Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Reader in Favor of Moving the Flint Farmer's Market

An argument in favor of relocating the Flint Farmer's Market:
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.


  1. I'll have to break this up into a few comments...

    Although I think moving the market is a bad idea, I’m certainly open to alternative arguments. But I have to chime in when someone uses Tiger Stadium and Comerica Park as an argument for the relocation for several reasons.

    1. Major League Baseball teams have a much better track record of making money than farmer’s markets in places like Flint. While owners may complain about operating costs, they know there’s almost always a big payoff waiting for them when they sell the team.

    2. Winning MLB teams attract fans, regardless of where they’re playing. I’ve gone to several sold out San Francisco Giants games in the old Candlestick, widely derided as the coldest, windiest, ugliest multi-purpose stadiums ever built. Even when the Giants weren’t in a pennant race or the playoffs, the Stick regularly sold out against the Dodgers. That’s 58,000 people to see a team in frigid conditions with no hope of the playoffs. The location didn’t matter. Tiger Stadium sold out when Detroit was winning, at it was a lot bigger than Comerica.

    3. The reality is that MLB teams don’t make the bulk of their money on fans showing up for a game. The TV contracts are the big money maker. And the cash cow at the stadiums is the luxury boxes. There are 102 at Comerica.

    1. Just plan and simple no business has or will survive in downtown flint. Also tacking away from the market atmosphere to make it look like a mall is just dumb. Next people just won't go downtown there is no were to park at let alone parking for a market

    2. I'm no fan of the downtown move, but in fairness, I'm quite sure the developers would count how many parking spaces are currently available and arrange to tear down buildings if need be to provide at least that many.

  2. Here's the rest...

    4. But even the actual revenues from the stadium itself aren’t the point. As Malcolm Gladwell point’s out in this excellent piece in Grantland, the stadium is often just a piece in the larger financial portfolio of an owner. (He’s talking about the New Jersey Nets, but it applies to baseball stadiums and, in this case I think, the Flint Farmer’s Market.)

    Can't add hyperlinks in the comment section, but here's the URL:

    Ilitch owns a lot of property in downtown Detroit. Moving the Tigers downtown increased the value of those other properties substantially. Sure, he’ll make more money on the luxury boxes, but the big payoff comes with the increased value of his other downtown holdings.

    Likewise, Uptown stands to increase the value of their other downtown properties if the farmer’s market is relocated and survives.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I think there’s more than the profit motive at work here. As much as I’d hate to see the historical legacy of the current farmer’s market squandered, there’s no denying that it would help downtown Flint if the market somehow survived a move to the Journal buildings. I firmly believe that a thriving downtown would be a strong anchor for Flint. But Ilitch didn’t have to worry about the Detroit Tigers going out of business if he moved. But the Flint Farmer’s Market could certainly wither and die downtown. It’s a calculated risk.

    One other point, one of the losers in the Detroit move was Corktown, the neighborhood where the old Tiger Stadium resided. It was in the midst of a long, slow revitalization, and losing the Tiger’s home field was a setback for the nabe. If the market moves, the current location will probably become another dead zone. It would make a nice park on the river, but Flint can’t maintain all the parks it has now.

    And another point, a favorite argument for abandoning historic icons like Tiger Stadium is that they’re just too old and broken down to save. Of course, the owners make this a reality by deferring maintenance. You can see this theme emerging now with the Flint Farmer’s Market. Of course, you could always spend money to fix the problems. The market buildings could be weatherized and made accessible for the disabled. There are still people known as architects, carpenters and construction workers in Flint. And there are amazing places like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field that show just how great a place can be, both economically and historically, when someone is willing to spend a little money on them. Comerica Park is a nice place, but it reminds me a little bit of a cookie cutter subdivision house. I don’t make a huge effort to catch a game when I’m in Detroit anymore. I believe in the long run Detroit may have been better off fixing up Tiger Stadium and investing in the Corktown neighborhood. But I’m fully aware I could be completely wrong.

    1. I took the baseball stadium comparison for the strong emotional ties that people might have for the buildings. From a business perspective, accurately comparing the two would be difficult. It certainly is true that ML Baseball owners (strictly baseball related income) benefit financially many different ways besides ticket sales:
      1. Vending/Food Sales
      2. Licensed Merchandise Sales
      3. Luxury Boxes
      4. Television Contracts
      5. Corporate Advertsing
      6. Revenue Sharing (split percentage
      enabling small markets to benefit)

      As far as I can tell, the Flint Farmers' Market generates steady revenue primarily, if not solely, through renting vendor space. Not just baseball, but many businesses would have a better record of making money because of their diverse means of generating revenue. In order for the market to increase profits it would appear an increase either in vendors or rental fees would make sense to consider. After visiting most Thursdays and Saturdays however, there appears to be no room to put new vendors. A few of the existing vendors mentioned a willingness to increase rental fees only if it included updates and expanded space. A major expansion (if possible) at the existing location or (seemingly more economically feasible) the possible new site should allow for accessible community gathering and/or special events comparable to Detroit's Eastern Market (and others), making it economically viable which I cannot imagine it currently is.

      Baseball attendance figures are often difficult to understand and winning doesn't always attract fans. The 2011 Tampa Bay Rays qualified for the playoffs (AL wild card) and were 29/30 in MLB attendance. Although, the figures at "The Stick" for seasons they were not in playoff contention, might have been up due to people wishing to witness in person the freakishly large steroid head of Barry Bond. How is the new stadium (Pac-Bell, SBC Park, AT&T Park...or whatever they are calling it today) compared to the old? I have heard that it's quite nice!

  3. I'll add that Comerica Park started construction just on the eve of historic preservation entering the public consciousness in a big way. Had Tiger Stadium held on for five more years, it may well have gone differently, and the Tigers could be playing in a thoroughly updated Tiger Stadium. Boston went through something similar with Fenway. There was serious talk of a new one, the project stalled long enough for the team to realize the intrinsic value of the park as interest in historic preservation increased and the plan was abandoned.

    You make a good point about Illitch wanting his holdings in Foxtown, as that's exactly what Uptown wants in Flint.

    It occurs to me that maybe a solution to all this is a new focus on transit. A downtown circulator model, perhaps, that would give Uptown's tenants easier access to the FFM where it is now, and support new development in the Cultural Center.

  4. You nailed it. The Comerica move was not only to get Ilitch's property values up, but also to cash in with his nearby businesses and parking lots. The problem with Corktown was that other people in the community were sharing in profit of the Tigers' crowd and that just couldn't be tolerated.

    I'm still a very big Tigers fan, but I honestly wouldn't be too upset if Mr. Ilitch never sees a World Series Chamiponship in his lifetime.

    Tiger Stadium still upsets me, especially after seeing all the creative ways they've worked around problems and made adjustments with Wrigley and Fenway. The way they close up Yawkey Way at Fenway to where it's open to the fans at the game to go outside to the team store and have the vendors out there is a great solution for the lack of space.

    Comerica's family friendly atmosphere is a little annoying sometimes. You have a lot of people that go because they don't have to "just watch baseball" anymore. The Corner was a man's stadium where you sat and watched the game. I feel sorry for all the men I see there that pay top dollar for their family to go to a game and their wife and kids are at the carousel or up and down getting food and shopping the entire game.

    It's harder to pass along a love for the game when your kid's barely watching it. I realize there are a lot of wives and kids that love the game and sit and watch it, too. I'm not singling out families, women, or kids in general, just the ones that insist on going to a game when they have no business being there and don't watch it anyway. Honestly, there's plenty of men there that seem to just want to hang out and drink $8 beer while not watching the game too. The new stadium has a lot more of that crowd than the old one, and I kind of hate it.

  5. I know this is off point, but with all the fun things to do in the world, I've never understood why anybody, male or female, would want to organize a social event around a sporting event they have no real interest in. Talk about boring. It was torture after about 10 minutes. I'm into sports, but I went to a cricket match once and suddenly realized what it must be like for those people who go to super bowl parties when they don't know anything about football. But I'm also one of those people who enjoys a basketball game without all the awful music and other distractions.

    Oh, I think the market will fail downtown. But Uptown knows it can continuously get bailed out by the Mott Foundations...Ruth and Charles...for that matter.

  6. Build a minor leauge ball park where the old farmers market was. Call them the FLINT FARMERS.

  7. As someone who did that "hug" for Tiger Stadium (I have the t-shirt to prove it somewhere), I would have preferred it to stay and have the Cochrane plan used to fix it up.

    I haven't been to the new stadium, but I imagine it looks like Phoenix's stadium (baseball surrounded by a mall?). I'm sure it's nice, but when I was at Tiger's Stadium, I loved how I could walk in the aisle and be about 6 rows from the players/dugout. It gave you the feeling of good seats as you walked to your far away ones.

    Farmers market... perhaps a poll of the vendors is in order. Yes, I would like it to stay where it is, but I'd rather know what the vendors want... I think it affects them the most.

    I couldn't read all the comments before me, but someone had mentioned a bussing service or something to the Market and back for the downtowners. Detroit has something similar going on, check it...


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