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Amidst affordability concerns, Eastern Market formalizes development protocols

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The market’s nonprofit manager is taking steps to retain the district’s core identity

Photo by Michelle Gerard

Affordability in Eastern Market has been a major issue of late.

Over the past couple years, several big developers have scooped up dozens of buildings in the district—a spate of evictions, closures, and rent hikes followed. Most notably, a dispute between landlord Sanford Nelson and Ben Hall, owner of Russell Street Deli, led to the restaurant announcing its departure from the market after operating there for 30 years.

In the meantime, the Eastern Market Partnership (EMP)—a collaboration between Eastern Market Corporation and Eastern Market Development Corporation, the organizations tasked with managing and promoting the market—has been developing principles for doing business in the district. Called the “Eastern Market Real Estate Development Protocols,” EMP hopes it will be a tool to retain the distinct characteristics of the market.

“These protocols provide a clear path for developers to follow if they seek EMP’s support in securing regulatory approvals or incentives from the city of Detroit, state of Michigan, or other public agencies,” the document reads.

The protocols are divided into two categories. For mixed-use projects, developers are encouraged to adhere to 16 protocols, such as identifying ways “to preserve and enhance the authenticity of Eastern Market and its core values,” working to reduce displacement of current tenants, offering 10 percent of commercial space at below market rate, offering affordable housing, and integrating food into the project in some capacity.

There’s 13 protocols for food businesses. Many are similar, but a key difference concerns designing the space to adhere to concepts outlined for the Food Innovation Zone or historic overlay in the core district.

Eastern Market has been developing a neighborhood framework that calls for the creation of a 100-acre food zone east of the Dequindre Cut, which has a lot of vacant land, where modern buildings better suited for food production could be constructed. “This is about keeping thousands of jobs in the city,” Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corporation, said in a release.

In the document, Eastern Market acknowledges that not every project will be capable of adhering to every protocol:

EMP seeks to attract developers to Eastern Market that are committed to preserving the core values of the market district while acknowledging that real estate development is a challenging business and that it may not be possible for every development to meet all of the following criteria. EMP stands ready to partner with developers in creative ways to help developers achieve these important criteria.

Nelson’s company Firm Real Estate released a statement in support of the new policy:

We think Eastern Market did an amazing job on their new plan to help the area grow and thrive—especially their effort to bring everyone together to support the beautification, security, sustainability, and development of the neighborhood. We’re fully on board.

Carmody told Crain’s Detroit Business in April that he doesn’t have the “ability to tell people how to run their business.” That may be true, but this document should create additional leverage for the nonprofit as the market enters a new era.