Downtown project receives national award


Downtown Market is gold LEED-certified, features a green roof, live walls, geothermal wells, rain gardens, and plenty of other innovative sustainable features.. Courtesy Pioneer Construction

A project that has spurred revitalization in a previously underutilized section of downtown Grand Rapids has been recognized by a national organization for its contribution to the community.

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market was one of nine projects selected by the American Planning Association, or APA, for its 2016 National Planning Excellence Awards.

Downtown Market was recognized in the category of Economic Planning and Development.

APA’s Economic Planning & Development Award honors efforts by communities of all sizes to transform economies and stimulate economic development through sound planning.

Downtown Market received the award for its success in helping to revitalize the urban core of Grand Rapids and reconnect the community to West Michigan agriculture.

The 138,000-square-foot, mixed-use facility features a 21-vendor market hall, two restaurants, a seasonal outdoor farmers market, shared commercial kitchen, rooftop greenhouses, educational and event programming, and the nation’s first hands-on teaching kitchen for children and adults with six adjustable-height cooktops.

The facility replaced an abandoned warehouse complex on a 3.5-acre site at the southern edge of downtown.

In just over two years of operation, the market reported surpassing initial projections, creating 333 permanent jobs, launching 30 new businesses and spurring redevelopment of vacant adjacent warehouses into apartments and retail spaces.

Downtown Market attracts approximately 250,000 people each year, stimulating economic activity and additional development. By its second year, vendors in the market hall hit sales of $8.5 million.

The genesis of Downtown Market traces back to Grand Action, a not-for-profit economic development organization whose primary objectives are to identify important downtown revitalization projects, galvanize community support and design and implement funding strategies that leverage public funds with private sector support.

“We wanted the Downtown Market to be a bold, out-of-the-box project that would breathe new life into a neglected part of the city while creating a central hub for the West Michigan food system,” said David Frey, co-chair of Grand Action.

Frey said the results have been “remarkable.”

Kara Wood, economic development director for the city of Grand Rapids, talked about the merits of Downtown Market.

“By growing jobs, creating new opportunities in health and education, and providing a magnet for commerce and activity, Downtown Market is helping to reshape the future of Grand Rapids,” she said.

The market utilizes a three-pronged strategy to address obesity and other diet-related diseases by increasing access to healthy food, providing educational opportunities and generating excitement about fresh, healthy food through compelling facilities and dynamic programs and partnerships.

Vendors accept SNAP EBT and Double Bucks to lower costs for low-income residents seeking healthy food choices.

Health and wellness classes offered through the market’s educational subsidiary have served 5,000 students from the community, including low-income and homeless populations.

“Grand Rapids Downtown Market demonstrates the power of innovative planning and development to help revitalize a community,” said W. Shedrick Coleman, 2016 APA jury chair.

Coleman called the city’s commitment to developing a vibrant urban center inclusive of all populations “commendable.”

The 2016 APA National Planning Award recipients will be honored at a special luncheon on April 4 during the APA National Planning Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The award winners will also be featured in the April 2016 issue of Planning magazine.

A list of all the APA 2016 National Planning Excellence and Achievement Award recipients is available here.

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