Urban Market to receive funding

October 17, 2011
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It's beginning to look like the Urban Market project, which is jointly being developed by the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority and the Grand Action Committee, is making headway in securing the financial backing to get construction started.

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler pointed out last week that the development, which is targeted for 3.5 acres on Ionia Avenue SW near Wealthy Street, is in line to receive $200,000 from a $1 million grant the city's Economic Development Office secured from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Those dollars would be used to legally dispose of the contaminated soil from the site and the materials left from the razing of the property's four buildings.

The project may also receive a $1 million grant from the state Department of Environmental Quality that the Economic Development Office has applied for, and that money would be used to demolish the buildings and also remove the polluted soil.

"The Economic Development Office has done a great job in coming up with the grants," said Fowler.

Also last week, the city's Parking Commission agreed to fund a 33-space lot that would provide public parking for the market, which will have another 200 spaces, on the nearby Wealthy Street right-of-way. The Michigan Department of Transportation has an easement to the site the city owns. The estimated cost for the lot is $200,000; MDOT has insisted that the city own the lot.

"We've met with MDOT and they're amenable to allow parking under the (U.S. 131) overpass," said Fowler.

"In absence of a city investment, there wouldn't be parking here," said Pam Ritsema, who heads the city's enterprise division.

"There are few projects in the city that enjoy so much public support," said Andy Guy, parking commissioner.

City commissioners will have the final say on the allocation.

Michelle Hoffner, an architect with Design Plus, said the market's two-story building will offer a variety of vendors, merchants, educational opportunities and public meeting spaces. The ground floor will be home to 22 year-round vendors and other retail spaces, along with seasonal produce stalls. Much of the second level will be dedicated to educating residents on fresh foods and healthy living, and will also offer areas for meetings, parties and receptions.

"Originally when they start, the market will only be open weekends. The goal is to expand on that," said Hoffner, whose firm is designing the project with Hugh A. Boyd Architects and Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber. Pioneer Construction will manage the work.

The market is expected to cost nearly $30 million to build, create 1,270 new jobs and bring more development into the district. Grand Action is expected to raise $12 million in private contributions for the project, while the city and the DDA plan to spend about $4.7 million to make public improvements near the property the downtown board owns. Four types of tax credits have been targeted to help with the financing. The economic impact of the market's first 10 years of operation has been estimated at $775 million.

"Most importantly, this could become an anchor for the south end of downtown," said Fowler as he compared the project's potential impact to that of the Van Andel Arena. "We believe this site will have the same tremendous effect for this side of downtown."

Site work, including demolition, could begin as early as next month. The completion date for the market's construction is spring 2013.

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