Andrew Trzaska | February 11, 2013
Preliminary concepts for a relocated Muskegon Farmers Market on Western Avenue in downtown Muskegon were unveiled at Monday’s city commission meeting.
The Downtown Muskegon Development Corporation (DMDC) is driving the plan in question. The site in question is a three-acre parcel that includes Market Street, which is a short, curved spur road between Western Avenue and Terrace Street, between the post office and Hot Rod Harley Davidson.
Local business owner Steve Olsen and Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce president Cindy Larsen spoke on behalf of the DMDC at the meeting.
Larsen painted the plan as a sum of a decade of input from multiple voices, and stands to have its own strengths and weaknesses in comparison to the current location on Yuba Street.
The proposed plan will include stalls on both sides of Market Street, with more stalls existing between Market Street and Morris Avenue and between Market Street and Western Avenue. The plan will also include wider stalls, according to Larsen, and some will be year-round. It will also give water and electrical access to vendors, which Larsen indicated were requests of farmers
Proponents including Larsen and Olsen argue that the move will help spur downtown development. It was also argued that it will promote downtown presence and make the Western Avenue corridor more walkable:
“We’re always trying to encourage a good walking community, and we think this location certainly will enhance that,” said Steve Olsen, president of Northern Machine Tool Co. and member of the DMDC board.
Larsen also suggested this was only the initial proposal and input opportunities still existed.
“This is just a concept, so there will be time for the community to provide input on specific features,” said Larsen.
City Manager Bryon Mazade tamped down expectations that this is a done deal:
“I see this as only the beginning of a process,” said Mazade.
The development will be privately funded in the current plan. Some financial backing exists already, but Olsen noted that the group plans to go to the community for donations as well. Once the property development is complete, the DMDC plans to hand over the property to the City of Muskegon.
While support was found among some of their comments, several questions and concerns came from the council.
The largest concern in the eyes of vice mayor Larry Spataro appears to be the future of the property in a decade or beyond.
Spataro cited the clear view of the lake to the east and future development hopes for downtown, and urged the DMDC representatives and the council to think about what would happen if a developer came along with a very lucrative offer for the proposed site.
“The market needs to have a long term future, and if we reach that point, hopefully sooner rather than later, we’re going to be in a pickle on how to preserve the market,” said Spataro. He fears possible situations where the market could be seen as “disposable” in the face of investor dollars, and be uprooted again.
Mayor Steve Gawron, who along with Spataro was involved in previous decisions regarding the relocation of the market, urged open mindedness about the market, and suggested the community would embrace the market no matter where it is.
“I’ve always appreciated how huge the downtown area is, and its historical boundaries. There is a lot of beautiful land with a lot of beautiful sight lines. If we go there, it will be a farmers market with one hell of a view.”
The size of the new space became a point of discussion. Spataro noted the current space on Yuba Street approaches nine acres, when all non-paved parking in the flea market area is factored in. The architects on the project dispute the number, citing under 7 acres. The site in question is approximately 3 acres.
Markowski, with Spataro agreeing, appeared wary of the parking plans. Markowski pointed out many of the spots in the initial design along the sides of the stalls were suggested as customer parking; she questioned that concept because those spots are mostly used by vendors for trucks and overflow merchandise.
Commissioner Willie German, Jr. called for more community engagement, showing visible hesitation toward some parts of the plan.
Commissioner Eric Hood stated that no matter where the Farmers Market would be located going forward, improvements are needed.
Comments from the audience came on both sides of the issue.
Muskegon resident Morning Bear addressed the DMDC: “You said you wanted people to live near the market. But people already live near the market now… we have people living by the market and you act like they don’t exist.” Morning Bear also noted that Larsen and Olsen both live in North Muskegon, not in the city of Muskegon, but are driving the discussion about who lives where.
Kathleen Riegler, owner of The Cheese Lady, downtown resident and a Muskegon Farmers Market vendor, spoke at the meeting in support of the plan:
“We need people downtown. We need bodies downtown. In order to make things happen, we need bodies downtown,” said Riegler. “I see the farmers market as the so-called grocery store people want downtown.”
Riegler also suggested that all Muskegon neighborhoods could come together around something like the farmers market downtown.
“There’s nothing wrong with the Jackson Hill neighborhood, but there’s a neighborhood downtown as well.”
One other vendor said she was excited to work with the DMDC, but suggested that the DMDC may not have surveyed all vendors at the current market because she was not asked. She also suggested that the design needs more crosswalks to entice foot traffic and allow vendors more display opportunities.
Brian Clincy, a Yuba Street resident, described it as a “pillage” move against the Jackson Hill neighborhood. He suggested changing the location would upset an environment that is thriving in its current state.
“You can’t build synergy and take from someone else.”
Some audience members even deviated from the Yuba vs. Market Street discussion. Muskegon resident Joshua Eldenbrady even suggested the market be split into multiple regional, neighborhood markets. Jon McEwen also echoed the reality of Muskegon’s food deserts, where fresh food is not closely available.
Several dozen more people attended Monday’s meeting than the usual handful present at the city commission’s work sessions. All in all, headcount at the meeting was around 60 people.
The DMDC came together in 2002 to buy the defunct Muskegon Mall and its 23-acre property. The group is made up of representatives from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, the City of Muskegon and the Paul C. Johnson Foundation.