Detroit, Grosse Pointe Park reach deal to remove farmers market barricade

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

A farmers market is usually a welcome addition to most Metro Detroit communities. But the sunflower-colored sheds that created a barricade between Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park unearthed ugly tensions, which resulted in the two cities agreeing to remove the market from the middle of Kercheval Avenue.

The sheds for the West Park Farmers Market at the border of the bankrupt Detroit and affluent Grosse Pointe Park opened about a month ago. In November, they will be removed, Grosse Pointe Park officials announced Tuesday. For its part, Detroit has promised to tear down some vacant buildings on the Grosse Pointe Park border by November.

Grosse Pointe Park Mayor Palmer Heenan says the city will erect a permanent farmers market and plaza that will “be welcoming to Detroiters” and “visually appealing from all directions.”

No one protested the idea of a farmers market, but many residents opposed cutting off vehicular traffic on Kercheval at the Detroit border. Many took it as a sign that Grosse Pointe Park was trying to wall itself off from Detroit. Accusations of racism came not just from Detroit residents, but some Grosse Pointe Park residents.

Grosse Pointe Park resident Heidi Gunderson said she wholly supported the farmers market, but the positioning of sheds offended her.

She was among the dozens of citizens who spoke out against the plan at a recent City Council meeting.

“This is not the message I want to send to my children,” she said.

The temporary sheds, which are still being built, are just a few feet away from the entrance of Shaw’s Books, an antiquarian book store that’s been owned and operated by Hank Zuchowski for 22 years.

“No one ever came to me from the city and said ‘Here’s what we are doing,’ ” Zuchowski said. “I didn’t know about the plans until they were actually cutting off the road. I understand wanting to support a more walkable retail district, but the way they did it was really stupid.”

Plans for the project were approved by the city’s planning commission. But that commission only meets twice a year and the minutes from the meeting where the decision was made were not posted online.

As part of the “Kercheval Agreement,” Grosse Pointe Park is expected to reopen access and construct a permanent public market. By November, the deal also calls for Detroit to remove several abandoned buildings along Alter, between Jefferson and Mack.

A traffic roundabout already has been created on the Grosse Pointe Park side of Kercheval; the city of Detroit will build one at Kercheval and Alter. The two cities will work together on a master plan for the area that will cover traffic, construction, demolition and marketing resources.

For several years, Grosse Pointe has explored the idea of cutting off Kercheval as a way to boost the city’s retail district. That’s about the time the prominent Cotton family — David, Shery and their sons Jon, Sean and Michael — turned their attention toward the border of Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit.

In 2011, the Cottons launched the nonprofit Detroit Crime Commission, aimed at fighting crime and blight. The housing crash resulted in more than 70 vacant or foreclosed properties near the city border, according to Grosse Pointe Park officials.

The Cottons played a major role in filling those units with college students. They helped form and now provide support to the Grosse Pointe Housing Foundation. Students with at least 2.5 grade point averages from nearby colleges get rental assistance.

Through various entities, the Cottons began in 2011 to buy retail properties on and around Kercheval. Their acquisitions include such well-known spots as the now-shuttered Janet’s Lunch, and the Grace United Church of Christ on Lakepointe Street, which has become a brewpub.

A member of that church is Detroit resident Carol Wilson. On Tuesday, Wilson was selling coffee at the Kercheval farmers market.

“The Cottons treated our church very fairly. They gave us a lot of time to move, and the truth is our membership has been declining, so it made financial sense to move,” she said.

Wilson also was happy to hear about a new agreement that will open up Kercheval again and keep the farmers market.

“I’m glad, because truly there are many people on both sides who want the same things,” she said. “A market like this should be able to help promote cooperation and communities working together.”

Twitter: LouisAguilar_DN