Born again, or barn again?
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
Lansing’s new City Market faces opportunity and risk.
As a new City Market springs up along the banks of the Grand River downtown, Lansing has an addictive new winter pastime to set alongside the Sim City video game: Sim City Market.
It’s summer 2011. Food and flowers cascade from an overstuffed Lansing City Market onto the newly renovated riverfront. Patrons throng to the market on foot, by bike, by car, by kayak, by River Trail, attracted by a mix of specialty foods and local produce, savvy marketing, entertainment, and a panoramic view of the riverfront. Some savor a meal or sip wine at a bistro tucked into the market’s southwest corner. Developer Pat Gillespie’s new multi-story condominiums are shooting up a few yards away, jacking up the buzz and bustle. So many vendors clamor for a piece of the action that workers install a mezzanine. In another year, City Market Manager John Hooper tells Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero that he no longer needs the city’s $50,000 per year subsidy. Everybody wonders why the city waited so long to make the move.
Second round: Few people notice the new building from big one-way Cedar Street, and those who do are turned off by its plain metal shell. The economy keeps on tanking and Gillespie’s condos don’t go up soon enough. Vendors can’t sustain the new market’s higher rent. One man paddles a kayak to the market and gets a spot on the 6 p.m. news. Vendors use the market’s longer hours to catch up on their reading. Leases are dropped and the place becomes a money pit. Finally, Gillespie swoops in, takes the white elephant off the city’s hands, and uses it as a hangar for his private blimp.
Market games are fun for armchair speculators, but it won’t be a game when new market opens “soft” next month, with most vendors in place, followed by a grand opening in the spring. Vendors, city officials, market shoppers and supporters are dead serious about the once-in-a-century chance to reboot the troubled City Market as a riverfront “public urban market.”
One Acropolis, hold the Parthenon
“Some people see a barn on the river,” Hooper said on a visit to the new site two weeks ago. “I’m still ecstatic we have this. It’s going to offer us a whole new breath of fresh air in this market.”
“All I ask is that people not rush to judge,” Hooper said. “It’s a work in progress.”
Hooper predicted that the City Market might become the second spot people go when visiting Lansing, after the Capitol.
“It’s not a stretch. We have everything in place — the vendors, the potential customers,” he said over the roar of two steamrollers smoothing the sand in front of the main doorway.
Hooper said all but three of the market’s 44 vendors are moving to the new building. The East Lansing Food Co-op isn’t going. The owners of Green River Café left the restaurant business. Another longtime vendor, Anna Harris, often seen playing solitaire among her figurines and knickknacks.
Most of the other vendors are enthusiastic. Fresh produce vendor Nan Jasinowski has brought produce from Sweet Seasons Orchard in Jackson County to the market since June. “I’ve got a beautiful spot overlooking the river,” she said.
Breadmaker Neva Austin, with the market since August, loves the new site. “I’ll have ovens and work tables,” Austin said. “I’ll be able to bake on site and people can watch. The aroma will go all over.”
The newer vendors aren’t the only ones who are eager to go. Perhaps the most notable booster is veteran market cheese man Glenn Hills, born in April 1938, four months before the present City Market building was dedicated. Hills loves to tell people that he came to the old market on opening day “in a basket” and never left. He started his cheese booth at the City Market in May 1961 and has aged along with the Gouda, but he likes the new place.
“I don’t think there’ll be any tears shed here when the bowling ball hits these walls,” he said.
Hills said the new building’s open floor plan will even out the “good and bad” locations of the present H-shaped building, with its elongated segments, blocked views and dead spots.
“We’re gonna give it a good shot,” Hills said. “I think it can be successful over there.”
When you’re standing inside the new market shell, looking out, it’s easy to share Hooper’s enthusiasm.
The new market sits on a ridge with a panoramic view of the Grand River. The east bank below is newly clad in a stylish, angular array of embankments and walkways. (Strikingly modernistic light fixtures and stainless steel railings are coming.) In spring, seasonal growers will display their wares under huge 10-foot-wide umbrellas.
A plaza on the market’s southwest corner will fit about 20 tables for outdoor seating that may have the best view in town, with the redeveloped Ottawa Power Station as its centerpiece.
Hooper said a restaurant and bistro with a liquor license has “committed” to that corner spot, although he couldn’t name the vendor.
About $2.3 million from the state Department of Environmental Equality’s Clean Michigan Initiative went to develop the first 25 feet on each side of the river. The new market’s pedestal is impressive — a Lansing version of the Acropolis.
But the structure on top is no Parthenon.
Two words: pole barn
After ogling the riverfront with Hooper from the commanding heights of the new market, I went down to the river to look back up at the market with two Lansing architects, Rick McKinstry and Francis Wilmore of Architectural Solutions Limited.
First, we watched workers slap glass walls on the modernistic annex to the redeveloped Ottawa Power Station. Then we swiveled our heads to the east bank.
It took McKinstry less than two minutes to say the “b” word.
“It looks like a pole barn,” he said. “This is something you would see in an outlying rural community.”
Wilmore said he liked the site and position of the market, facing downtown.
“But it’s so standardized,” he said. “There’s no excitement there. It’s a sad missed opportunity.”
McKinstry said the city could “definitely” have done better, even within its budget.
“It lacks downtown presence, especially being across the river from such a monumental development,” he said. Hooper admitted the building is “functional.”
From the start, the city was determined to limit the cost of the new market to $1.59 million, the amount Gillespie paid for the old City Market property.
According to Hooper, Studio Intrigue’s David Vanderklok designed the building, with input from Hooper, consultant Fidel Delgado of the United States Department of Agriculture, and Eric Hart, former president of the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, or LEPFA, which runs the market.
It’s no coincidence that Delgado’s design for the Santa Fe City Market looks similar to Lansing’s.
“We used that as somewhat of a model,” Hooper said. “For the newer city markets, that’s the look, unless you’re renovating an old building.”
Hooper said he and Vanderklok were in a “state of shock” at the bids.
Local developer Gene Townsend said that level of sticker shock is “not an uncommon problem.”
“It happens over and over,” Townsend said.
Keith said a preliminary analysis is the architect’s responsibility, “and they did that.”
Hooper said the debris and soil contained mercury and arsenic from old plating factories in the area.
“All that material just can’t be taken to the landfill,” Hooper said. “It has to be taken to Granger’s contaminated soil area.”
Civil engineers told Keith the old scale might create a sinkhole under the parking lot or interfere with drainage.
City officials and Hooper say there’s always time to retrofit most of the line items lost.
“If something isn’t right, there’s no reason we can’t add something to the building,” Trezise said. “We’ll just keep adding on.”
But Hooper acknowledged the building isn’t what he envisioned.
Inside the apple
“We aren’t a farmers’ market,” Hooper
“We have to give customers what they want, not, as has been the case so often in the past, what the vendors want,” Hooper said.
“Everybody has heard it over the decades — you go over there and the building is closed, or the booth is empty,” Trezise said.
Bob Falsetta, a City Market produce vendor since 1960, demonstrates the mindset Hooper is fighting.
Bingo — Trezise called the new market “an eclectic grocery store for businesses and neighborhoods in and around downtown.”
“Change is hard,” Hooper said philosophically.
Eventually, Hooper said, he’d like to see the market operate seven days a week, 12 hours a day.
With the extra traffic and lower
If and when Gillespie’s condos go up on the old City Market site, they will be yards away from the back of the building.
Trezise said the building’s starkness this fall was just a “teenager phase.”
In spring, he said, when all of the landscaping, green awnings and outdoor umbrellas in place, the market will flower.
Hooper, Trezise and Keith stressed that everything, from the signs to the hours to the mix of vendors, is open to change.
A new lease
“I think it
He signed the lease and flew out the door.
In the background of the photo, the bare girders of the Ottawa Power Station, then under construction, are poking up.