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Detroit’s Eastern Market explores expansion plans

The Detroit News

Detroit’s Eastern Market is moving ahead with expansion plans that officials project could double the estimated 1,500 jobs and spark hundreds of millions of dollars in business growth over the next decade, officials said.

The urban shopping destination, which launched in 1891 and boasts up to 40,000 visitors on weekends, has pursued upgrades and additions in recent years as its owners work to expand operations. Recent plans peg the cost at tens of millions dollars.

The Eastern Market Corp., the nonprofit that runs the market for the city, and planners are pursuing a “2025 Strategy” to help the historic site thrive and “provide Detroit with a launching pad for economic growth capable of creating thousands of new jobs,” according to an executive summary.

“Eastern Market aspires to support the next generation of food businesses as well as complementary development of a lively mixed-use commercial district to greatly increase the number of jobs in the district,” the summary read. “The increased density of food businesses and other development will provide a fundamental building block for Detroit’s future.”

Among the plans for the market: reviewing proposals to renovate a vacant 104,000-square-foot of property in the district’s north end, near Roma Café, into a “Detroit Regional Food Accelerator” aimed at helping wholesalers, said Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp.

Another plan is to revamp Shed 4, which is now open-air but would be transformed into an enclosed space with about 60 housing units above it, Carmody said. That project alone could cost between $10 million and $15 million.

Eastern Market officials also hope to boost the Food Innovation Zone “for an extension of the district boundaries to accommodate a larger footprint for food processing, warehousing, and distribution facilities,” according to the 2025 Strategy. A draft was finalized in January.

That part of the plans could add 100 to 150 acres to the market’s footprint, Carmody said Tuesday. “We are working with the city on a master plan to integrate light and industrial processing with other uses, including residential and retail.”

The plans, which city officials are expected to review, come as aging urban markets across the country cope with rising real estate prices but also as a burgeoning food movement takes hold, Carmody said.

“In Brooklyn (New York), the food sector is the largest employer now,” he said. “The interest in food businesses is growing nationwide at the local and regional scale.”