Monday, July 2, 2012

The Murky Future of the Flint Farmer's Market

A less-than-illuminating update on the fate of the Flint Farmer's Market via the market's Facebook page:
The following statement can be attributed to Tim Herman, President of Uptown Reinvestment Corporation and CEO of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce. 
"Uptown Reinvestment Corporation (URC) in collaboration with Uptown Developments is off to a good start this year with redevelopment projects in downtown Flint. Just last week it was announced that Landaal Packaging Systems will open a Packaging Innovation Center and bring their corporate offices to the area. In addition, the URC Board of Directors are exploring a variety of options for use of the former Flint Journal properties including Michigan State University’s medical education and public health program, private businesses, the Flint Farmers Market, a technology incubator lab as well as other project proposals. If and when we have something to announce, we will communicate with all of our stakeholders and the community."
Can someone explain who actually owns the market? Is it Uptown? Is it the City of Flint? Is it some other entity?


  1. The City of flint used to own it, now it is managed by an independent board (I think it is non-profit). The independent board is largely credited with saving it when the City ran it into the ground. Uptown would make money by leasing the building, not by running the market. Really, this whole thing bugs me. It is just downtown trying to steal successful institutions from other parts of the City and waste tax dollars while they are at it (through tax abatements). Since it is just moving the institution from one location to another, both within the City, I don't think you can argue the tax abatements are providing additional development.this doesn't really benefit the farmer's market, it just benefits the folks who own property downtown and want to bring in more foot traffic.

  2. The City of Flint was ready to close the doors of the market in 2002 and fortunately the URC (Uptown Reinvestment Corporation) stepped in to prevent that from happening. Few can argue how successful the Flint Farmers' Market has become over the past decade. Unfortunately, the success and growth has created some significant issues. The building's age (70 plus years old), while certainly lending to its charm, presents challenges to vendors as well as customers (e.g. outdated heating/cooling,refrigeration, plumbing, electrical and lighting as well as structural integrity). To the average visitor, say on a Saturday morning in the summer, many of these problems go unnoticed; however, for those involved in a more intimate capacity the need for improvement is absolutely necessary! Additionally, there has been pressure (understandably and rightfully so)from the ADA (Americans with Disabilities)about making the market handicapped accessible. As it currently exists, there are no elevators, the outside doors cannot open electronically and the bathrooms are nothing close to ADA recommended standards. To make the needed changes to the current building would be very comparable to simply putting lipstick on a pig. The current location of the market is adequate at best, but it wouldn't take Nostradamus to envision a time in the not too distant future when the post office closes, essentially leaving nothing around it!Considering a location that has experienced growth in the last decade, like the downtown area, would be in the Flint Farmers' Markets best interest as well as the vendors and ultimately the customers.

    1. You fellas at Uptown think you are invisible, but you are really only transparent. If you've been such amazing hosts at the market, why haven't you made any of the improvements that you mention? This move has nothing to do with what is best for the market- you had these plans before you even acquired the market so that you could attract traffic to your planned food court downtown. The market is one block from UM-Flint and adjacent to the expressway. Hardly isolated, but cute of you to say so. BTW, how many millions in tax abatements does it cost for a tax-free charity to grow 5 minimum wage jobs?

    2. Before I launch into this, let me establish a few things first:

      1. The Mott Foundation and Mott Family have unquestionably done great things for Flint. I have no doubt the city would be much worse off without all support the city has received from the Motts.

      2. I believe that it’s possible for developers and investors to make money and improve Flint at the same time. In other words, just because someone hopes to profit from a deal doesn’t mean the deal can’t be beneficial for the city. I say this because it seems as though many people automatically attack Uptown because there is a profit motive involved. I don’t think that’s fair.

      Having said that, it distresses me to see the level of control Uptown, which appears to be controlled by a Mott scion, Ridgeway White, and the Mott Foundation has over the City of Flint. While acknowledging the good the family has done for the city (see #1 above), both the Mott Foundation and the individual family members have made horrible decisions over the years that have harmed the city. Case in point: AutoWorld. There are others, but let’s stick with the most obvious. Just because the Mott’s are willing to spend money, doesn’t mean they are always right. Even the well-intentioned can screw things up royally. Let me put it to you this way, if a family or entity with more insight and skill had been in charge of all the money the Motts have lavished on Flint, don’t you think the place would be in a little better shape today? (Again, it pains me to criticize an entity that seems to have its heart in the right place, but let’s be honest here.)

      There is also something unsavory about the cozy triangle of power formed by the for-profit Uptown Developments LLC, the non-profit Uptown Reinvestment Corp, and the Mott Foundation. It’s not illegal, but it’s an arrangement dominated by a single family that pretty much does whatever it wants with very little public input or transparency. It’s not the profit motive that bothers me (see #2 above); it’s the unchecked power in the hands of people who do not have a great track record when it comes to public policy.

      I fear this is all playing out again with the plan to move the Farmer’s Market. Judging from the terse, unyielding missive from Tim Herman, president of Upton Reinvestment and CEO of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce, there’s no intention of getting public feedback. There was no mention of public meetings or an email address to solicit thoughts from the folks who sell and buy items at the market. I hope I’m wrong, but this seems like it’s going to happen.

      Think about this. A city that is a poster child for economic failure is going to tinker with something that has deep historical roots and has somehow survived. Yes, it survived with the help of Uptown, but that doesn’t give them the right to move it because they hope to up the value of one of their properties. And, again, given the track record of the people involved, do you have any confidence the market will survive in a new location?

      We’re about to let another piece of Flint history slip away. Yes, the buildings need some work. Historic preservation, in short-term rehab expenses, is often costlier than other alternatives. That’s why strip malls exist. That’s why the old Vogue store, the Sill Building, and countless other Flint landmarks are gone. But history, tradition and memories have a less quantifiable value. They are worth preserving, especially in a city where they are in short supply.

    3. If they move Farmers Market Down Town I won't be going there any more. Fact- I don't go Down Town Flint. Alot has to do with the one way screwed up streets and the parking.. Yes the parking lot at the market gets full. But at least you don't have to walk half a mile to get to the stands. And I will not pay to park Down Town.

  3. Speaking of the Post Office...who has dibs on that building and property?

    It sounds to me as if the downtown plan is a *fait accompli*, and the promoters are just waiting for the Right Moment to announce the great idea they've just thought up.

    But, you never know. Maybe it'll fall through.

    If a move from the present facility is mandated by building limitations, maybe Bill White would kick in some money for renovations to the P.O. Building to make it evocative of the old facility and yet fully modern.

    I'd think that moving the Market just one block south, within an apple-throw of the existing location, would be acceptable to the customer and vendor base.

  4. I spoke with one of the vendors, and they were less than thrilled with the idea of moving. He said the big selling point to vendors was climate control; I don't see that as being enough of a reason to move it. The argument for moving based on the futility of the post office is just plain silly: people go to the area for the Farmer's Market. I can't think of anyone avoiding the Market if the post office closed.

    Uptown is seeing dollar signs, and the DDA probably feels that they'll finally be able to pay off their poorly planned (and ultra expensive) parking structure. I don't see myself changing my mind on this horrible idea.

  5. I spoke with TWO of the vendors and they were absolutely thrilled with the idea! Let's see, that's three now out of 76...two absolutely thrilled and one "less than thrilled." The two I spoke with are year round (indoor) vendors that feel that "climate control" is essential to their products and ultimately their businesses. The facilities as they currently exist make this a challenge. Oh, I also took a moment to ask a young man confined to a wheelchair, as well as an elderly women using a walker, how they felt about the market potentially making significant changes. They were equally thrilled and both mentioned how they had heard many good things about Steady Eddie's Restaurant upstairs, but it was too big of a challenge (if not impossible) for them to make it up the stairs to its current location.

    The argument that was made about the argument being made that the market was "moving based on the futility of the post office" is just plain sillier and concocted. Nothing was mentioned about people avoiding the market if the post office closed. However, if a new building is being considered because the band-aid on the broken arm treatment it has recently endured does not quite feed the bulldog, logic would dictate that a less desolate area should be considered.

    Most people living in Michigan could easily draw a comparison in this situation to Tiger Stadium and Comerica Park. Tiger Stadium wove tradition, history and memories into the hearts and minds of baseball fans across this great state and beyond. The Flint Farmers' Market has also woven tradition, history and memories into the hearts and minds of countless numbers of people across Flint/Genesee County and beyond. The idea for a new ball park (Comerica), roughly a mile away, that was more centrally located and in closer proximity to growing businesses was met with skepticism too. It certainly was unfortunate that Tiger Stadium had to close and could not have remained open like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. The difficult decision was made because the area around Tiger Stadium was in disarray and the updates and repairs were no longer worth the effort. Comerica Park, although not the same as Tiger Stadium, was designed in a way that enables individuals to not only hold close the old tradition, history and memories of Tiger Stadium, but it also enables them to build on them and create new ones as well. A new Farmers' Market that is wisely designed could accomplish the very same thing.

  6. The majority of people in Genesee county think downtown Flint is all smoke and mirrors. I agree. This whole situation stems from the fact that the mysterious group that has been providing for the market wants to move the market rather than update it. Therefore they are prepared to let it run it self into the ground to force a move. I think everyone would agree that a new downtown market with three vendors is a very promising idea!!

  7. I completely support this idea. The draw of Downtown Flint and really growing city districts everywhere is their urbanity (consistent foot traffic, walkability, density, etc). As the Flint Farmers Market currently exists, it is a very non-urban establishment. It is surrounded by several multi-lane roads and a massive parking lot, not exactly the definition of walkable urbanity. Many farmers markets in the US exist in dense districts and therefore benefit not only themselves but all of their neighbors (The Market in Philadelphia is a major example, along with Eastern Market in Detroit). If the Flint Farmers Market were to move Downtown, it would benefit not only from a lovely new facility (the old Journal Press Building) but also from a more urban, dense location. I would be elated to see this move and I think most would support it once they got the "hating change for the sake of hating change" mindsets out of their head.

    On the issue of Uptown, the suspicion surrounding them could not be more baseless. This organization has done nothing but great things for the Flint community (Blackstone's, 501, WizeGuy's, the Rowe Building, the Wade Trim Building, the Riverfront Residence Hall and Banquet Center....). Suspicion for suspicion's sake is just idiotic and is as big a waste of time as it is an annoyance. Until there is some sort of real evidence of corruption or poor business choices, I will be nothing but proud of these philanthropic business owners. They put their money on the line to really begin what has been an amazing turnaround in Downtown and a windfall for not only them but also the city and all the small business owners that have opened because of the critical mass they have generated.

    All in all, the Farmers Market would benefit greatly from a Downtown relocation, as would every small business owner Downtown that would see additional customers and foot traffic.

    1. By most accounts, the Flint Farmer's Market currently is quite successful...yet Anonymous's first paragraph seems to be proposing a fix for what's wrong with it.

      I'd think normal folks would regard the time-honored expression "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" as applicable.

      Anonymous, on the other hand, seems to think that if it doesn't push $$-laden foot traffic to downtown businesses, it's broke. He or she is perfectly willing to risk the current success to try to get that downtown foot traffic...because that's what really matters, right?

      I'm fascinated that Anonymous thinks that ain't-broke-don't-fix folks "hate change for the sake of hating change". Perhaps he or she could share some other gems of revisionist civic-asset-management wisdom so that after we "fix" the Farmer's Market, we can solve Flint's other problems.

    2. This scenario is backwards. You do not move a success you build around it. Downtown is not and never will be a retail environment.If downtown was such a draw why so many empty spaces? There is plenty of space around the market and along the river for development. A waterfront development is always more attractive in an urban setting. DDA and URC are very short sighted in what is good for the community. Those business's knew that people that work there leave after work and students have limited discretionary funds. I think to many people drink the URC kool aid!!

    3. Another thought:

      I'm sure someone knows the approximate residential demographic breakdown of F.F.M. patrons. I'd guess that at least 50% of them come from surrounding communities, not from Flint.

      It's been quite a while now since news reports of shootings and robberies in Flint became common. Not every moment of every day, of course, but often enough to make an impression on suburban folks who don't regularly have crime like that where they live. Many of those folks no longer venture into many Flint neighborhoods.

      Downtown is what we might call a "vibrant" area. It's one of the most crime-free areas in Flint. Nonetheless, I'd guess that a demographic analysis of downtown Flint visitors would make clear that many suburbanites don't go downtown anymore because they see occasional reports of crime there, they know that Flint can't afford as many cops as it used to have, and they don't value "vibrancy" enough to take even a tiny risk of becoming a statistic when instead they can do their shopping in completely peaceful places.

      So, to the crux of the argument: maybe the physical isolation of the current F.F.M. location (Anonymous calls it a "very non-urban establishment") is psychologically perceived by its sizeable suburban clientele-segment as providing sufficient assurance that it will be suburban-peaceful.

      I'd guess that those people intuitively know that there's nothing inherent to the F.F.M. that makes it peaceful. The key is its isolation. There's no one at F.F.M. but F.F.M.-vendors and F.F.M.-customers.

      If this is the case, then moving the F.F.M. to downtown... where it would be intentionally enmeshed in the downtown social environment... would break its appeal to the above-considered segment of its current customer base.

      This of course could be objectively studied using sociological and market-research techniques. I doubt if the funds would be available for such a study, though, since the folks with money wouldn't want a potential study-outcome that a downtown location would be a marketing disaster.

    4. Exactly, Foot traffic, no where to park. I sit along Sag street by Burton for back to the bricks because Down Town becomes to congested for my taste. Down Town Flint is not all that big and it gets way to crowed and there is never any where to park. You have to keep going up and down one way street to find a sport. Exactly what should a Famers market be? I don't see anything wrong with Farmers market, its like going back in time a little bit. Every thing Flint tries to fix or change they screw up. Ask the woman with the cane , how far she would be willing to walk once she parked her car.

  8. This discussion got me thinking. What's the track record of downtown projects long term, let's say 10 years? Is there evidence that something, anything can survive downtown long enough to risk moving an enterprise that appears to be thriving, although it needs some deferred maintenance, like the Flint Farmer's Market?

    I really do hope there are more examples, but I came up with two:

    1. UM-Flint
    2. Carriage Town: Now I know some would argue against this example. The neighborhood still has problems, and many Flint residents argue that the money spent on Carriage Town could have been better spent on other neighborhoods and projects. Even supporters of Carriage Town lament that a big chunk of the nabe has been lost to arson and neglect. But if you compare Carriage Town now to what it was like when I used to go to football games at Atwood in the mid eighties, it's overall a much better place with a brighter future.

    Like I said, I hope there are more examples. But I couldn't think of anything else that's lasted at least a decade and is still going. Maybe the Durant and the Berridge will survive. Along with Blackstones and Flint Local and the other businesses downtown, but we don't know. Do we really want to gamble a successful enterprise on downtown right now? Maybe we do. But there's not a lot of evidence that indicates it will succeed.

    1. The Lunch Studio, on the corner of 1st St. and Saginaw just celebrated their 10 year Anniversary last December. Flint City T-Shirts had been there for 10+ years. Other than that, I'm not sure what else has 10+ years in Flint.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at