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To Market: New Muskegon farmers' market enhances downtown

General contractor Steve Novak, left, and Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Larsen, right.

The newly renovated and relocated Muskegon Farmers' Market is set to open this weekend, with potential to increase foot traffic and add vibrancy in an already-growing downtown. Grab your reusable shopping bags and get a peek inside the market before it's filled with fresh produce.
Grab your reusable bags and shopping lists - the newly renovated and relocated Muskegon Farmers' Market opens this Saturday, May 3rd. After a rapidly completed two-year project, Muskegon residents and tourists are now looking forward to a new location, with an open-air concept and variety of vendors that are sure to have the market's visitors celebrating spring. Pooling resources from local businesses, foundations and private donors, the new farmers' market is a diversely resourced project set to increase the city's foot traffic and contribute to the steady development of this lakeside town.
 
"It's a great example of what the people of Muskegon can do when they work together," says Jonathan Seyferth, executive director of Downtown Muskegon Now. The organization, a nonprofit whose goal is to "create a downtown community that is inviting for businesses, residents, commuters, [and] tourists," interacts with the Downtown Muskegon Development Corporation (DMDC), the city's officials and new businesses in "sort of a connector role," says Seyferth. Having worked in attracting new businesses to Muskegon in his position for a year, Seyferth sees the potential in creating an impressive and versatile attraction in the downtown area.
 
"Downtown has gone through a lot of changes [recently]," says Seyferth, referring to new businesses such as Unruly Brewing Company and Smash Wine Bar & Bistro. Enthusiastic about the market's potential to impress neighboring communities and tempt more entrepreneurs to try their hand at Muskegon-area business, Seyferth looks forward to the opening. "It's really cool. I'm really excited," he says. In addition to its business potential, "It's a beautiful space too," says Seyferth.
 
Pursuing an efficient and attractive design was also a vital factor in drawing vendors and patrons to the new market. Since the design team worked "directly with farmers," says Steve Novak of T4 Group, the market's contractor, the layout was crafted to work for both market vendors and consumers. "Every stall has its own electricity," says Novak, in addition to heat and refrigeration, allowing each stall to function independently and provide fresh, local produce and food items.
 
In addition, "The new market will contain 124 outdoor vending stalls - a 10% increase from the old market site," says Gordon S. Jentriz, project manager at Paradigm Design, the architecture firm heading project. A specially designed four-season vending area will include 10 enclosed, all-season vending stalls, "a 100% increase from the old market site," says Jentriz. These will allow vendors and patrons to take advantage of the market year round. In addition, the open market concept, explains Paul Schneider, senior designer at Paradigm, provides rain cover and a pedestrian walkway with easy access to vendors.
 
The double-loaded corridor in which the market rests also allows for trucks on either side of the vending area. In summary, the new design is simply a "more gracious environment for vendors," says Schneider.
 
"The new facility will also include a demonstration kitchen, new restroom facilities, a sound system and nearly 350 parking spaces either on site or directly adjacent to the property," says Jentriz.
 
In a delightful design twist, the parking lot will transform into an ice rink in the winter. "Those are the kinds of things that are really going to help the diversity of the area," says Novak, of the variety of elements that will hopefully attract a wide variety of patrons.
 
The new market, set to glean both attention and foot traffic, was also constructed in a new location. Nestled closer to downtown on 242 W. Western Ave., coordinators of the project sought to provide more ease and accessibility to downtown residents and visitors. "It was going to be controversial," says Larsen, of moving a market that held its previous location for the past sixty years. Though the decision was bold, she says, "It was the right move."
 
Of the previous location on 700 Yuba Street, Steve Novak says, "It was kind of hard to get in there unless you're familiar with the area," thus not allowing for easy access for Muskegon visitors.
 
Once the decision was made, preparations quickly began. "This has been pretty fast tracked," says Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce and DMDC partner. The project took only two years from inception to completion. In those two years, Larsen partnered with other local organizations to raise the funds, hire an architect and contractor, win over the locals and complete construction. "It was just the right project at the right time," says Larsen.
 
Larsen, who has held her position for the past fourteen years, has been "working on the redevelopment of downtown Muskegon for over ten years." She notes that the new market is simply the proverbial cherry on top of a city whose development has slowly but surely begun to gain attention. "We had this delicious cake," says Larsen, referring to Muskegon's many existing attractions, "but we didn't have any icing on it."
 
The speed of the project is also due in part to the number and variety of private donors, including the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, the Paul C. Johnson Foundation, the Alcoa Foundation, and Downtown Muskegon Now. A sizable grant of $700,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation provided a large chunk of funding, and demonstrated statewide support for the new market. "The state recognizes that this is a strategic move for downtown Muskegon," says Larsen. In addition to local organizations, the market's coordinators also received donations from Muskegon citizens. "We got checks for $25," says Larsen, reflecting on the population's excitement for the new market.
 
Gearing up for the market's opening weekend, Larsen, Novak, and Seyferth are looking forward to the culmination of two years of passionate effort. Appreciation and personal passion culminating in design and interest from new businesses will result in a day of live music, speeches and vendor demonstrations. "[There will be] lots of fun things to do that day at the market," says Larsen.
 
Enthusiastic for a positive impact on downtown and the neighboring community, those who labored on the project can't wait for its unveiling. "It's a nice feather in our cap," says Seyferth. Principally, market coordinators are looking forward to a long-lasting imprint on Muskegon's business, tourism and overall feel.
 
"This is a community-driven project," says Larsen. After opening its doors to patrons on May 3rd, the market will have its grand opening on Friday, May 23rd. 

Lauren F. Carlson is a freelance writer and editor, Aquinas alumna, and Grand Rapids native. Her work can be found at www.emptyframecreative.com, and she can be reached at lauren@emptyframecreative.com for story tips and feedback.

Photography by Adam Bird
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