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Evolution and Authenticity at Center of Eastern Market Framework

Jun 16, 2018

From Catherine Frazier, Senior Real Estate Manager

Even after 127 years, Eastern Market remains a flurry of activity as the epicenter of Detroit’s food industry, offering jobs, business opportunities and a rich vibrant culture to area residents. Today, like in so much of Detroit, demand for industrial, commercial and mixed-use development is growing in the area.

Last month, the Michigan Strategic Fund approved more than $2M in brownfield incentives for the Wolverine Packing Co. expansion in Eastern Market. Headquartered for over 80 years in the market, the fourth-generation, family-owned business is Detroit’s largest meat wholesale processor and distributor. The business is expanding at an eight-acre site within the Eastern Market district, where it will construct a new 150,000 square foot cold storage facility that will enable Wolverine to hire an estimated 50-100 additional employees.

The project, expected to generate a total capital investment of $40 million, will incorporate urban stormwater management features including bioswales, porous pavers and stormwater detention areas. As part of the deal, Wolverine donated $300,000 to the city to improve four to five acres of the adjacent Forest Park, which includes renovation of the picnic pavilion, the installation of a walking path, children’s playground, basketball court and softball diamond.

Much of this is possible thanks to the leadership of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) and the city of Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (DBRA). DEGC staff assisted Wolverine in locating and purchasing city-owned land when the company was unable to find a privately-owned parcel suitable for its expansion. Our staff also facilitated incentives for the project, structured Wolverine’s donation for the park and guided Wolverine through the various approvals, including public hearings with the DBRA board, City Council and Michigan Strategic Fund.

In doing so, DEGC was instrumental in keeping Wolverine’s expansion in the city of Detroit.

Wolverine’s expansion is just one of the many new developments at Eastern Market spearheaded by DEGC. Beginning in 2018, on behalf of the city of Detroit and The Nature Conservancy, our staff launched a planning study called the Eastern Market Neighborhood Framework and Centralized Storm Water Management Features Master Plan. The study builds on past Eastern Market planning initiatives to create an action-oriented set of recommendations to improve the quality of life in and around the market, support economic development and overall sustainability. This includes fortifying the food sector as a pillar of regional economic growth and looking at new ways to improve access to healthy, green, affordable and fair food choices in Detroit and throughout Southeast Michigan. The centralized stormwater management feature of the masterplan is also an integral element and has the potential of catalyzing future development in the area.

All of the stakeholders involved want to strengthen the Eastern Market district as a major employment center, creating more jobs for Detroiters.  The food industry is vital to Detroit’s economy, as the industry offers Detroit residents opportunities to gain and retain well-paying employment with minimum-to-low barriers to entry. Jobs are a major driver in retaining existing residents and attracting new residents, often to multi-family, mixed-use housing.

The plan seeks to deliver several outcomes, none more important than amplifying what’s already great about Eastern Market’s vibrant mixed-use neighborhood, and its national recognition as an inclusive, resilient and robust regional food production/distribution hub. That means optimizing all of the area’s resources while maintaining its history of supporting a healthier, wealthier and happier Detroit.

To ensure inclusive engagement, the planning team developed a comprehensive approach to engaging the public including residents, businesses, customers, vendors, property owners, developers, the community and public-sector partners, to ensure that stakeholders are well informed.  More importantly, to utilize their input to guide future recommendations. The objective: Deliver a comprehensive growth strategy that ensures Eastern Market’s development equitably benefits all of its stakeholders.

Community meetings with area residents are helping the DEGC better understand Eastern Market’s vast resources. Our planners are learning from the experts what elements can be elevated, leveraged and improved. Of particular importance is maintaining the authenticity of the food gem while growing opportunities for jobs, business owners, shoppers, residents and developers.

It’s important to remember that Eastern Market put Detroit’s food industry on the map. Dating back to 1891, the Market has provided a place for regional producers to sell their wares throughout the Great Lakes. More than 2 million visitors purchase goods at the Market each year. Shoppers can find a variety of locally produced products, including meat, produce, and non-food items, as well as bars and restaurants.

Eastern Market is also a main economic driver for the city. Not only is it a place for local residents to purchase healthy, sustainable food at affordable prices, it offers entrepreneurs a place to fulfill their dreams. Many small businesses have launched in the area, and continue to do so. Creating a plan for increased density supports the next generation of food businesses and complementary development. Additionally, it retains the Market’s identity nutritionally, culturally and economically.

The plan includes approximately 1.1 square miles incorporating the Eastern Market core and the surrounding Eastern Market residential neighborhood. It is framed by Gratiot on the southeast, Joseph Campau on the northeast, Warren Avenue on the northwest, and I-75 Chrysler Freeway on the southwest.

By the end of the year, DEGC will have a Framework that includes:

  • Job Creation Strategy
  • Housing and Mixed-use Development Strategy
  • Open Space Investment Landscape Design Concepts
  • Transportation, Access and Parking
  • Storm Water Management
  • Streetscape and Connectivity
  • Environmental, Infrastructure and Utilities

DEGC is partnering with a variety of organizations to ensure the plan is representative, thorough and comprehensive. This includes the city’s Planning & Development and Housing & Revitalization departments, the Mayor’s office and the Department of Neighborhoods. Also represented: Eastern Market Corporation, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, The Nature Conservancy and Detroit Public Works.

As the city experiences its most significant economic growth in years, it’s important that Eastern Market plays a prominent role. Ensuring the Market’s access, authenticity, connectivity, density and diversity is paramount in the framework. The result is a unified vision for Eastern Market to grow as a hub for living, working, playing and further developing Detroit as a leader in the food industry.

Food Industry Facts

  • 2 million people shop and buy food at Eastern Market each year
  • 22 percent of Michigan jobs are food and agriculture-based
  • $360 million in wholesale food is sold in Eastern Market annually
  • $418 million of meat is sold in Eastern Market each year
  • 1,541 people are permanently employed in Eastern Market in the food business
  • $631 million in Michigan food is exported annually to Canada

Please note that the next public meeting of the Planning Study will be held Tuesday, July 10 at Detroit Edison Public School Academy, 1903 Wilkins St. in Detroit, from 5:30-7:00 pm.  Those interested should enter the school building that faces St Aubin.

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