Economic Development, Food Service & Agriculture, and Travel & Tourism

Study shows $85M Downtown Market impact

Primary visitors spent $6.6M, with 52% coming outside Kent County.

April 26, 2019
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Downtown Market
GVSU Seidman College of Business students spent 135 hours over three months surveying visitors to Downtown Market. Courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A new study shows the Grand Rapids Downtown Market has an overall economic impact of $85 million and produces and supports 764 jobs.

Completed by Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business, the number comes from factoring “casual visitors” — those in Grand Rapids for other reasons who also spent money at the market — and “primary visitors,” those who said the market was their primary reason for visiting.

The study showed primary visitors create an estimated $31-million impact and produce and support 330 direct jobs. That includes the $6.6 million they also spent outside the market, generating $10.9 million in output.

Direct spending at the Downtown Market by all primary visitors was $6.6 million, with approximately 52% of that coming from people outside of Kent County.

Small business tenants located within the Downtown Market generate $19.5 million, which includes spending by customers, as well as spending by the tenants with local suppliers.

Causal visitors have created $54 million in impact.

To calculate the economic impact of the Downtown Market, data was collected by GVSU to determine visitor count, how many days people visited and how much money each visitor spent.

The team administered an intercept survey at random times throughout the week, from May 2018 to July 2018, resulting in approximately 135 hours and 34 days of surveying, to determine how much money visitors spent in the city.

“This study shows that food has the power to bring people together and to Grand Rapids, making the Downtown Market an economic anchor for our city and region,” said John Green, treasurer of the Downtown Market board of directors.

The New York Times noted the Downtown Market as one of the city’s major attractions when it included Grand Rapids on its list of 52 places to go in 2016.

More than 961,000 people visited the Downtown Market during 2017, and the market facility rental program hosted more than 400 events during 2018.

Since opening in 2013, the market has launched 118 businesses. The staff has counseled more than 500 businesses, including incubator kitchen tenants, market tenants and other businesses that launched in a different location or not at all, on topics including financing, legal matters, business logistics, distribution, packaging, bottling, marketing, projections and more.

One business that has found success is the Field & Fire Bakery, which started in the market and now has a second location at 820 Monroe Ave. NW, Ste. 100.

"The market gave us not only a place to launch our family business but also a community,” said Shelby Kibler, owner of Field & Fire Bakery. “As a result of the success we found with our bakery in the market, we were able to open a second café location, expanding our business and opportunities."

There are 18 market tenants, some of them using more than one stall, as well as two restaurants. There are spaces for 24 single-stall vendors.

Upstairs in the incubator kitchen, the market is accommodating 36 startup businesses.

Three have increased production and moved to their own brick-and-mortar spaces: Bloom Ferments Kombucha, Prospectors Cold Brew and Dolly’s Delights. Nutcase Vegan Meats is leaving soon, and a fifth is graduating next month.

The market has several public spaces, including a rooftop greenhouse and a kid-friendly demonstration kitchen.

The building is LEED Gold certified, with sustainable features such as a green roof, live walls, geothermal wells and a rain garden.

According to a past Business Journal report, the market on Jan. 23, 2018, received a “fourth and final” extension on the interest-only period of its $3-million loan from the state. The extended deadline of May 31, 2018, was meant to provide time to restructure its initial construction debt.

The market did not grant an interview request regarding the economic impact study, an update on the public funding payments or schedule, or any other information requested.

Regarding the debt repayment, a spokeswoman sent a statement: “We’re currently repaying that loan per our agreement with the (Michigan Economic Development Corporation). The market has been fully financially sustainable since May 2015.”

The MEDC also did not respond to requests for more information on the debt repayment.

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