Eastern Market Investing Guide

Here's our guide to investing in Eastern Market. Also check out our guides to visiting Eastern Market and living there.



Eastern Market’s greatest asset may be its long-standing history as a public market and center of food processing and distribution. But its greatest chance for realizing its vast potential just might be in the diversity of its economy. Many people investing in the market these days seem to embrace this concept and are planning for mixed-retail developments and restaurants, and are building lofts and spaces for studios and galleries. Pat Deegan, who is involved in the redevelopment of two buildings on Gratiot, believes that “the area is already strong, it’s not going anywhere. (But) as Detroit is changing, Eastern Market has the potential to become even more of a staple for the region.”

Eastern Market was Detroit’s first real loft district and continues to meet a demand for residential living space in the area. Deegan and his fiancée, Liz Blondy, purchased a 2,500 art deco storefront on Gratiot where they live.

Deegan has also partnered with brothers Phil and Ryan Cooley on the redevelopment of the 4-story Detroit Candy Co. building on Gratiot at Jay, where they've converted the space into four residential lofts. The Detroit Candy Co. building features 1,500 square-foot lofts on each of the three upper floors and one 1,800 square-foot loft that takes in both the first floor and basement.Though the unit is filled, rents range from $1,200-1,500 per month.

Traditional and modern

Why do these young entrepreneurs feel confident in Eastern Market’s future? Ryan Cooley sees it as a simple example of supply and demand. “There’s a pent-up demand for services in Detroit right now,” Cooley says, “and Eastern Market is the only place in the city where you can walk to get your groceries.”

Another loft development is Urban Life Development’s FD Lofts, a $3.5 million investment located on Russell Street next to Sala Thai restaurant. All of FD’s 33 units are complete. The lofts range from 1,200-1,700 square feet and rent for $1,000-$1,200 a month. The former home of the Detroit Fire Department’s repair shop, the FD lofts have “the feel of the city in an updated, modern presentation,” says Urban Life’s president, Bob Heide.

Heide used State Historic Tax Credits to finance the development, which requires that the lofts be rentals for five years. After that Heide then wants to create condos from the units. The Detroit Candy Co. project is utilizing the same tax credits, so those units will also be for lease. “Maybe after five years, we’ll go condo,” Cooley says. “It really depends on the market.”

Heide has worked in Eastern Market for over 20 years in both food distribution and real estate. He sees a changing market — pun intended — in the market. “The food distribution industry has changed,” Heide says. “Smaller guys are being consolidated because animals are being slaughtered where they were raised and then shipped here. That’s why there are less individual smaller guys.”

Food and art

Having sensed this changing market, Heide and Kevin Hanson of market mainstay the Johanson Charles Gallery teamed up on another development, the New Central Yard. Located on Winder just east of Roma Café, New Central Yard is a planned multi-use space to be housed in a former Water Board Building. Heide describes their vision as “a mixed-use development of various uses already in the market. There will be a food wholesale component, but that alone is not the highest and best use for the building.”

New Central Yard envisions restaurants and gallery space along Winder and the rest of the 104,000 square-foot building used for food processing and distribution. There will also be space for artist studios, as well as for “smaller food guys like a catering kitchen, wine or pasta distributor, or a baker,” Heide says. The team has a signed development agreement with the city for the project and has moved it through the zoning process. However, Heide says the city is delaying the sale of the property until the Eastern Market Planning Study is finalized, which should happen this summer.

Hanson saw the potential for art in Eastern Market ten years ago when he informally started Johanson Charles in the garage space next door to his current location on Division just west of Russell. Being known for working with artists of all genres as well as for hosting many music events in his gallery, Hanson sees a real synergy between the food industry and the art and residential communities. “Markets shouldn’t be wholesale only when wholesalers are closing,” Hanson says. “That’s not the way a market is in this day and age.” He points to the example of New York City, where boutique hotels boast of their proximity to the Union Square Farmers Market.

Hanson is quick to point out that an evolution in market uses does not forgo the continuation of food processing and distribution. He points out his neighbor Wolverine Packing as “an ideal example of how to grow your business.”

Ambiance … and more

What everyone tied into the market’s growth seems to agree on is that a streamlining of the market’s structure and a broadening of the market’s focus are needed to reach a significant tipping point. They all have their ideas. Hanson muses about outdoor movie viewings in the sheds, Cooley about Sunday brunch. “Most people really come down here for the ambiance,” Hanson says, “so let’s give them something else.”

The Greater Downtown Partnership created the Eastern Market Corporation (EMC) in 2006 to change the way the Market is operated. Motivated by the same issues that prompted the changes in the management and ownership of the Detroit Zoo and Detroit Historical Museum, EMC has the ability to raise funds in ways that municipalities cannot and to run the market in an even more efficient manner.

Heide muses about the real appeal of the market by saying, “As society is becoming more segmented, with more people divided, they’re looking for places to have an ‘everybody’ sort of experience. They’re looking for something not sterile.” As specialty grocers — such as Holiday and Westborn Markets — sprout up all over Metro Detroit, how does he explain Eastern Market’s continuing appeal? Heide believes it is in the human interaction between the person who actually grows the food and the customer who buys it. “The demand is that people want to make that connection,” he says.




Directions to Eastern Market

From the East:
Take I-94 West and merge onto I-75 South/Chrysler Fwy via Exit 216A toward Toledo. Continue to Exit 52 toward Mack Ave., stay straight to go onto Chrysler Dr. and turn left onto Wilkins St. Turn right onto Chrysler Dr and turn left onto Russell St., arrive in Eastern Market.

From the North:
Take I-75 South. Continue to Exit 52 toward Mack Ave., stay straight to go onto Chrysler Dr. and turn left onto Wilkins St. Turn right onto Chrysler Dr and turn left onto Russell St., arrive in Eastern Market.

From the West:
Take I-96 East and merge onto I-75 North via the exit on the left toward Flint. Continue to the M-3/Gratiot Ave Exit 51B on the left. Turn slight right onto Gratiot Ave and then turn right onto Russell St. Arrive in Eastern Market.

From the South:
Take I-94 East toward Detroit and merge onto I-96 East/Jefferies Fwy via Exit 213B toward Canada. Continue to I-75 North via the exit on the left toward Flint. Take the M-3/Gratiot Ave Exit 51B on the left. Turn slight right onto Gratiot Ave and then turn right onto Russell St. Arrive in Eastern Market.

Take 1-75 North toward Detroit. Continue to the M-3/Gratiot Ave Exit 51B on the left. Turn slight right onto Gratiot Ave and then turn right onto Russell St. Arrive in Eastern Market.



The crew working on a loft project at the Detroit Candy Co.

Tomatoes for sale

FD Lofts

Rocky Lofts

Lofts on Gratiot

Eastern Market Mural



All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger


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