Focus, Economic Development, and Food Service & Agriculture

Market could be a downtown game-changer

Economic potential of new urban development could match the arena’s.

December 22, 2012
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Market could be a downtown game-changer
Mimi Fritz, president and CEO of Grand Rapids Downtown Market Inc., said construction of the market's core and shell is ahead of schedule and on budget. Photo by Jim Gebben
A 2010 feasibility study commissioned by the Grand Action Committee concluded that building a year-round, indoor-and-outdoor market focused on locally produced food and goods had the potential of becoming an economic game-changer.

The report said the market would have an economic impact of $775 million over its first decade of operation and would create about 1,300 jobs, including 290 in the construction field. The market opens next summer.

“The idea of what this market is going to do — not only for Grand Rapids but for all of southwest Michigan and even maybe Michigan — is phenomenal,” said Mimi Fritz, president and CEO of Grand Rapids Downtown Market Inc., the entity overseeing operations.

Another report projected that food sales at the market would reach $20 million annually. By the third year, the market would generate $2 million annually in rental income and fees, while operating expenses would be $1.5 million. So the market is moving toward a built-in profit.

Fritz embraced the idea that, not only would the market stretch the downtown business district further south into an underdeveloped urban area, she also strongly felt the development would create more jobs and help others to start and grow their businesses. Eventually, she said, those startups would become employers in their own right.

Two years ago, Grand Action partnered with the Downtown Development Authority to build the $30 million project on 3.5 acres the DDA owned on Ionia Avenue SW. The coming together of the two was reminiscent of their 1990s collaboration that built the $75 million Van Andel Arena, the development that led to downtown’s revitalization.

At a 2010 press conference, Grand Action co-chairman David Frey said the market would be similar to the arena as an economic driver.

“I believe that. You see that’s already happening,” said Fritz.

Although the market hasn’t sold a cantaloupe yet, three residential projects already are being built near it. One is a renovation of the former Baker Furniture building. The others are new construction that will offer a total of 85 rental apartments.

As for the market’s construction, Fritz said the project’s core and shell are ahead of schedule and on budget. Pioneer Construction is managing the project. New Jersey’s Hugh Boyd and Progressive AE are its architects. “We hope to have everything enclosed and the heat turned on shortly after the first of the year,” Fritz said.

Among the amenities the Downtown Market will offer are a pair of rooftop greenhouses, a commercial kitchen and bakery, a demonstration kitchen for the public and a test kitchen for kids, indoor stalls for vendors, an outdoor market, two restaurants and a microbrewery. Many of the spaces will be leased to businesses, and Fritz said there has been a lot of interest in those.

“We have a couple of different types of tenants. We have commercial-lease tenants, and those are non-retail tenants and almost all of those spaces are filled. Then we have two restaurant spaces open and we’re talking with more than two different restaurants right now. We’re hoping to get some commitments sooner rather than later on those,” she said.

“Then, as far as Market Hall vendors, we have a couple that have signed letters-of-intent, probably about five. Then we probably have another 15 to 20 letters-of-intent out to potential vendors. We haven’t made any announcements yet, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t made any progress.”

Fritz said the response from potential tenants shows people are excited about the market. She said the market’s goal is to find top-quality vendors and restaurants that have a good synergy and will work with each other, especially in terms of purchasing each other’s products

“We need a nice mix of vendors because we only have between 20 and 24 Market Hall spots. We may have just a little bit of repetition, but, essentially, one baker and one butcher will be sufficient. But there has been a tremendous amount of interest,” she said.

Fritz said interest also has come from retailers that aren’t in the food industry. Unfortunately for those businesses, that isn’t the direction the market is taking. “The direction we’re going is all-food retail produced on site, except, of course, for the fishmonger because you can’t produce fish on site,” she said.

The market’s leasing committee interviews all potential tenants, including tasting what a vendor proposes to offer.

“So we are not only looking at their financial plans and business plans but also the quality of their products and the ingredients that they use. Both of those things are very important to us in getting the right people,” said Fritz.

“We are very dedicated to taste-testing,” added DDA Vice Chairwoman Kayem Dunn. “That’s critical, and we’re doing that with everybody. Sometimes that can make decisions harder to move forward because many people do have quality products. But we are also looking at people who may have a different variety.”

Fritz said there isn’t a hard deadline potential tenants need to meet to be considered for a space, but she added that they hope to begin tenant build-outs in February. Chris Muller of M Retail Solutions is the contact for those who wish to lease an indoor space, and the market’s Claire Duthler is the person to speak with about an outdoor stall.

The market is still on track to completely open by July 1. The outdoor farmers market portion of the project, though, will open in May, if city commissioners approve.

“She has a vast array of skills she is using to open the market,” said Dunn of Fritz. “Our intention is to have that building open by July 1. I think people are going to be dazzled when they come to the market. This is a big complicated project. It’s not a subsidized facility.”

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