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Grand Rapids “Urban Market” Part 3

August 20, 2010

Last month the Grand Rapids Press ran a short article announcing that the entity behind the proposed downtown “urban market” (Grand Action), has now hired an architect.

The architect, Hugh Boyd, is a New Jersey-based architect who will partner with local architects Design Plus and engineers from Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber. The article mentioned that the project will be completed in 2012 or 2013 and cost an estimated $27 million.

The Press article also mentions that the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has already agreed to give Grand Action $100,000 towards development plans and it is believed that the DDA will also donate the land where the development project will go along Ionia by the Wealthy St. ramp to US 131.

Since the DDA uses public money, some people have been calling for more transparency with this project. As a result of some public concerns the consultants did interview people who addressed concerns.

GRIID spoke with a few people who were interviewed more recently and they expressed concerns that both the consultant (Ted Spitzer) and the Grand Action representative (John Canepa) were dismissive of the issued they raised. Some of those issues had to do with how accessible the food at this new urban market would be for people of low income, particularly residents in Heartside, the Southeast part of the city and the Grandville Avenue corridor.

Spitzer said that this project is not about local food and will only have an estimated 40 food vendors. Those involved in the project also made it clear that this was primarily about “economic development” and what they called “agro-tourism.” The folks at Grand Action see the “urban market” as a way to bring more suburbanites into downtown Grand Rapids, which is why the project is more about trendy bars and restaurants.

Long-term Development Consequences

One could certainly argue that this $27 million-plus “development” project will greatly alter the make up of the neighborhoods that surround the proposed site. The “urban market” project will no doubt increase the likelihood of further capital investment into the area, which will be a benefit to some and a negative impact on others.

First, there is the issue of parking and increased traffic. Anyone who spends anytime near the intersection of Wealthy & Division or trying to get on or off US 131 at Wealthy knows that this is already a congested area. Adding a project, which is design to bring people from the surrounding communities to the downtown area, will further exacerbate the need for more parking and traffic congestion. For those who live and work in this area that will only add to more frustration, stress and other health issues related to air pollution and traffic congestion.

Second, these kinds of development projects always seem to displace marginalized populations. There is already some concern from Heartside residents and service providers about how this new development and the clientele it will serve will impact those of low income who live in the Heartside area.

In addition, this project and the economic ripple effect it will have will no doubt impact the long-term future of the residential area just east of Division and south of Wealthy. This is a neighborhood that currently has a tremendous amount of recently vacant land with residents of moderate and low-income levels. Will the “urban market” project potentially force people out of the area because of property tax increases, land purchases, potential re-zoning and class pressures.

A good example of how all this can impact low-income and marginal communities from 15 years ago was when the arena was proposed in Grand Rapids (also a Grand Action project.) The land that the arena now sits on used to be a City parking lot and since the parking spaces would be swallowed up by the arena, they needed to find other land to fill those spaces.

At the same time the land where the new YMCA sits and surrounding parking was once a neighborhood of some 80 houses. This was a primarily working class neighborhood with some of the residents receiving government assistance. All these houses were then bought by local real estate developer Jack Buchanan (of the Hangar42 fame) with the intent of rehabbing the houses for more upscale housing and office space.

Buchanan and his associate at the time then decided that the project wouldn’t work and they then offered the City the opportunity to buy the land for a City parking lot. It is difficult to say whether or not this was the intent of Buchanan all along, since there isn’t much in the public record. But what is clear is that at the time that there was still housing there I had the opportunity to interview numerous residents about the plans to bulldoze the neighborhood.

Many residents said that landlords were “purposely allowing properties to decline” and refused to do even basic repairs. For their troubles residents who signed an agreement to leave were given a 20-inch TV in order to pacify people who might otherwise complain. Again, it is not critical to the point I am making in terms of whether or not the displacement of these people was part of the development plan all along, but it clearly is an example of how development projects can have that affect.

Third, there are always consequences of development projects in terms of class conflicts and this project has the potential to add to that conflict. As someone who has lived near the Heartside district for 25 years I can tell you that there are many people I know who are economically struggling who have had to deal with the consequences of development project.

You can bet that with the “urban market” going in that there will be an increase of police presence in the area. People who current live under the Wealthy St, highway ramp will no doubt be removed from that area. Heartside residents who utilize the park space on Ionia will also likely be confronted by law enforcement due to increased consumers coming to the area. Indeed, one of the person interviewed by the project consultant said that the Grand Action folks there’s going to be surveillance on the premise that the GRPD can monitor.” The person interviewed was also told, “they don’t own it, referring to those who are homeless who hang out in the Heartside Park where they want to do family fun activities.”

Lastly, there is the issue of ongoing transparency and public accountability, especially since there is already public money being used in this project. It is difficult to get information about the full project at this point, but there is information from the August 11 DDA meeting (pages 14-15) regarding who will run the “urban market.”

The plan is to set up a Michigan limited liability company named Grand Rapids Urban Market Holdings, LLC. This non-profit entity will be under the direction of a 9 member Board of Directors, which will serve at least a 3-year term. It is in this memorandum that the DDA states that it will turn over this property for the “urban market,” which underscores another area where public funds may have been involved. Having said that to date there has been limited transparency of this project and it will not likely become more transparent unless the public holds them accountable.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    August 21, 2010 3:07 pm

    “Not about local food”? “Only 40 vendors”? That certainly wasn’t the impression given when this concept was first introduced! Wasn’t this project originally touted as a centralized location for area farmers to sell goods year-round?

    Is it just me, or are these developers issuing one story after another to speak to different audiences–neighborhood people, GR citizens, downtown business owners, city government officials…?

  2. December 13, 2011 9:30 pm

    Wait, I cannot fathom it being so starhigtfroward.

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