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Newsmaker: Downtown Market initiates ripple effect
Editor’s note: The Business Journal is recognizing 10 nominees for its 2012 Newsmaker of the Year Award, based on their long-term economic impact on the region. One nominee will be featured each day on grbj.com — leading up to the Jan. 21 announcement of the 2012 Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year.
Though it may never reach the equivalent of Boston’s Faneuil Hall or Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the developers behind Grand Rapids’ new Downtown Market are expecting big things to come from their project, and several others are hoping they're right.
Already the somewhat quiet and forgotten sector of downtown Grand Rapids is attracting renewed interest thanks to the project’s hype. And, though it’s not scheduled to open for about six more months, the Downtown Market is already having an economic impact on the community.
Construction began during 2012 on the future indoor and outdoor market, with New Jersey’s Hugh Boyd and Grand Rapids’ Progressive AE serving as its architects and local firm Pioneer Construction managing the project.
Three housing projects were unveiled in the same neighborhood following the announcement of the market. Two involve new construction and the third is a renovation of the Baker Furniture Building. Combined, the projects will bring 85 new rental units to downtown.
The $30-million project is the result of a combined effort by the Grand Action Committee and Downtown Development Authority. Both organizations expect the project to be a huge success and a catalyst for revitalizing the southern portion of downtown surrounding the market.
Once completed, the market itself will offer two 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. Spaces will be leased to businesses that fit within the theme of the market, which is locally produced food and goods.
As of December, the market already had between 15 and 20 letters of intent from potential vendors, according to Mimi Fritz, president and CEO of Grand Rapids Downtown Market Inc., the entity overseeing operations.
A 2010 feasibility study, conducted on behalf of Grand Action, projected that 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 report suggested 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. These reports indicate a built-in profit for the market.
The $75-million Van Andel Arena is often cited as a comparison by those working on the project, in terms of how it will impact the downtown economy in the long-term.
Besides attracting local visitors to downtown, expectations are high that it will draw tourists from outside the region and beyond.
“I think our visitors are looking for something unique,” said Doug Small, president of Experience Grand Rapids, when previously discussing the project with the Business Journal. “As we go out to market a destination, you really have to have something unique to cut through the clutter. Albeit we have good restaurants, we have good retail — but we don’t have that really unique experience to draw visitors, and I think this is a great opportunity for us.
“This is like getting a new air service. I’ve got a better chance of competing with Milwaukee and Columbus,” he said. “I’ll do anything I can to help Grand Action with this.”