Farmers market changes planned

MARQUETTE – The Marquette Downtown Development Authority has plans to reconfigure the Marquette Commons with the assistance of a state grant.

The grant – it totals $24,537, and includes a pledge for $43,623 in local matching funds – comes through the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Farmers Market Grant Program, which provides one-time grants between $10,000 and $50,000 to existing farmers markets that have been in operation for at least four years in Michigan.

According to the MEDC, the grant will be used in Marquette to “revamp” the Commons “to better meet the needs of the farmers market by making it more aesthetically pleasing and adding needed amenities.”

Marquette DDA Director Mona Lang said the plan is to reconstruct portions of the Commons in order to better accommodate vendors.

“One of the things we are going to do is we’re going to remove the fountain,” she said. “The fountain – it’s gotten to a point that we just don’t have the money to repair it.”

In addition to removing the fountain, which she called “a hazard,” Lang said the grant will help the DDA to remove some of the center curbs to reduce the size of the center island and provide additional space for the market.

This year, there were 41 vendors at the market and Lang estimated that at the conclusion of the project, there would be 10 additional vendor spaces available.

The project could also include installation of a drinking fountain, as well as the creation of a visible entryway to the area.

Lang said the local matching funds will come out of the DDA’s budget, but added that plans were already in place to make modifications to the Commons.

The grant, she said, “allows us to do some things we probably wouldn’t have been able to do.”

She said that she hoped to have the fountain removed this fall and wants to have the concrete work done by the spring of 2014, weather permitting.

Projects that were considered under the Farmers Market Grant Program included unique and innovative design elements, amenities for patrons and vendors, multi-use spaces, multi-modal transportation, marketing and signage.

Projects to make markets more accessible to residents were also given preference.

“Farmers markets improve our downtowns and bring vitality and a sense of place to our communities,” MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney said in a written statement. “These grants will support local markets, strengthen communities and create jobs in our state.”

In total, the MEDC program handed out $200,000 in funds, with pledges for more than $269,000 in matching funds.

A total of 24 applications requesting $677,904 were submitted, and representatives from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Michigan Farmers Market Association participated on the scoring team.

“Michigan’s community farmers markets have helped re-energize the enthusiasm for connecting with our agricultural roots. As a matter of fact, Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for the number of farmers markets,” MDARD Director Jamie Clover Adams said in a written statement. “Our farmers markets are a great place to sample the diversity of our agriculture and get a taste of Pure Michigan.”

Also in the Upper Peninsula, the city of Gladstone received a $50,000 grant, coupled with a pledge for $69,740 in local matching funds, to create a multi-purpose area in a downtown parking lot to be used in part for the city’s farmers market.

According to the MEDC, a second round of food entrepreneurship grants, this one aimed at Michigan’s food truck industry, will be announced within the next two to three weeks.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.