The Diatribe Inc. is hosting the community this afternoon for the groundbreaking of The Emory Arts and Culture Hub, a $9 million mixed-use project the nonprofit is developing on South Division Avenue.

The adaptive reuse project at 2040 S. Division Ave. will contain eight apartments, a venue, four retail storefronts, the Diatribe’s offices and programming space for artists and youth. The organization has planned a groundbreaking ceremony featuring live poetry performances for 5 p.m. tonight across the street from the project at the Agave Sports Lounge.

“It is a place that we wanted to bring to the community so that our community could have something in the 49507 (ZIP code) where they could go, have a cup of coffee, go and listen to poetry, and rent out spaces for quinceañeras and other events,” said Vanessa Jimenez, interim co-executive director of The Diatribe. “It’s really cool to see it come to fruition now and to see this groundbreaking happening.”

The Diatribe first announced plans for The Emory in 2022, and has been fundraising for more than a year. So far, the Grand Rapids-based arts and culture nonprofit has raised $6.7 million toward its $9 million goal. The project budget has increased to $9 million from the estimated $6.2 million when plans were first announced, largely because of inflation and rising costs of construction supplies, Jimenez said.

Crews have been at the building working on asbestos remediation and plan to begin the renovation work sometime in June. The organization expects construction to take a year, and targets opening it by July or August 2025, Jimenez said.

Area students currently lack options for after-school programming, outside of staying at their school buildings, a gap that The Emory expects to fill for the community, Jimenez said.

The Diatribe anticipates The Emory will serve as an after-school space where a cohort of local youth in grades 7-12 will be able come on weekdays from 3-7 p.m. for free art workshops, homework help and leisure.

“We wanted to create those safe spaces for our youth and our community to really be a part of and come into the space and really be … their authentic selves and explore what they can do,” Jimenez said.

The Diatribe has been facilitating poetry programs in Grand Rapids schools since 2013 and offers programs in 20-30 classrooms a year in the Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Muskegon public schools.

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission approved a special land use application for the project in January this year.

Grand Rapids-based Pure Architects is designing The Emory, while Kentwood-based Wolverine Building Group serves as the general contractor. Grand Rapids-based Cella Building Co. is serving as the owner’s representative on the project.

Steelcase Inc. is designing the venue on the lower level of the project, which will be named “The Retort” — a nod to The Diatribe’s long-running “Drunken Retort” slam poetry and open mic show that formerly operated weekly at the back bar at Stella’s Lounge.

The organization plans eight live/work apartments to be rented out at below-market rates on the second floor of the building.

“We are committed to keeping them affordable, but it’s really about building a program that can sustain that,” Jimenez said.

The Diatribe’s team is working with community partners and the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan to help establish an equitable, affordable way to rent out the apartments.

The Diatribe purchased the property for The Emory in 2023 for $400,000 from Calvin University Professor Leonard Van Drunen. The building on site was constructed in 1935 and previously housed the Holwerda-Snoap Sporting Goods store, which moved across the street on South Division Avenue.

Except for a church that was operating in part of the lower level, the building has been vacant for the past several years. The Diatribe’s goal is bring people from the community and from outside the area to visit the project and see all of the momentum in the Burton Heights neighborhood, said Javier Cervantes, culture and strategy champion at The Diatribe.

“Our goal is really not to push anybody out, but to bring people in and bring them together to really say, ‘We are here, our community has been here and we are here to enhance the work that’s already happening,’” Cervantes said.

The organization’s former executive director, Marcel Price, left his role at the nonprofit at the end of 2023. He was placed on administrative leave by The Diatribe’s board of directors on July 10 after it received “internal complaints regarding treatment of personnel.”

Jimenez said The Diatribe will announce an update next week on its search for a new executive director.

As part of the search, The Diatribe has also been working internally to enhance its operations and efficiencies to make sure its staff has resources and support to sustain The Emory.

“This is a big project,” Jimenez said. “This is taking the Diatribe really to the next level.”