Muskegon City Commission Endorses Farmers Market Relocation Plan

Andrew Trzaska | April 9, 2013

Muskegon’s city commission voted Tuesday to endorse a plan to move the Muskegon Farmers Market from its current location to a parcel of land downtown at Western Avenue and Market Street.

The proposal was unveiled back in February by a group that includes the Downtown Muskegon Development Corporation (DMDC) and the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. An anonymous donor is set to donate a large amount of money to the project on the condition that the market moves downtown.

The DMDC owns the parcel of land where the market is set to relocate, which resides on the east end of the former Muskegon Mall site between Western and Morris Avenues. They would build the new market fully with private donations and no cost to the city, and would turn the new market and its plot of land over to the city for $1 upon completion.

Since the unveiling, the group held a total of four meetings with the public and with market vendors, with the suggestion that the meetings were meant to inform the public and gather feedback on the market’s design and features.

With two months of feedback passed, the commission opted to vote on the matter Tuesday. The decision was 6-1, with commissioner Willie German, Jr. as the only “no”.

The vote does not represent a blanket approval of all project details and a site plan; it simply gives a level of recognition to those behind the proposal that would help jump-start fundraising for the plan.

Monday’s work session contained much of the commission’s final discussions on the matter. The most widely discussed topics at the meeting were the needs of the vendors, parking concerns, and the fate of the flea market that currently operates at the Yuba location.  Read more about those discussions here.

Some commissioners opted to voice their support or skepticism with the proposal at Monday’s meeting. It was clear at that time that Mayor Steve Gawron and commissioners Sue Wierengo and Byron Turnquist supported the matter. Commissioners Lea Markowski and Willie German, Jr. still had many questions, as did vice mayor Larry Spataro.

Tuesday’s comments from the commission mostly consisted of explanations of everyone’s intentions ahead of the vote.

Vice mayor Spataro generally explained his move from being undecided to supporting the move.

“The proposed site is going to be much more accessible to a large portion of our community,” said Spataro. “It’s hard to notice that there’s not a single contiguous sidewalk connecting the market to those neighborhoods… [the new site] is on flat land and has sidewalks.”

Spataro also said that the close proximity of the bus station to the proposed new location opens up the market to those all over the city who are near to MATS bus stops. Because the bus station is a hub for all lines, all riders can get to the market without having to transfer.

He also said he concluded that the parking situation will be a wash, if not an improvement. He cited the downtown site’s paved roads as an improvement over the cinder ash used for most of the spaces at the Yuba site,

“There’s one thing that we’re not lacking in, and that’s parking.”

Spataro did his one final reservation was the possibility that the proposed site could be better used in the future, or increased land values could cause the market could get bumped by a future commission vote to use the new site for something else.

Commissioner Lea Markowski used her comments to challenge the community to come together and use the space to get closer to people they don’t usually spend time with.

“I don’t believe this is the only option that we have to make Muskegon a great place,” said Markowski. “I want to make sure we are using this, as many people have said, as a community space.”

As the lone dissenter, commissioner German did not feel it was an overall plus because the current site was doing well:

“Listening to the constituents and the farmers… I am looking at the overall plan for downtown,” said German. “It doesn’t create jobs… It doesn’t sustainability of the livability of the community, the creation of jobs, or building a tax base.”

Comissioner Hood came out in support of the matter before the vote. He said many of his constituents did not want the move, and he would have voted no if there was a reasonable chance to pay for improvements at the current site. Since that wasn’t currently an option, he sought improvement by any means possible:

“Think that we deserve as a community a better farmers market than we have now.”

Mayor Gawron tied the idea of private donations funding the market hearkens back to the days of donations by the Hackley, Hume and other civic leaders in the town’s history:

“Now we have a new age and era of people who are willing to stand up and put their money where their mouth is,” said Gawron.

“Will it be a catalyst? I don’t know. Will it help? Yeah it will. Just the excitement.”

Public comments were divided ahead of the vote. Former commissioner Chris Carter, a resident of the Jackson Hill neighborhood, cited the deterioration of the current site as a reason to move the market.  Brian Clincy, a neighbor of Carter’s in Jackson Hill, suggested the planning was not inclusive, and the current site was thriving in its own right.

After the vote took place, Gawron asked those who opposed the move to still come to the new market.

“It will continue to be ours, just a few blocks over. It will be the people’s.”

The commission’s endorsement vote does not mean the design is finalized.  Fundraising will proceed, but the DMDC will need to get a site plan and other necessary steps approved by the city before construction will begin.

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Read more on the proposal and discussions leading up to Tuesday’s vote:

February 11, 2013 – Proposed Downtown Move of the Muskegon Farmers Market Unveiled

March 18, 2013 – With Proposed Farmers Market Move, Access is Hot Topic

April 8, 2013 – Commissioners Ask Big Questions Ahead of Tuesday’s Farmers Market Endorsement Vote

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst