Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Reader Weighs In on Plans to Move the Flint Farmer's Market

Sable Pelt responds to reports that the Flint Farmer's Market may be relocated to the old Flint Journal Building:
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.


  1. Mott/Uptown of course can pretty much determine where the *place* called Flint Farmers' Market will be located, but they can't dictate that the critical-mass magic of vendors and customers will continue. The vendors do have other choices; plenty of other communities want to set up markets as successful as Flint's has been at the current location. I'm pretty sure that two or three vendors with long Flint Farmers' Market track records would be quite a catch for one of those up-and-coming competitor-markets.

    And, it's obvious that F.F.M. doesn't draw from as large a disposable-income pool as it once did. Some of those competitor-markets don't have that concern to the same extent, or even are growing.

    If I were a civic promoter of another community-area and I wanted a first-class Farmers' Market, I'd think that a disruptive move such as the one Uptown intends would be a golden opportunity to make my move.

    Familiarity is good. Change is uncomfortable. A little confusion about parking and what streets to use, too much "newness", a few vendors departed, a decline in customer numbers, and the critical-mass magic will be gone. Poof.

    But, not to worry. There might be a pretty good Farmers' Market in Fenton/Linden. It's only a short drive.

  2. If the professional seers of the future at Mott/Uptown, UM-F and Genesee County were concerned that Flint was going to fail, it would make sense for them to "circle the wagons", pulling those of Flint's remaining assets that they control into a preserved area around the key institutional facilities.

    Is that what's going on? Is this triage, to save what can be saved?

  3. "Otto St John" former Manager of the City Market in the 1960(s) would roll over in his grave if he heard of such talk. My father owned the Hub Shoe Repair, 122 E. Kearsley Street, established in 1919 and Auto World bought the building and turned it into a parking lot. This put him out of business, leaving him a broken old man. How easy is it for the powerful to make big decisions destroying others big dreams. Perhaps moving the river and damming it up would make more sense for a community park.

  4. First off there are two Mott Foundations: C.S. Mott Foundation and Ruth Mott Foundation. Uptown is entangled with Ridgeway White as he work at the Riverfront Resident Hall then poof became a real estate developer over night (State School of the Deaf and Blind & new Powers Catholic High School). The Uptown six, I don't think are willing to be pushed around by the Mott family, but yes they do seem to be allied with them.

    The C.S. Mott Foundation, I should say, is funding the national land use/land bank authority center in DC that was original headed by Dan Kildee, former county treasurer, who advocates shrinking the city. Shrinking the city would increase public safety as the ratio of streets to patrol and response time would decrease. Also, decrease the miles of sewer, storm and water pipes that have to be mantained.

    The current Farmer's Market close enough to Downtown. So I don't really think that even if they are "circling the wagons" that moving the Market is necessarily needed but they might be invision a much smaller circle.

    The condeming of the Genesee Towers seem to be within topic of this post. As it took two or three years after Mayor Williamson felt the Towers should be condemed that an actual engineering firm (out of the great hot bed of skyscrapers Kalamazoo!?!?) could issue a report to do so. The initial announcement by Williamson also scared off all the construction crews that were working to restore the building. The DDA Deputy Director claimed that the DDA got 1000's of reports of material falling off the building. So that is like 3 times a day. Talking to staff at the Bank of America branch in the Mott Building they have not seen nor heard any falling material. So it all seems so fabricated. If it is so unstable as to fall why weren't the Flint Journal Building and the Mott Foundation buildings closed as it could fall on either of these building. Why isn't Harrison Street, First Street or the ground parking lot across the street completely closed there? Why then? Not being developed by Uptown?

  5. I think it's fair to consider that the Mott group has an interest in their own neighborhood. Ego is an important human motivation. When you have a lot of money to spend, you can indulge your ego.

    If the Mott group were headquartered at Haskell, perhaps Civic Park instead of downtown would be the central focus of their civic planning. But, because the Union Industrial Bank/Mott Foundation Building is downtown, M.F. has spent a great deal of money, energy and influence on downtown.

    I'd guess that in the view of the senior folks at M.F., a key reason why the Genesee Towers Building should come down is that it's next door, and unattractive and architecturally clash-y, and competes on the skyline. That is, their ego says make it go away. Of course, that perspective would be publicly couched in terms of the eyesore-effect on UM-F and the rest of downtown.

    As always, the Golden Rule applies: the folks with the gold, rule.

  6. Excuse me,but the Mott Foundation was very skeptical of the whole Auto World concept proposal,and put together several alternatives to it- one of which was to loop the Huckleberry RR to a vastly improved Farmers Market. They envisioned the largest such market in the state,linked to all the recreational areas in Eastern Genessee county along the river. It would have worked. Powerful interests in the area (you figure it out),however,wanted Auto World.

    1. I've always wanted to delve into the fine-grained details of the AutoWorld plan. So I'd love to hear who the other "powerful interests" were at the time that could force the Mott Foundation into doing something it didn't want to do. Come on, throw out some names and throw out some details on the process. I pretty much only know the obvious details. Thanks.

    2. > It would have worked.

      Heh. Yep, and the Moon is made of green cheese.

  7. Try the Uaw, GM, and the Democratic State Party, perhaps the Chamber of Commerce, NAACP,who knows. It was not so much of a "forcing" issue, as it was a notion of "is this is what you want, then this is what you get".

    1. Don't forget the tri-lateral commission.

    2. I hear the Free Masons were also involved.

    3. Yer all wrong. It was the ghost of Jack Ruby.

  8. > 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.

    "Decisions" is plural. What others?

    The strip mall at Saginaw and Fifth didn't work out, but can't very well be called "horrible".

    No other project outcomes downtown, in my estimation, qualify as "horrible".

    And, is there some evidence that the Mott group actually originated the AutoWorld concept, or significantly pushed for its final shape? In at least the past couple of decades, I think the Mott group has been primarily a reviewer of funding proposals brought to them, much like other traditional charitable/civic foundations around the country.

    Which actually leads to the question: who *did* first suggest the original AutoWorld-as-amusement-center idea? My guess is that it was originally suggested by someone at Convention & Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, or the Genesee Country planners. Anyone know authoritatively?

    1. When I have some more time, I'd love to get the full story on AutoWorld, along with other renewal projects that wen't bad in other cities.

      Also interested in the history of the Mott Foundation. It seems there was a point when the foundation decided to assist projects beyond Flint. Interesting to see what spurred that move.

  9. Do not move the FFM. I have been to dozens of markets all around the United States. Still. Not a single one can come close to the FFM. It is a farmers market that sets the definition. If it is moved, it most certainly will fail.


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