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Another look at the proposed downtown farmers market

April 12, 2010

A few weeks ago the Grand Rapids Press reported on a proposed plan by the local group Grand Action to build a year round farmers market at the south end of downtown Grand Rapids.

It was reported that Grand Action hired an out of town firm to do a feasibility study to determine if Grand Rapids was ready for such a proposal, as well as, a cost/benefit analysis. The company hired was Market Ventures Inc., which prepared a document on the details of the plan. One glaring omission from our read of the document shows that no residents, either of Heartside or the neighborhood just south east of the proposed site were included in the 125 interviews the company conducted. It seems that area residents should have been consulted considering that such a project would increase traffic, which always has consequences on any neighborhood.

The response so far has primarily been positive, with the GR Press endorsing the plan, along with numerous individuals who have expressed support online at MLive.com. In addition, there is a Facebook group that is also endorsing the proposal.

The most recent edition of MiBiz also featured a front-page story about the project proposed by Grand Action. In that article they site someone from Market Ventures, Local First, the Michigan Farm Bureau, Starting Block Inc., and David Frey, one of the co-chairs of Grand Action. The article mostly focuses on the business benefits of such a project with limited discussion about the benefits of having an additional venue to sell food. Farmers, residents and groups like the Great Grand Rapids Food Systems Council or Our Kitchen Table were perspectives not sought out by the reporter, even though they both do local food advocacy and food justice work.

So it seems that this proposal is moving forward based on the premise that Grand Rapids needs another farmers market and that Grand Action has “a proven track record of successful economic development projects.”

First, lets be clear that what is being proposed in just about a year-round farmers market. In fact, the farmers market is only one small piece of the proposal. The bulk of the space would be used for additional restaurants, bars and other “entrepreneurial” ventures. Second, does the downtown area need more bars and restaurants? If the so-called hub of this proposal is a farmers market, why not utilize the land for urban food production and classes on how to grow food. This could also provide employment opportunities for people and it provides important skills to a larger sector of the population.

A third question that could be asked is about whether or not such a proposal would increase traffic and parking demands. Increased traffic and parking spaces means additional air pollution and water contamination from surface run-off. Instead of having a centralized farmers market hub, why not develop numerous markets throughout the city, which would not only facilitate less car traffic, it would provide needed investments in neighborhoods, which might include more specialized markets depending on the ethnic make-up of each neighborhood. These neighborhood-based farmers markets could all include designated space for growing food, composting and educational classes/workshops for people who live in those areas. There could even be community kitchens constructed, which could provide greater opportiunities for people to share food and prepare meals in common, something that Our Kitchen Table has been proposing.

A fourth question that could be asked, and has been asked, is where will the funding for such a project come from? If there are State and Federal dollars involved, then shouldn’t the public have more of a role in determining what such a project will look like? Then there is the question of who will operate such a project and who will benefit financially?

If we look at previous Grand Action projects like the arena, the real beneficiary is the DeVos family, which owns both the professional hockey team and the arena football team. Will this project primarily benefit the elite sectors of the business community? If the public finances such a project, even if it is only part of the funding, shouldn’t the public have more say in what is ultimately proposed? Before we get behind such plans, it is important for a great community conversation to take place so that basic rights like eating healthy food will not be determined by a handful of individuals who have demonstrated that they are primarily motivated by profits.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Tom permalink
    April 12, 2010 7:41 pm

    Amen, brother!

  2. Nancy Jo Wilson permalink
    April 13, 2010 4:38 pm

    I really think we need another grocery store in this area or a grocery store in downtown. Those who live, go to school and work downtown, still have to get in their cars and drive to a grocery store.

    The market on Fulton is fantastic and I like the idea of smaller, localized markets through out Grand Rapids.

    On the positive side, a development in this area could jump start the area and provide some new stores, restaurants and employment opportunities for those in the neighborhood.

  3. April 13, 2010 4:57 pm

    I agree Nancy that we need a real grocery store and access to fresh foods in that neighbor. I have lived there for 25 years, so I would welcome it. I agree that a farmers market could be a benefit for the neighborhood, but since those proposing this project have not talked to residents of that area I am concerned that we will be excluded from the process, which was one of the points of this posting.

  4. Kate Wheeler permalink
    April 14, 2010 3:11 pm

    I had never seen the details for this development before–thanks for posting them. There seems to be as much space allotted for the restaurant, wine bar, and offices as there is for the market.

    A disturbing number of references to tourists–“all arriving by car”–in the plan, too. Your point about the increase in traffic and parking is well-taken.

    And what is the 19,000 square feet for “housing” all about? Is this development going to tie in somehow with the mysterious for-profit development being planned by the non-profit ICCF?

  5. Sue Ross permalink
    April 18, 2010 3:47 am

    Will arts and crafts artists be allowed in the new proposal?

  6. Jeff Smith permalink*
    April 18, 2010 11:53 am

    I have no idea if arts and crafts artists will be included, since it seems all kind of vague at this point.

Trackbacks

  1. Revitalization vs Gentrification in the Heartside area « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  2. Another Look at the Proposed Urban Market – Part II « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  3. Like most media coverage, New York Times article is giddy over downtown GR market « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  4. New York Times article giddy over downtown GR market | Our Kitchen Table
  5. Like most media coverage, NYTimes article is giddy over downtown Grand Rapids market - Recoil

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