Urban Food Hub Developing in North End of Detroit

The idea of an Agri-Hood in the past has always been a suburban context.  Agri-Hoods have popped up around the United States over the past few years, most of them still in the planning or construction phase.  I have viewed Agri-Hoods as America’s new “golf course community”, where houses on large lots meander between green areas, ponds, orchards, vegetable gardens, and greenhouses.  Instead of a Par 3 behind your house, you might have a grove of apple trees.  Agri-Hoods are a fascinating idea, however two major issues have come up so far:

  1.  Agri-Hoods perpetuate urban sprawl that has plagued North American cities for the past 70 years.  The low density nature of Agri-Hoods mean that they are entirely car dependent, and they are not likey to have public transportation as an available mode of connectivity.
  2. In current Agri-Hoods, the amount of agriculture in comparison to residential is minimal.  Some Agri-Hoods feature less than 10% of agriculture in comparison to residential.  “Greenwashing” becomes an issue since developers are capitalizing on a trend to sell real estate.

In Detroit, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) is creating what they call America’s first urban Agri-Hood on a 3-acre development site.  MUFI is a non-profit organization that “engage members of the Michigan community in sustainable agriculture”.

The  Agri-Hood in this context is very different, where an agricultural community hub is being built on the North Side of Detroit to generate urban renewal and provide sustainable healthy food to the local community.  A dilapidated three-story building will be re-imagined as a Community Resource Center that will include operational space for the non-profit organization, along with multi-purpose rooms for culinary and agricultural education, and industrial kitchens for business incubators.

MUFI Community Resource Center - Image credited to MUFI

MUFI Community Resource Center – Image credited to MUFI

Across the street from the Community Resource Center is MUFI’s 2-acre urban farm that has already produced over 50,000 pounds of produce for the local community.  This food is distributed to households in a 2-mile radius through a “pay-what-you-can” model, local markets, restaurants, as well as churches and shelters.

While I’m not sure if this should be classified as an urban Agri-Hood just yet, it definitely is a Food Hub, where produce is grown and then distributed in an organized network throughout Detroit.  The development concepts display a small orchard and vineyard on two other properties behind the urban farm, so the tentacles of an urban Agri-Hood are spreading.  This is a great case study that demonstrates how culinary uses can be used to positively generate urban renewal, all while feeding the local population.

Check out the MUFI website to see the site development plan and read more about this exciting project.

MUFI Urban Farm - Image credited to MUFI

MUFI Urban Farm – Image credited to MUFI

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Food Security and Food Halls

CityLab published an excellent article last week that discussed the Pizitz Food Hall and how it can assist in overcoming the food desert in downtown Birmingham.  I profiled the Pizitz mixed-use project  a little while back, with its culinary component being a food hall and restaurant incubator.  What I did not realize, are the surrounding issues that downtown Birmingham has faced over the past several decades with feeding its local residents.  The food hall, restaurant incubator, and a brand-new Publix grocery store located a few blocks away will remedy some of the concerns that people have faced with local food security.

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Pizitz Food Hall – Image credited to Bayer Properties

My favorite part of the article is whether grocery stores or food halls can actually bring more awareness to eating healthy and local:

But will this crack downtown Birmingham’s food desert problem? There’s certainly excitement in Birmingham over these new arrivals, but researchers are “far from consensus” on how to alleviate food deserts, says Michele ver Ploeg, an economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. One commonsense approach is to give the green light to initiatives that aim to promote public health by bringing fresh and healthy food into a community at an affordable cost. Supermarkets are often the go-to intervention, since they tend to be fairly affordable and offer a range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

But the influence of supermarkets on healthy eating is less clear. In 2014, a study in Philadelphia found that increased access to grocery stores did not ultimately result in healthier eating habits; meanwhile, a study in Pittsburgh found that a supermarket did promote healthier eating habits, but not because people were actually shopping there. As Laura Bliss reported for CityLab, the entire neighborhood’s eating habits improved regardless of whether residents switched to shopping at the new grocery store.

Food halls play an even fuzzier role in eliminating food deserts, as a relatively new phenomenon that operates somewhere between a restaurant and a market. Ver Ploeg points out that restaurants may help fill gaps in a food desert, but their prices may curb accessibility for those in lower income brackets. Meanwhile, prepared foods are mostly not eligible for SNAP benefits. It’s worth noting, too, that many of Birmingham’s lower-income families now reside in neighborhoods outside of the downtown core, in areas that remain without either a grocer or a food hall.

There are no concrete answers from an academic point of view, but these are trends that are sometimes hard to quantify, especially since healthy eating habits can require a very long transition timeline.  What I do believe is that providing local residents with a wide-array of food choices along with proper education will ultimately be an added benefit to society, ultimately creating healthy and sustainable communities over the long-term.  Residents require choice.  Not just an organic produce market, and not just McDonalds, but everything in between.

I’m a big believer in the idea of a food hub, especially for cities that have to deal with large swaths of food deserts.  The concept that residents are able to learn, eat, and purchase good within the culinary realm, all in one place is highly important.  And much of the time, it won’t be induced by a grocery store moving into a neighborhood or a cool taco shop (as much as I love cool taco shops).  There needs to be a local grassroots component to increasing food access and healthy eating choices. Which is why in the case of Birmingham, it is great to see that REV Birmingham, an economic development agency is so involved in attempting to ensure that the food movement stays local, and for locals that require food accessibility, and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Now, I understand that the idea of a food hub is just in its infancy and it is still very difficult to make sense of it from a financial sense for a private developer.  But the idea of a food hub that contains the components of a food hall, grocery store, education, food distribution, incubator, commercial kitchens, among other items is something that public officials should get excited about from a community building standpoint.  One way to counteract financial risk is to not have all components within one development.  We need to be INNOVATIVE.  What if a city planning department is able to create a new zoning typology where culinary-related land uses and developments are given preference and receive certain incentives?   Are there other policies out there that governments can take advantage of?

Getting back to Pizitz, I do think this is a great step in providing economic stability to an area that has obviously gone through great upheaval.  The addition of the food hall, incubator, and grocery store will add much needed vitality to a once struggling neighborhood that was considered a food desert.  Now lets see how it performs once it opens in December.

 

 

TOD building re-purposed for Food Hall in Denver

Most food halls that are in re-purposed buildings end up being single entity developments.  Ponce City Market in Atlanta bucks the trend, as do some other urban projects.  Zeppelin Developments in Denver is re-purposing a former art campus in the RiNo neighborhood (which moved to a new location) into a retail market, food hall, and office building.  Definitely a Culinary Oriented Development.

According to “BusinessDen” , Zeppelin Station will have a 25,000 square foot culinary-based market on the ground floor, with 3 levels of office above that will total 75,000 square feet in total.  The food hall portion will have new local concepts such as tacos, ramen, and a Montreal-style bagel shop.

Zeppelin Station - Image credited to 303Magazine

Zeppelin Station 1st Floor Layout – Image credited to 303Magazine

Steps away from the 38th Street RTD station, Zeppelin Station will have excellent transit access in the growing district of trendy RiNo (River North).  It is considered Denver’s art district, where a large cluster of creative companies have clustered, whether it is art, marketing, branding, software, and tech.   The food hall will definitely appeal to the primarily 20 to 40 age demographic of the RiNo district, especially during lunchtime.

Zeppelin Station is demonstrating that you don’t need a large-scale food hall to garner interest.  I would actually say that many of the most popular food halls are smaller in scale, such as Pine Street Market in Portland.  These food halls are “right-sized” for the local market, and are able to have a strong stable of tenants rather than going “BIG” and ending up with higher-turnover.

The project is expected to open in October 2017.

Zeppelin Station Exterior - Image credited to Dyna Architects

Zeppelin Station Exterior – Image credited to Dyna Architects

Michigan Continues to be a leader in Food Hubs

During this past summer, I profiled how food hubs in Michigan continue to get national attention for their growth and entrepreneurship. See Urban Farming and Food Hubs in Michigan.

I was reading recently how Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems has continued to research food hubs and their viability in local and regional markets.  Food hubs are great in theory, but private business must be convinced that it can be a viable business model that does not rely on large public incentives and grants.  The West Louisville FoodPort was unable to become shovel-ready when a major anchor pulled out of the project, sending the entire ROI out the window.

MSU defines a food hub “as businesses or organizations that actively manage the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products”.  From a survey that MSU conducted, some interesting stats emerged:

  • 95 percent of Michigan’s food hubs are experiencing an increase in demand of their products and services;
  • Food hubs three largest reported customer types were restaurants, small grocery stores, and kindergarten through 12th-grade school food services;
  • 74 % of food hubs reported that the majority of their customers were located within a 100-mile radius.

I find the second point the most interesting, since we typically think of local farmers markets supplying primarily to end-user customers.  These food hubs are much larger in scale, being distribution centers for local farmers, food processors, and other agri-businesses.  It would be interesting to know if the majority of food hubs also have a wholesale option to walk-in customers.

The infrastructure needed for a food hub is simple enough, a distribution centre with offices.  Where it gets interesting is the possibility to grow a food hub into more than just a distribution network, which is what the West Louisville FoodPort attempted to do.  A modular design that would allow other uses to grow off of an established food hub could be financially viable since it would phase over time.  These uses could include a farmers market, education, cafes/restaurants, etc.

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Washtenaw Food Hub in Lansing, Michigan – Image credited to treetownmurals

Where do food hubs go from here?  I believe the concept is still in its infancy, but just how food halls have overtaken North America, the idea of food hubs are spreading quickly.  It takes only a few major success stories to provide case studies/best practices for others to follow suit.

 

“The Grow” Agrihood to move ahead with development

In July I wrote about “The Grow”, a planned Agrihood in Orlando, Florida.  The project faced opposition from community groups due to the size and scale of the development, but I was more worried about how it was positioned.  As I had stated, less than 1% of the entire development was planned for agricultural uses.  Ultimately, The Grow looked more like a typical suburban community than a residential community based around agriculture which is how it was spun.

According to the the Orlando Business Journal, The Grow’s rezoning and regulatory plan was approved by the county in September and the developer can now move into the design stage of the project.  It is expected that shovels could be in the ground by end of 2017.

At this point, the developer has increased the amount of potential agricultural uses on site.  What was a 6-acre farm has now turned into a 9-acre farm and community barn, 20-acre community park, plus the addition of community garden plots spread throughout the development.  There is also talk of various sustainable features incorporated into the development.  I believe this is a positive step towards making The Grow an actual Agrihood, rather than simply a marketing spin.

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The Grow Conceptual Sketch – Image credit to: The Business Journals

West Louisville FoodPort Development Canceled

With a busy fall, I was surprised that this news slipped through the cracks in my news feed.  The West Louisville FoodPort, an innovative Culinary Oriented Development that was a game changer for local food distribution, vertical farming, and education has been shelved due to its primary anchor pulling out of the project.  The non-profit developer, Seed Capital was unable to find a new anchor that made the project financially feasible to construct.  Even with the local government “gifting” the land to Seed Capital for $1, the developer was unable to create financial sustainability in the project.

This demonstrates how difficult it is to create inventive and pioneering developments that have not yet been proven to successfully work.  15 to 20 years ago, many developers, tenants, and financial institutions were wary of mixed-use and transit-oriented developments.  The commercial development sector is slow to change, and ROI (return on investment) is the key factor.  It took several decades before mixed-use developments and new development typologies became more prevalent, especially in the North American context (and even more so in the suburban context).

westlouisvillefoodport

OMA designed West Louisville FoodPort

I see this effort by Seed Capital as a parallel case study.  They were trying to be first-to-market with a new concept that could assist the West Louisville community from a food security, education, and job standpoint.  Unfortunately the idea of food ports and Culinary Oriented Developments are still in their infancy.  The financial numbers are not as prosperous as constructing a big box power center, where revenues are more stable through retail lease agreements.   I don’t doubt that there will be further efforts in the coming years to establish food ports in other North American cities.  And a developer that is able to construct such a project will likely need the backing of not only the local government and community, but businesses who are able to potentially sustain short term losses for long term gain.

Read the full article here.

 

Bourdain Market Slowly Continues to Develop

After a brief hiatus of travel through Central Europe for work and pleasure (a few upcoming blog posts will cover this), I am back with regular blog updates 3 to 4 times a week.

Vogue magazine recently published an interview with Anthony Bourdain.  A good part of the article is based around his upbringing and success with his television show.  What it also revealed are details on the much-hyped Anthony Bourdain Food Hall which seems to be called “Bourdain Market”.

Pier 57 is a hulking postwar structure that juts into the Hudson River at the end of West Fifteenth Street. Built in 1952, it was one of the largest and busiest piers on New York’s waterfront, but the building became obsolete in the seventies, when the shipping industry started to use cargo containers. It was a bus depot for a while, and then a temporary detention center during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Now empty, the 480,000-square-foot structure is being readied for renovation and eventual occupation by two major tenants. Google has signed on to take over a large section, and 155,000 square feet is due to become a vast food hall called Bourdain Market.

155,000 square feet is enormous for a food hall.  Most modern food halls in the United States are in the range of 10,000 to 40,000 square feet.  Even if one-third of the space is used for common areas, seating, hallways, and back of house, that is still over 100,000 square feet of space for tenants.  This means there could be upwards of 100 to 150 merchants in the food hall at full fit-out.  Amazing, but also a very daunting task.  There are only so many noodle stands, fusion tacos, or fresh ground burgers before it can become repetitive.  But if anyone can convince tenants to move into the space, it is Bourdain.

Bourdain Market is expected to be open in 2019, and I suppose the countdown clock is on.

Re-Imagining the Food Market Hall in Eastern Europe

Apologies for the delay in new blog posts for the month of October, I have been travelling out-of-country for pleasure and work and will resume more consistent blog posts in the week of October 24th.

In the meantime, I would like to leave a great link from the Urban Land Institute on the revival of a historic food hall in Warsaw, Poland.  ULI has provided a case study on  developers purchasing a historic property, refurbishing it, and centering activity around culinary uses.   The project officially opened this week, and 118,000 square feet is set aside for restaurants, food stalls, and culinary-based retail endeavors.  There is also 54,000 square feet in office space.  With 68% of leasable area put towards culinary uses, this project can definitely be defined as a Culinary Oriented Development.

Food as Fashion: Reviving a Historic Food Hall in Warsaw, Poland

Growing Pains for Detroit’s Urban Farms

CityLab wrote a great article last month on the challenges of urban farming in Detroit. Many of the issues spawn from the regulatory process of the Detroit Land Bank, a public entity that manages vacant/underutilized properties.  While the Detroit Land Bank has nearly 100,000 properties up for sale, the amount of paperwork required and the time it takes to purchase property from the Land Bank has been a hindrance to many.

One of the most interesting quotes that I came across in the article is based around urban farming and land values:

Previous research, synthesized in a literature review by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, noted a link between community gardens and farms and increased property values within a 1,000-foot radius. The relationship is especially pronounced in disadvantaged areas, the researchers found.

This is promising research that can be employed by community groups and economic development agencies who have been advocating and pursuing the implementation of urban farms in lower-income neighborhoods.

Read the full CityLab article here.

Culinary Oriented Uses Foster Redevelopment Plans

Birmingham, Alabama may not be the first place I think of in terms of Culinary Oriented Developments, however an exciting new mixed-use project is opening this fall in downtown Birmingham.  This goes to show that COD’s are popping up all over the United States, and not in typical metro areas of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.

The Pizitz is a 250,000+ SF mixed-use redevelopment of a former department store building that was originally constructed in 1923.  Pizitz department store closed in 1988 and there have been efforts over the past several decades to redevelop the site, however various issues (financial, market) always came up.  It may have been for the best, as developer Bayer Properties has invested $70 million into the revitalization and restoration of an iconic building in Birmingham.

pizitz-exterior_bayerproperties

Pizitz Exterior Rendering -Image credited to Bayer Properties 

There will be 143 multi-family apartments, office space, and ground-floor retail.  The Culinary portion?  Bayer has included 18,000 SF for a food hall and bar which is expected to open in winter 2017.  While local food will be on display in the food hall, the developers also wanted to bring ethnic and world flavors to Birmingham.  Consulting with a local food blog, there are plans to have Asian, Indian, Israeli, and African food stalls, providing a mix of tenants that the local market has shown demand for.

The food hall anchor will be a bar titled “The Louis” and will serve craft cocktails, local beer, and will even feature a milkshake bar for those who aren’t feeling boozy.  This is one of the first Food Hall concepts that is anchored by a bar and it will be interesting to see how it is received.

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Pizitz Food Hall Outdoor Courtyard – Image credited to AL.com

REVBirmingham, a local P3 Economic Development Organization is also currently working with Bayer Properties to include a restaurant incubator in the project.  REV looks to stimulate business growth and improve quality of life in Birmingham’s City Center and its Neighborhood Commercial Centers, and a restaurant incubator fits its mandate of creating new jobs for the local population.  REV plans that the restaurant incubator will allow entrepreneurial start-ups the ability to try their culinary concept, all while learning how to properly run a business.  The restaurant will have up to 6 months to establish themselves, before vacating the space for a new restaurant in the incubator.  The thought process is that the vacating restaurant will either move into an available space in the Pizitz Food Hall, or into their own space in downtown Birmingham.  I will make the assumption that rent at the restaurant incubator will be considerably lower than that of a typical space in the food hall.

Other uses in the Pizitz development will include several full-service restaurants and the Sidewalk Film Festival offices and theaters.