African American museum to relocate

Courtesy Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives

The Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA) will move to a new location.

George Bayard, founder and executive director of GRAAMA, said the museum is planning to purchase and move into a three-story office building at 245 State St. SE in Grand Rapids later this year or early next year.

“’We’re Movin’ on Up’ — the theme song from the ‘70s TV sitcom — is a clear statement of how I feel about our move,” Bayard said. “I love the Monroe Center space, but the overwhelming support from this community demands that GRAAMA grows in size and stature. The vision we have for 245 State St. is why we waited for seven years to find the perfect location. All of our dreams will come to fruition — larger museum space, full-sized art gallery, community gathering space and dedicated parking are only a few. The stories and people of the Grand Rapids African American community have to be preserved for all time, and GRAAMA is set to make that happen.”

The museum currently is located at 87 Breonna Taylor Way NW (Monroe Center St. NW) in downtown Grand Rapids.

Bayard said the museum is working with its agent, Jeff Karger of JLL, to finalize the transaction. Details of the negotiation are not being disclosed; however, the State Street property was listed by Highpoint Real Estate Development for $2.9 million.

Once the transaction is complete, GRAAMA will relocate to the 18,000-square-foot office building that is nearly nine times larger than its current space.

“Before the pandemic, our visitors grew fivefold and more diverse, not including the explosion we got during ArtPrize,” Bayard said. “We were drawing from what the robust tourist and convention businesses downtown offered. We also experienced huge growth in international patrons. School tours and youth clubs were very frequent and increasing in number. Even with only 2,100 square feet, clients rented our facility for receptions, birthdays and book signings. That growth has moved to our online offerings, which remain in our programming, though people are finding their way back into the museum. What has grown the most is our collection. We went from about 700 items to over 8,000, three-fourths of which are in storage, limiting the number of artifacts we can display at one time.”

GRAAMA hired local architecture firm Isaac V. Norris and Associates to redesign the 63-year-old office building. The firm will recommend what additions and/or modifications are necessary for the building to acquire Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Bayard said the ground floor will be a community space for receptions, gatherings, talks and movies, with a movable stage and seating. The museum’s gift shop and bookstore will have more space, and there will be three additional retail businesses.

The second floor will have galleries that focus on local history, art, sports, music, entertainment and fashion. The third floor will house archives, a library, a research lab, classrooms and a storage area.

A recording studio, conference room and six offices will be available for rent to community groups. Bayard said there also will be other informative displays that will be disclosed later.

The museum said it soon will announce a capital campaign to raise $5.3 million to purchase and renovate the new space.

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