Urban market holds promise as economic catalyst

February 5, 2011
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The developers will say that it’s not a done deal — that it’s a work in progress that holds promise. But the proposed urban marketplace has a once-in-a-decade feel to it that could turn the fortunes of an underdeveloped southwest section of downtown into an economic catalyst for the district, the city and maybe even the region.

The Grand Action Committee and the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority have combined forces to build an indoor/outdoor, year-round market on 3.5 vacant acres owned by the DDA on Ionia Avenue SW, just south of Wealthy Street. The market potentially would offer many uses, including the sale of fresh food products and retail goods, a restaurant, wine bar and rooftop greenhouse, and housing units, public meeting rooms and performance space.

The marketplace will cost from $27 million to $31 million to build and develop. Both public and private sources will be investigated to fund and finance the facility. The market holds the promise of having an economic impact of $775 million over its first decade, and about 1,300 new jobs, including 290 construction jobs, when it opens.

Those figures come from a feasibility study Grand Action commissioned Market Ventures Inc., of Portland, Maine, to conduct. The findings were released last March when Market Ventures President Ted Spitzer said, “We see this as an exciting and attainable project.” Spitzer added that food sales at the market would reach $20 million annually. By its third year, he said the market would generate $2 million annually in rental income and fees, while operations would cost $1.5 million a year.

Experience Grand Rapids President Doug Small said the market has the added potential of luring visitors to the city and injecting some outside dollars into the local economy. “We have good restaurants. We have good retail. But we don’t have that really unique experience to draw visitors to, and I think this is a great opportunity for us,” he said.

Grand Action Co-Chairman John Canepa, who shares that title with Dick DeVos and David Frey, said the fledgling market holds the same economic promise that accompanied Van Andel Arena before it opened in 1996. Since then, it has recorded a surplus of at least $1 million each year. The arena served as an incentive for more than $25 million of private investment downtown in roughly its first year. Grand Action and the DDA were the forces behind that project, too.

Frey said Grand Action has established a finance committee consisting of private and public officials who are looking into ways to finance the market project. Those options include tax credits, public and private grants, bonds and private dollars.

So far the DDA has contributed $100,000 to the market’s predevelopment effort being done by Boyd Architects of Montclair, N.J., and local firms Design Plus and Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber. The DDA also gave the development a tax reimbursement of nearly $1.1 million for public improvements. City commissioners approved a brownfield that should give the project $5.2 million from state tax credits.

Grand Action and the DDA created a for-profit entity in August — Grand Rapids Urban Marketing Holdings LLC — to take title of the property. They also established a nonprofit corporation called Grand Rapids Urban Market to manage the market.

The market should begin delivering on its promise by spring of 2012 or 2013.

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