Twelve years ago the Flint Farmers’ Market was going to be closed. It was costing the city too much money to operate. Uptown Reinvestment Corporation saw an opportunity and took over the management of the market, saving the city money, and rescuing one of Flint’s historic jewels for its citizens.
In 2012, Uptown was presented with another unexpected opportunity. The Flint Journal had undergone a major transition in its business model, and in the process its $35 million downtown print facility had become available. This availability coincided with the recognition by Uptown that its market successes of the previous 10 years could not be maintained at the site along Boulevard Drive.
The market had added new vendors, successfully piloted wireless bridge card incentives, created untold partnerships throughout the community, made significant building and infrastructure improvements, and created a great amount of good will and support among the area’s residents (being voted America’s most loved in 2009).
Its success had brought it to a turning point. Hard decisions had to be made. The market was not going to continue to grow on its current site. The area between Burton Street and what became First Merit Bank was simply too small. This reality meant that even if the necessary improvements were made to the market, the money would not be wisely spent. It would be improving a site which would not serve
Everyone’s emotional attachment to the market is real and important. For the past 73 years, the old building on the river has been market home to several generations of vendors and customers alike. Everyone has stories about when their mom, or their grandma, or some other significant adult in their lives first brought them to the market, and how they have loved to return over the years for the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the camaraderie, not to mention the good food presented by vendors who have also become friends.
Unfortunately, the worn condition and the limited size of the place we have come to love cannot support our future ambitions. But an opportunity has arisen, brought about by the changes which have taken place at the Flint Journal. The print building, the large new building on First Street, has become available.
The management team of the market has been working with the vendors . Many of us are agreed that now is the right time in the market’s history to move it back downtown where it began 108 years ago. Larger space, modern facilities that are ADA handicap accessible, and a location downtown, where residents and workers can visit it much more easily are key elements in the decision.
A new downtown market will still hold the same, familiar vendors. Although it won’t border the river, the green space provided by Willson Park will still allow a feeling that the market is not completely surrounded by cement.
There will be plenty of nearby parking (more than we have at the current space). The outside pavilion will be replicated. The new market’s location close to the bus station will mean that patrons who ride the bus will no longer have to transfer in order to reach the market. The 5,000 workers downtown will now be within walking distance of the market, as will the 1,000 residents and the 8,300 students. Expressway access, off I-475, will still be extremely easy (exit 7 now, instead of 8a).
In short, the market will remain a destination. Everyone came when it stood alone on the triangle of land between the post office and the old Royalite building. Those same folks will be able to get to the new market just as easily. And think of all the new customers a downtown market can now serve.
We think this opportunity represents a win for the market vendors (they get new facilities and more space), a win for market customers who now won’t have to shop in hot crowded conditions on busy summer Saturdays, a win for downtown, and a win for Flint and Genesee County. Our nationally recognized market will now have the room to grow to become the destination hub of an emerging regional food and health system.