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Like most media coverage, New York Times article is giddy over downtown GR market

November 14, 2012

Yesterday, the New York Times published a story about the market in downtown Grand Rapids, which is currently under construction.

The NYTs piece does what most local news coverage has done with this story so far, presented it as a wonderful thing. The Times piece talks about public/private partnerships, the benevolence of local philanthropists, the growing local food interest and how the market is one piece in the ongoing development of downtown Grand Rapids.

The only sources cited in the article are David Frey, a member of Grand Action, the entity that made the proposal; a representative from Rockford Construction, which is the primary construction company on this project; and the person who was hired to manage the market.

Excluded from the article are voices and perspectives that see this project through a much different lens.

For example, Our Kitchen Table, a local grassroots group working on food justice, had this to say about the New York Times article:

While it’s nice to see Grand Rapids receive national recognition, access to fresh, nutritious food in Grand Rapids’ neighborhoods remains a privilege reserved for those who can afford higher prices and transportation outside of the city’s food desserts. Our Kitchen Table works to address this injustice through food gardening programs and the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market. However, as government policies do not favor the small farmer, we have a hard time finding vendors who can afford the small returns our market brings them. In addition, existing philanthropic efforts to feed the hungry more often fill bellies with low-nutrient, high sugar, processed foods that only exacerbate medical issues caused by malnutrition: obesity, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and behavioral problems. While food industry donors get write offs, lower income families are written off. Furthermore, we do not believe the new Downtown Market will do anything to improve access to healthy foods for the Grand Rapids families who need it most.

Such a statement speaks to why this blog has been critical of the proposal from the beginning. We pointed out in an April 2010 article that the project was not just a farmers market, but a larger food complex that will serve an upscale population. In May of 2010, we posted a second article that provided a summary from a meeting where area residents and food activists raised questions about the proposal, stating that many who live in the Heartside area and south and south east of the market site were not included in any discussions about the project.

The project was approved despite the lack of public input and since then has been receiving millions of dollars in public funding. Is this what is meant is meant by public private partnership? The private sector benefits, while the public foots the bill?

We reported in a December 2011 article that the amount of public funds for this project are substantial. The Michigan Economic Growth Authority (public money) gave the project a $4.5 million grant, the DEQ (public money) gave a $1 million grant for demolishing the previous building on site and the DDA (public money) has also provided the project with over $1 million and is committing an additional $75,000 annually for the next 20 years.

Imagine if that kind of monetary commitment was given to groups like Our Kitchen Table, we might actually be able to eliminate malnourishment in Grand Rapids. Too bad that is not anywhere near the goal of the soon to be open downtown market.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. chanceofgay permalink
    November 14, 2012 7:03 pm

    Nice article. One correction:

    Such a statement speaks to why this blog have been critical blog has

    On Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 11:03 AM, Grand Rapids Institute for Informati

  2. Randy Marsh permalink
    November 25, 2012 7:54 pm

    I’m confused, Jeff. You don’t like the urban market project because of something it doesn’t do? I would have thought you were going to charge it with gentrification, but I don’t see that here.

    Our Kitchen Table is a great organization, but they, and you, seem to be working under the assumption that if something doesn’t function in the way you wish it would, then it must be bad. This is a very arrogant position. As far as I can tell, everything here boils down to your desire to see the public money spent on the project go to causes that align with your ideology and goals.

    You’re right about one thing: The market is not a small farmers market. So? Why is that bad? It’s the closest thing to a grocery store downtown, which people there have been wanting for years. So, it fills a need. Also, there’s a LOT of low-income housing downtown and the urban market is built on the very south end of Heartside, much closer to several poor neighborhoods than the upscale population you assume will be its only customers.

    So, how exactly does that not improve access to healthy foods for Grand Rapids families? Are you and OKT just assuming you know how much food there will cost, even though the place isn’t even finished yet? I’ve seen no indication that the urban market will distribute unhealthy food to poor folks in the inner city, so I don’t exactly understand why that makes up such a large part of OKT’s statement.

    I agree with the mission of OKT, and agree that there are large areas of the city that don’t have easy access to fresh, healthy food. But the urban market is not making that situation any worse at all. In fact, it’s helping. Maybe not as much as you’d like, but I mean, who asked you?

  3. November 25, 2012 8:24 pm

    A little late on your anti-griid comments I see. As usual you don’t have a grasp of what is at issue here. The Grand Action led project is designed, in their words, to create a Disney land like tourist attraction that will add to the commercial district of downtown. It is designed to serve those with more than adequate financial resources. In fact, most of the facility will not be for vendors but for an upscale bakery and wine bar.

    OKT’s analysis is correct, in that this facility will not serve the more urgent needs of the low income neighborhoods to the south of where the market is being built, which would be the greater good in this instance. However, since those involved in Grand Action – DeVos, et al, are not interested in economic justice, we get another project in the service of those who are already comfortable.

    Apparently, you didn’t go to the hyperlinks included, which would have informed you that the gentrification argument has been made on many numerous occasions, since I am seeing first hand the impact of this project as it is just 2 blocks from where I have lived for 28 years.

  4. Peggy Leven permalink
    May 11, 2013 1:56 pm

    Not every project has to have as it’s mission to serve the poor. Boston has Faneuil Hall, Detroit has Eastern Market and most cities have a similar facility. I support the market as Grand Rapids continues to strive to become a city that parallels, even Milwaukee. I live downtown and appreciate having ONE place to buy food and can walk to the new market. Yes, we are upscale shoppers, I’d prefer a Trader Joe’s to be honest. The outside vendors, selling fresh produce, is just as accessible to the nearby poor as it is to me. The prices are comparable to the grocery store and the food value much better than shopping at the 7/11. If all we did was underwrite programs for the poor, Grand Rapids would never grow and become a place ALL people want to visit. There’s a place for everything, in my opinion.

  5. May 12, 2013 12:17 pm

    Peggy, you completely misunderstand the points made in the article. I don’t know if it is because you can’t see past your own privilege or you are just being defensive. I’m not advocating that the market should be a program to “serve the poor.” The point I am making as someone who has lived in that neighborhood for nearly 3 decades is that the Grand Action project is designed to gentrify the area, which will only further marginalize the working class people who live just south and east of the so-called market. Of course, the people I am referring to could “shop” there, but that ignores the point that the market serves the needs of those who are economically well off. I do food justice work, which is something that the new market will not do. Food justice is challenging current food system, which is primarily motivated by profit while ignoring that everyone has the right to health, fresh food. I will continue to speak out against projects that use public money, exclude public input and further marginalizes people that Grand Action don’t give a shit about.


  1. New York Times article giddy over downtown GR market | Our Kitchen Table

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