2016 National Planning Excellence Award: Economic Planning & Development

Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Grand Rapids, Michigan


The Grand Rapids Downtown Market is an urban revitalization and community health strategy that reconnects downtown Grand Rapids to West Michigan agriculture. The Market features an indoor market hall with 21 vendors, outdoor farmer's market, two restaurants, shared commercial kitchen, educational and event facilities, and leaseholds for partnering organizations.


The vision for the Grand Rapids Downtown Market came from Grand Action, a not-for-profit economic development organization whose primary objectives are to identify catalytic downtown revitalization projects, galvanize community support, and design and implement funding strategies that leverage public and private funds. In 2009, Grand Action retained Market Ventures, Inc. of Portland, Maine (MVI) to study the feasibility of a year-round public market, identify the site, and create a concept plan for its development. MVI's economic impact assessment determined that the Market could stimulate 1,700 jobs in the region and create $775 million of economic impact over 10 years.

The Downtown Market is located at the southern edge of downtown, home to the city's largest concentration of shelters, food pantries, and social service agencies, with a 38% poverty and 32% unemployment rate. The Market was designed to benefit low income residents through food access, education, entrepreneurship, and job opportunities. The Market transformed a once forbidding 3.5 acre zone of vacant warehouses into welcoming public spaces.

To improve community health, the Downtown Market offers extensive programming that addresses obesity and diet-related diseases within unique educational facilities such as the hands-on Teaching Kitchen (with adjustable height cooking surfaces) and rooftop greenhouses. A LEED Gold facility, the Market is the nation's first project to receive USGBC's local food production credit.

Market hall: Twenty-two market hall vendors and two restaurants bring Michigan's best food and drink to consumers each day; upstairs seating provides greenhouse and market hall views. Photo by Jeffrey Grooters.


MVI's market research included focus groups with downtown workers, residents and regional farmers, along with extensive data analysis. The nonprofit established to run the Market created a Community Advisory Committee, Food and Farmer Advisory Committee and educational nonprofit to ensure broad ongoing public engagement.

To help shrink the perceived distance between the Market and the downtown core, the illuminated rooftop greenhouses serve as a visual beacon. Streetscape improvements around the Market enhance walkability. Coordination with the local transit authority brought public transit adjacent to the Market.

The Downtown Market replaced abandoned warehouses with a new light-filled, dynamic destination and sparked redevelopment of two adjacent historic warehouses into housing and retail. The rooftop greenhouses serve as educational and event facilities. Photo by M-Buck Studio.


The Downtown Market has exceeded expectations. The Market has launched 30 new small businesses and created 333 permanent jobs. Vendor sales, estimated to reach $7.8 million in year three, hit $8.5 million in year two. Vendors take SNAP EBT and DoubleBucks to lower costs of nutritious foods. Health and wellness classes have served more than 5,000 students. Responding to the 250,000 people now attracted each year to this underdeveloped edge of downtown, private developers repurposed two large vacant warehouses adjacent to the Market into 170 apartments and retail. Through its numerous innovations and high quality development, the Grand Rapids Downtown Market is setting the standard for creating public markets in the 21st century.

The Teaching Kitchen's six adjustable-height stations inspire seven year-olds to cook like pros; a push-of-the-button raises the stations to accommodate adults for events and trainings. Photo credit Grand Rapids Downtown Market.