Can Food Keep a Michigan City's Mojo Rising?

Keith Schneider looks at Downtown Market, the "newest piece of civic equipment" being built as part of Grand Rapids's transformation from "Furniture City" to vibrant, and growing, hub.
November 16, 2012, 11am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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More than a billion dollars of investment over the last decade and a half have made Grand Rapids one of the most successful small cities in the Midwest, if not the entire country. "[F]ull of young professionals in good careers, who enjoy a low cost of living, first-rate restaurants with locally brewed beer and a variety of residential options near work," Michigan's second largest city can boast a growing population and a jobless rate well below the state average.

So what is the secret to their success? "One reason is the distinctive partnerships formed between this city’s redevelopment agencies and wealthy industrialists and philanthropists. Hundreds of millions of private dollars have been raised here to build a downtown that encourages entrepreneurs, develops career-track jobs and attracts new residents."

The latest fruit of those partnerships is the $30 million, 130,000-square-foot Downtown Market, "a destination that is expected to attract 500,000 visitors a year." Building on the trend in local, fresh food, the market is intended as "a year-round, seven-days-a-week public market that would be a place to shop for local foods and a destination for residents and visitors." A feasibility study also predicted the market would serve as an economic engine, with forecasted gross annual sales of around $25 million and the generation of more than 600 jobs.

More importantly, says David Frey, co-chairman of one of the groups that helped get the market built, “[i]t creates a lot of synergy for the development that’s been happening in Grand Rapids for some time now.”

“The people this city attracts now want to be near things,” said Mike VanGessel, president and chief executive of Rockford Construction. “They want to walk, not drive. The Downtown Market is close. It’s part of the answer to, ‘How do we keep doing the next right thing for retaining our talent?’ ”

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Published on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 in The New York Times
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