality and a philosophy where safety is prioritized for people who are making extensive investments in the downtown corridor,” Jonathan Jelks, who also owns Motu Viget Spirits and several other West Michigan businesses, said in an interview with MiBiz. “It’s expensive and very hard to have a successful business downtown. Any major city partners with nightlife establishments, bars and restaurants to secure them and it’s time for Grand Rapids to make a decision on whether we want to continue to be a big city with a small town mentality or are we actually ready to transition and become a world-class destination city.”
The Ambiance ownership team engaged in several conversations with the city of Grand Rapids to try to address the loitering and safety concerns that come with operating any late-night venue, Jelks added.
Jelks posted on June 5 that the Ambiance team had been meeting with the Grand Rapids Police Department for four years since construction started on the nightclub about a pilot program to focus on crowd control and preventing excessive loitering.
“Our concerns have been met with inadequate solutions,” Jelks stated in the Facebook post. “Our city can not afford to have a West Michigan nonchalant attitude and lack of due diligence when it comes to safety in the heart of our community.”
The ownership team of Ambiance GR Kitchen & Lounge invested $800,000 to renovate the 5,000-square-foot below-grade space at the corner of Ottawa Avenue and Pearl Street. They were leasing the space from CWD Real Estate, which owns the building.
Grand Rapids leaders have expressed concern about shootings in downtown that occurred over the summer, including a fatal shooting on May 24, a second fatal shooting on June 5 and a shooting on June 17 outside the Grand Woods Lounge that resulted in four people sustaining injuries.
The increased violence that has been happening in Grand Rapids for several years is “a huge concern,” Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Government Affairs Josh Lunger told WOOD-TV8 in response to a shooting on Sept. 11 on the Blue Bridge.
Lunger also told WOOD-TV8 that the business community is working on more ways to keep everyone safe, like adding private security to downtown and closing the Blue Bridge at midnight on the weekends.
“All good intentions being taken into account, we couldn’t get the support we needed,” Jelks told MiBiz.