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DDA aims to boost Marketplace use

ESCANABA — Two years ago, the new Escanaba Marketplace opened. The larger venue, located at 1501 Ludington St., is used for both the Escanaba Farmer’s Market and a hub for other local events.

According to the Escanaba Downtown Development Authority Director Ed Legault, in the 2019 season the space hosted 64 total events.

Those events included 45 Farmer’s Market sessions, 10 Lunch on Ludington sessions, six DDA sponsored events, and three private rentals.

“(Sponsoring events) was an opportunity to show the Marketplace, because what I’m trying to do is get it more exposure where people can see what you get when you rent it,” Legault said. “So that’s why I do some of these things — and these (numbers) will continue to grow.”

The 8,000 square foot pavilion and its site of a total of 1.07 acres can be rented for $150 by Escanaba residents and $250 by non-residents. Included in the rental are 40 tables, 200 chairs, access to the kitchen and bathroom, and access to a gas grill, gas fire pit and sound stage.

Although the venue can be rented, Legault explained the main point for the venue was to house the farmer’s market and to create a hub of activity in a space that would have otherwise been empty.

“The rental aspect of it — it was never built to be, you know, the first use to be ‘how many times are we going to rent this?’ That was a benefit to the public,” Legault said. “And we think that will increase as we go forward, but it was never built … like we are going to get … enough revenue from renting the place to off set what it cost to build it or anything.”

A new farmer’s market venue was on the top of the lists in both the city’s and the DDA’s master plans, according to Legault.

“It had been on the city’s master plan to actually — at one point they were looking to have a year-round farmer’s market and actually building a building at the old location,” he said.

He added when he became the DDA director, he felt very strongly about keeping the farmer’s market seasonal and outdoors so it wouldn’t become another grocery store, as there are plenty of grocery stores in Escanaba.

When the space on Ludington Street opened up, Legault said it provided an opportunity for the farmer’s market to be more visible in the downtown area. The old location, which was the farmer’s market location since around the 1920s, was in a parking lot at the corner of 9th Street and 1st Avenue North.

He noted a similar project downstate actually inspired the Marketplace being a pavilion.

“I had seen a project similar in downstate where they had a festival place that was a pavilion,” Legault said. “And so that was my original idea behind the pavilion aspect of it. Really making something that we could hold all of our events for the farmer’s market, the DDA and other downtown events, and then also have the opportunity that if private individuals wanted to rent it it would be available to them.”

The Escanaba Farmer’s Market, which is one the only farmer’s markets in the Upper Peninsula to have two sessions a week, saw around 5,000 people during the 2019 season and averaged around 15 vendors per session, Legault said.

He said around 30 vendors paid for the season and other vendors paid the daily rates.

“We’ve had more vendors at the new Marketplace, then what we’ve ever had at the old one,” Legault said.

He added size of the parking lot at the new site is around the same size of the old site.

The current plan for the old farmer’s market site is for it to continue as a parking lot.

Legault said a board member is taking a look to see how much it would cost to have the old farmer’s market hardware removed from the parking lot.

The Marketplace has bathrooms and a kitchen, which was recently winterized.

Legault said through grants and some of the DDA’s budget, the kitchen will be upgraded into a commercial kitchen.

“Our kitchen project received two grants,” he said.

In September the DDA was awarded $80,000 from the Michigan Department of Agriculture Rural Development and in November the DDA was awarded $10,000 from the Hannahville Indian Community 2 percent grant.

“The plan would be to create a commercial kitchen in the kitchen area,” Legault said. “People would be able to rent that.”

He explained this would allow vendors at the farmer’s market to be able to produce large quantities of baked goods, like pies, for the market, and would also entice more people to rent the facility for events.

The equipment is to be ordered in January 2020, construction starts once weather warms up and will likely be completed by August 2020, according to Legault.

He added the total project budget is $105,000 with using grants and the DDA contributing $14,000.

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