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Proposal calls for urban market, brewery, apts.

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Market-driven idea: Proposal calls for urban market, brewery, apartments

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

By Chris Knape

The Grand Rapids Press

A gritty old vegetable distribution center could be transformed into a vibrant year-round urban market, creating a new regional attraction at the southern end of downtown Grand Rapids.

The project's backers envision a bustling renaissance for the former Sonneveldt building on Ionia Avenue SW, where farmers, artists and entrepreneurs can sell their wares.

Also planned are 32 loft-style apartments, a brewery and space for restaurants inside the market complex.

The urban market has the ability to change the community's ideas about the borders of downtown, said Susan Shannon, Grand Rapids economic development director.

"Just when I think we've pushed the edges, we push them more," she said.

"I mean, this is south of Wealthy (Street). It just keeps spilling out and spilling over."

The market concept was developed by Commerce Realty and designed by Design Plus in partnership with a host of public sector and nonprofit groups.

The project is expected to cost $10 million, much of which may be covered by grants and private financing.

The downtown market is not designed to replace the city-owned Fulton Street Farmer's Market, an outdoor seasonal market.

If successful, the new market would transform an easily overlooked portion of downtown, south of the Wealthy Street overpass that often serves as a shelter for Grand Rapids' homeless.

"I don't think anyone thinks of this as an impulse-buying thing," said Vernon Ohlman, chairman of Design Plus. "This is a destination."

The site, 435 Ionia Ave. SW, is easily accessible from U.S. 131, six blocks south of Van Andel Arena.

The project is the latest in a series of ambitious developments proposed for downtown. They include high-rise condominiums at Fulton Street and Division Avenue; a series of medical-office towers on Michigan Street across from Spectrum Health Butterworth Campus; condo projects at the downtown YMCA building and on Monroe Center; and an "artists' colony" on South Division.

More of a long shot is the possibility that Kmart may move its headquarters here. Rumored sites include Edgewater Place downtown, as well as the American Seating property and the former John Widdicomb factory on the near West Side.

Plans call for the farm market, which would include indoor and outdoor vending spaces and a commercial kitchen and cannery, to be owned and operated by a new nonprofit corporation.

The possibilities for the kitchen and cannery include allowing a farmer or small business to can vegetables or make fresh salsa.

The kitchen also is envisioned as a place where groups such as Michigan State University's Extension office could conduct classes.

The brewery and apartments would be privately owned. One brewer has expressed interest in the site.

A developer has not been brought on board for the residential portion of the project.

"The four-season model for the farmer's market has been a huge economic generator in other cities where they've been created," said Dennis Sturtevant, chief executive of Dwelling Place.

Dwelling Place is developing low-cost housing in a stretch of vacant commercial buildings along South Division Avenue.

Sturtevant said the concept can only help other developments. He likened the idea to the heavily trafficked Quincy Market in Boston, North Market in Columbus, Ohio, and Pike Place Market in Seattle.

"The fact that it's located just south of Wealthy Street I think will help in terms of an economic stimulant," he said. "It will also help provide a really ideal vehicle through which affordable foodstuffs can be provided to low- and moderate-income residents in the neighborhood."

The market plan was expected to be unveiled today as part of a press conference discussing Grand Rapids' Cool Cities initiative.

Ray Kisor, who helped develop the Grand Rapids urban market concept as part of an effort to sell the site for its current owners, called the project a "labor of love."

He said the market has the potential to create hundreds of new jobs with opportunities for farmers and neighborhood entrepreneurs.

The city is considering adding the site to its Brownfield redevelopment district, a designation that would make it eligible for tax incentives.

The bulk of the market would be carved out of the existing industrial building, which would be improved to make it more appealing as a retail-oriented facility.

Kisor said the improvements will keep some of the industrial feel of the old site, while restoring some long-hidden original features.

"We going to try to keep some of the grittiness," Kisor said. "It will be a little edgy."

The sprawling Sonneveldt complex is owned by three partners, including Gene Goulooze, a former executive with Sonneveldt Co., a food distribution company.

The connected buildings, constructed between 1910 and 1976, include nearly 150,000 square feet of floor space.

"Everything north of Wealthy there has pretty well been taken over by other people that have plans for it," Goulooze said. "This fits in real well with what they're thinking of doing."

Some neighboring properties, including an old Baker Furniture warehouse and the Klingman's Furniture warehouse, also may be targets for redevelopment if the market gets off the ground.

No deals involving those properties -- both of which still are being used as warehouses -- have been announced.

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