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March 6 marked the beginning of Acton Institute’s active use of its new home, a now-renovated former department store and office building at 98 E. Fulton St. The institute was formerly housed in leased space at the Waters Building at 161 Ottawa Ave. NW.
Acton Institute is a Grand Rapids-based international and public policy think tank dedicated, according to its website, to “integrating Judeo-Christian truths with free market principles.” The institute was founded in 1990 by its president, Father Robert Sirico, and its executive director, Kris Alan Mauren. Acton currently has 36 full-time employees.
The 38,000 square foot building features a multi-functional, high-tech conference center and auditorium that can hold events for more than 200 people, a media center, several libraries, and office space for the institute’s staff. The institute will occupy the basement and first floor of the building.
Acton employees have expressed excitement about how their new location and its resources will help them carry out the institute’s work.
“There’s a lot more capability built into the new building,” said John Couretas, the institute’s director of communications and executive editor of Religion & Liberty, the institute’s quarterly magazine. “It allows us to more effectively do the work we’ve been doing for 23 years.”
Jordan Ballor, an Acton Institute research fellow and executive editor of Acton’s peer-reviewed Journal of Markets & Morality, anticipates more productive and rewarding opportunities for collaborative efforts.
“It’s going to make working together on various projects and programs much more interesting and dynamic,” he said.
Teresa Bailey, the institute’s development assistant, stressed the importance of Acton owning its own building.
“I walk up into a building that is ours,” said Bailey, who has been working for the institute for two years. “It’s just an entirely different world from working in an office building.”
Bailey said the institute will also be able to use its own building to host events that previously would take place off location in rented facilities.
Bailey also emphasized the visibility of the institute’s new location, pointing out that the building is located on one of the most highly traveled streets in the city.
“78,000 cars drive past our front window every day,” she said.
Bailey added the increased visibility gives people a new way to connect with the institute. She noted the irony that people throughout the world know about Acton Institute for its publications and programs but that many people in Grand Rapids are unaware of the work the institute does. She said the institute’s new location is changing that situation.
“They’re walking past our building and hearing about us that way,” she said.
Couretas believes that Acton Institute’s new location allows the institute to be more actively involved in the increasingly vibrant life of downtown Grand Rapids.
“We’re delighted to be part of the ongoing renaissance of downtown,” Couretas said. “Acton is very deliberately making a $6.5 million investment in that part of downtown.”
Ballor looks forward to the institute being more integrated into Grand Rapids life.
“We’re hoping for it to be a destination not only for visiting scholars and students, who come from all over the world, but also for people in the community,” he said.
Acton Institute’s purchase and renovation of 98 E. Fulton is the most notable part of the institute’s $12.5 million capital campaign. As of Feb. 20, the institute had raised more than $10.5 million in gifts and pledges.
In January, Acton Institute was ranked 13th in the “Top 50 Social Policy Think Tanks” category by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP). TTCSP also ranked Acton 34th in its “Top 55 Think Tanks in the United States” category.
David Urban is an English professor at Calvin College. Learn more about him at http://www.calvin.edu/academic/engl/faculty/urban/
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