New farmers market sprouting in downtown Muskegon


Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, said organizers for the new market got local farmers involved in the planning process to ensure a smooth transition. Photo by Johnny Quirin

With the help of donations from more than 100 businesses and a grant of more than $700,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the city of Muskegon is finally getting a new farmers market.

“The target date for opening is May 1, 2014,” said Steve Novak, president of T4 Group, a Muskegon construction company that is the general contractor for the project. 

The $3.8 million development is the latest in a string of major investments in downtown Muskegon and will include 135 open-air vendor stalls plus another 20 in an indoor market.

Muskegon Mayor Steve Gawron said city officials are “confident it will be a catalyst for additional development downtown.”

Downtown Muskegon Development Corp., which owns the four-acre site on Western Avenue downtown, is still trying to raise more than $300,000 to help complete the project, which will include a picnic area, benches and a clock tower among its amenities, according to Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce.

She said major donors include the Community Foundation of Muskegon County, Hines Corp., Alcoa Foundation and DTE.

In October, the MEDC announced a $710,000 Community Revitalization Program performance-based grant from the state to the DMDC to move the existing Muskegon Farmers Market to a new downtown location.

The project will include the construction of two all-season buildings, outdoor seasonal vending space and on-site parking on the 3.92-acre site. MEDC officials said the project is expected to create four full-time jobs and is anticipated to have a total capital investment of nearly $4 million.

There will be space for 20 year-round enclosed vendor stalls, as well as office space and a commercial kitchen for community programs and small business incubation use. The MEDC said that throughout the year, the new market will be a multi-use facility for many activities, including an outdoor ice skating rink with lights to allow evening events.

The DMDC is a nonprofit entity founded by the Paul C. Johnson Foundation, The Community Foundation for Muskegon County, The Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce and the city of Muskegon. 

“The chamber of commerce has been spearheading the campaign (to raise funds for the project) because of our interest in seeing an exciting, vibrant downtown,” said Larsen.

Larsen said once the new farmers market is completed, the DMDC will give it to the city, which will manage and run it — just as it has managed the existing Muskegon Farmers Market for 50 years. She describes the existing market as a large, outdoor regional market off Seaway Drive on Yuba Street, and in need of refurbishing.

The new market will be about a half-mile south of the old location, much closer to the major events that bring tens of thousands of people to downtown Muskegon each year.

“We have literally beat the bushes to gather the funding,” said Larsen.

In regard to the MEDC grant, Larsen said “they feel strongly that farmers markets are good development tools for small business and creating exciting urban centers.” 

“We still need to raise $300,000 to $400,000 more to complete the project,” she added.

Larsen said the debate about a new farmers market closer to downtown has gone on for years because of the financing required and also because “moving a farmers market is an emotional event.” Some farmers who have been selling their produce at the Muskegon Farmers Market “have been going to the old location their entire adult life,” according to Larsen, and some whose families have been renting stalls for generations objected to the move.

“We got the farmers involved in the design and made sure they had all the amenities they need,” added Larsen. Those amenities include lights, electricity, water and a roof over the rows of stalls large enough for a truck to back under in the event of rain.

The size of the tables was a consideration — and they are built-in, “so they don’t have to bring their own tables,” she said. Craftspeople and artisans also rent stalls at the market.

According to the Muskegon Farmers Market website, daylong rental of a stall on Tuesdays and Thursdays is $10; it’s $20 for Saturdays. Larsen said the fees at the new market will not be an increase over the old fees.

“The walkability of this market is incredible,” said Larsen, because it is in the center of downtown Muskegon “where you can walk to the post office, restaurants, City Hall, office buildings, condos, apartments.

“Now that people see where the new location is and understand how much more convenient it’s going to be, it’s going to be even more popular than it was in the past.” 

 Paradigm Design Inc., an architectural and civil engineering firm in Grand Rapids, is doing the design and engineering of the new Muskegon Farmers Market. 

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