Economic Development, Food Service & Agriculture, and Real Estate

Newsmaker of the Year: Downtown Market

January 21, 2013
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Newsmaker: Downtown Market creates ripple effect
The Downtown Market is expected to create 1,300 jobs. Photo via fb.com

 Editor’s note: The Business Journal has recognized 10 nominees for its 2012 Newsmaker of the Year Award, based on their long-term economic impact on the region.  

The numbers keep rolling around and refuse to go away: $775 million and 1,300.

That’s how much the Grand Action Committee and Downtown Development Authority estimate the new Downtown Market will be worth to West Michigan’s economy over the next 10 years, and the number of jobs it will create.

The money is a staggering figure and, if it comes to fruition, will be an economic catalyst on the scale of Van Andel Arena’s opening in 1996.

With a long-term economic impact like that, it’s clear the Downtown Market is deserving of the Grand Rapids Business Journal 2012 Newsmaker of the Year Award.

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.

“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.

The $30-million project already is drawing new development to its neighborhood on Ionia Avenue SW, just south of the Wealthy Street overpass, with at least three residential housing projects planned for the immediate vicinity.


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Fritz embraced the idea that not only would the market stretch the downtown business district farther south into an under developed urban area, but also that 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.

Once completed, the market 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 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.

She 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.

“The new Grand Rapids Downtown Market will play a major role in helping food producers, processors and consumers connect, increasing regional food commerce and innovation and providing new food-business opportunities, as well as opportunities in supporting sectors,” said Rich Pirog, senior associate director of the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.

That’s good news for the city’s burgeoning farm-to-table industry. Ted Spitzer, a Maine-based consultant hired by Grand Action for his two decades of expertise in public markets, told the DDA that a full range of fresh foods, particularly those grown in Michigan, will be essential to the market’s popularity and success.

Spitzer unveiled a data projection from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that said there would be 300 more farms operating in an 11-county region surrounding the city by 2017, according to figures from the USDA Census, and many of those new farms would be small. The USDA defines a farm as “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were, or normally would be, produced and sold” during a year.

Spitzer projected the sales potential for fresh foods at the Downtown Market at more than $20 million per year.

A successful public market even draws like-minded “competitors,” according to Spitzer. He said a market he worked with in Portland, Maine, contained only 21 businesses, but it served as an eye-opener for the citizens and the business community. In a fairly short time, the Portland market bred a significant amount of ancillary development for the city.

“Two years later, Whole Foods opened within a half mile. Then we heard . . .  that we’re getting our first Trader Joe’s,” he said. “Remember, we’re a city of 63,000 people. So I think they saw the amount of interest and support for the public market.”

Kayem Dunn, vice chair of the DDA, said the venue should be fully operational by July, but she expects the farmers market portion of the project to open in May.

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