Letter from the Editor: Market Quest

R.J. King
R.J. King

Most businesses have a vision for the next five to 10 years, whether it’s reducing costs, boosting profits, adding technology, or improving the lives of the community by supporting charitable and educational programs.

Dan Carmody, president of  Eastern Market in Detroit, is a bit different. Overseeing what is arguably the largest public food district in the country, Carmody and his team at the newly formed Eastern Market Partnership (formerly Eastern Market Corp.) have a vision for the next 100 years.

With the market expanding organically, Carmody and the board of directors recently approved new protocol criteria that developers must follow if they seek support from the partnership for their district projects. The new plan includes an evaluation system that provides flexibility for developers to design projects that are profitable and strengthen Eastern Market’s core values.

Two of the protocols, for example, outline 13 to 16 criteria that will help new projects support equitable development of the district. The protocols are for mixed-use commercial projects and food businesses.

“We don’t have regulatory power, but we can leverage our influence to make sure the market is focused on food and business sustainability,” Carmody says. “Our goal is that 10 percent of new commercial space and mixed-use development, which includes housing (projects offering 40 or more units), will be made available at 25 percent less than prevailing market rents.”

To measure the progress, the partnership will formulate an annual “scorecard,” or report, that collects and analyzes market data including rent rates, infrastructure needs, the number and types of businesses, expansion opportunities, and other needs. Right now, the market draws 2.3 million annual visitors, provides space for some 600 vendors, and is home to 175 businesses.

“At its very core, the market must be a place for people to start businesses in an affordable way, it still must be a place that’s all about food, and it must be a place for everyone, regardless of income, to come and enjoy,” Carmody says. “There must be room for restaurants to come here early in the morning to find shiitake mushrooms, and for everyone to find ripe and affordable peppers, tomatoes, or onions.”

Working with the City of Detroit and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., the partnership has established a 100-acre Food Innovation Zone on the market’s northeast side. The space will accommodate around 1.5 million square feet of food processing and distribution space. That’s in addition to a recent $40-million expansion on the market’s west side by Wolverine Packing Co.

As it stands, the market has one of the region’s highest concentrations of small businesses. To enhance the number of  jobs, construction on the Metro Accelerator at Riopelle and Adelaide streets has begun as the next phase in incubating businesses. Once it opens in the coming months, lease rates will range between $7 and $11 per square foot. Major funders for the $3-million project include JPMorgan Chase, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the New Economy Initiative.

“Other markets around the country either don’t have the land to expand or they’re competing with surrounding commercial development, or both,” Carmody says. “We have a different story. We’re a 128-year-old market neighborhood that spans 185 acres, and we have room to grow with another 100 acres. Our goal is to make sure future expansion aligns with food and employment sustainability.”

— R.J. King, rjking@dbusiness.com

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