Cynics may have their day but market project will bear economic fruit

March 29, 2010
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The Grand Action Committee, which certainly includes the Grand Rapids area’s most recognized (i.e. successful) business leaders but also big thinkers, last week unveiled a plan for a downtown indoor/outdoor market to which it has devoted at least six years of discussion and study.

Some local response has exhibited small thinking and the inability or lack of desire to see beyond the box in which they imprison themselves.

That is not surprising by itself: When Grand Action announced it would build an arena in downtown Grand Rapids, the sniping was endless and extended to the “leadership” of both the city and county commissions. “Nobody” wanted to own it. The compromise eventually gave birth to the Convention and Arena Authority.

The naysayers insisted from groundbreaking to finish that the arena would “never” make a profit. In fact, it almost fully carries the weight of enough profit to offset losses at the newer convention center, another Grand Action project.

What is missed by contrarians is that this is not a farmers market. Grand Rapids already has a thriving farmers market on Fulton Street, one that is expanding.

The market proposed by Grand Action is much more, and it links like — but not alike — businesses. The representation of those types of businesses was fully evident at the press conference called to announce the project, and included representatives from area farms to downtown business owners.

The $27 million project includes the old Sonneveldt Produce Co. building — a nice historic touch indicating Grand Rapids’ long history in agriculture, ag products and agri-business that still thrives at Roskam and with the country’s largest food distributors including Sysco and Gordon Food Service, among dozens of others. Old Orchard’s new Very Cherry juice was available at the press conference announcing the project, along with apple muffins from area apple growers.

Grand Rapids Community College’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education, noted as one the top culinary schools in the country, is among the partners in this project. Grand Rapids Public Schools’ leadership is developing its opportunities, and Michigan State University, the country’s first land-grant agricultural college, is developing potential partnerships at the market.

The market, as Grand Action views it, is much bigger than a central city venue for fresh produce. It draws upon the region’s legacy and future in varied agribusinesses and support of local retailers.

We find it to be of no coincidence that the Downtown Development Authority purchased the Sonneveldt property in 2007.

Grand Action also is aware of the opportunities to focus on health education, diet and lifestyle issues, offering much of that education within the city’s Heartside District. That aspect of the market also offers opportunities to draw grants and potential funding from health care businesses.

Grand Action members said new potential partnerships and funding opportunities have presented themselves almost every week for the past year.

The group has asked area foundations to consider the initial funding to move the project forward in concept and design as the more formal donor and ownership issues are weighed.

It is a project that will generate excitement, just as the arena and convention center have created new sources of community pride.

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