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Allan

Eastern Market's potential is huge

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Eastern Market's potential is huge, says urban panel

Group offers advice on revitalization

December 13, 2004

BY JOHN GALLAGHER

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

It's official: Detroit's Eastern Market is an unpolished gem that, properly cared for, could become one of the region's crown jewels.

Savvy Detroiters have been saying so for years, but now a group of outside experts, after spending the better part of a week in the city studying Eastern Market, has reached the same conclusion. And the experts have offered detailed advice on how to make it happen.

Sponsored by the Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that is one of the nation's premier organizations devoted to urban planning and development issues, the nine-member team offered its recommendations Friday. They included the creation of a powerful new public entity to run Eastern Market.

"There's some cool things cooking in your kitchen here," Suzanne Oldham, a Denver-based consultant, told an audience of about 100 planners, academics, developers and others at a Ford Field briefing. "Maybe not enough for a well-balanced meal, but you've got some good ingredients."

Leigh Ferguson, a Chattanooga, Tenn.-housing activist who chaired the panel, agreed, calling Eastern Market "a very special place that deserves very special attention."

Like ordinary Detroiters, the panel praised Eastern Market's lively Saturday morning public market and the funky mix of restaurants, shops and old warehouses that make up the district. But the panelists also said Eastern Market needs a thorough cleaning, and it recommended that parking be improved, the architecture revitalized and the financing strengthened.

In what could prove to be its most contentious recommendation, the panel urges creation of an entity probably similar to a public authority to take over the running of Eastern Market from the city. This entity would be funded by a new tax levied through a BID, or business improvement district, a device that has worked in many other cities but so far hasn't won approval in Detroit.

This new management panel would handle the sale of surplus city land in the district and discipline exhibitors who violate market operating rules.

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