Downtown Market earns Newsmaker award


Celebrating the award at the site of the Downtown Market are, from left, Brian Harris, DDA board chair; Carole Valade, Business Journal editor; George Aquino, Downtown Market board chair; John Zwarensteyn, Business Journal publisher; and David Frey, Grand Action co-chair. Photo by Michael Buck

Members of the team that came together a few years ago to collaborate on the Downtown Market project joined the Grand Rapids Business Journal this week at the project site to accept their award for Newsmaker of the Year.

“Our motto has always been (to) think boldly, plan collegially and act in a sense of urgency,” said David Frey, Grand Action Committee co-chair. “I think that sort of captures how we’ve worked together for almost 20 years now. I think the fact that we are being recognized while we are still under construction — it’s a growing realization of what this facility is all about and the role that it plays in terms of all the other activities in the city.”

This is not the first time Grand Action and the Downtown Development Authority have come together to develop a project of this magnitude. In the past, the two organizations have worked on such transformative projects as Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place, as well as other smaller projects.

The Downtown Market has been drawing comparisons to the Van Andel Arena in terms of its potential economic impact on the city and the region, and Brian Harris, DDA board chairman, agrees with those comparisons.

“It’s probably a fair comparison, at point and time,” said Harris. “At point and time, when we needed — whether it’s the arena, DeVos Place or even the JW Marriott — point and time, those are very instrumental projects in creating the critical mass that we needed downtown. This is, at this point and time, the same sort of project, but obviously a very different project.”

The $30 million project is expected to have an economic impact of $775 million and create up to 1,300 jobs during its first 10 years.

Harris is confident those numbers actually will be exceeded.

Farmers and the local agriculture industry are one of the primary groups expected to benefit from the market, which will focus on locally produced food and goods.

“This project fills a very real need for the city and for the region, and it recognizes the enormous impact of the agriculture community in West Michigan,” Frey said. “It’s a huge part of our economy. It’s the new generation of foodies who will thrive and will come to this place like you can’t imagine.”

Frey also acknowledged that the market extends the southern boundary of the city into an underdeveloped area, which is already breeding growth with at least three residential housing projects planned for the immediate vicinity.

The market also will be a great selling point for Grand Rapids.

“What’s really exciting about this project is it really impacts the entire region and really the state, because a downtown market like this really opens it up to a broad audience,” said George Aquino, board chairman for the Downtown Market.

“We’ve really seen an increase in group business and conventions. Something like this would allow more conventioneers to come in with their spouses or families and, while they’re at a meeting, their family can walk over here and spend a good portion of their visit here in this market, along with the other things that we have available in this city. We have great museums and the Meijer Gardens, and this will be an addition to this community.”

With the track record that Grand Action and the DDA have, it’s not hard to believe in the projected numbers.

“I mean, we do a lot of front-end homework — due diligence, if you will — on all of our projects,” Frey said. “That is really one of the keys to our success. We’ve studied the subject. We’ve had the most sophisticated consultant in the country, out of Portland, Maine — Ted Spitzer (working on it).

“We know exactly what to expect from this. We’ve got a very strong balance sheet for the board to operate with and we have very high assurance and comfort level that this facility will be very successful financially, which it needs to be. It needs to be a profitable facility not only for the vendors but for the organization itself.”

The community will not be disappointed, added Frey.

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