Resilient Neighborhoods: New outdoor markets could give local-owned businesses a leg up in Corktown

It's not easy for a local-owned business to find footing in today's changing Corktown. As new developments, including Ford's new Mobility and Innovation campus, have moved into the historic Detroit community, real estate prices have skyrocketed. And the arrival of the pandemic has made the situation more challenging for both existing businesses and resident-owned startups. 

To give local entrepreneurs, especially people of color, more opportunities to succeed in this current environment, a Corktown nonprofit is now working on setting up an outdoor market and dining area in the neighborhood.TheDHDC's Corktown HQ (Nick Hagen) Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation (DHDC) is currently remodeling its building and outdoor facilities at 1211 Trumbull to accommodate the marketplace, which will be known as the Fantazma Market & Cafe.

"The idea is to start using DHDC's facility and outdoor space as what's called a ghost diner, where we set up a space and have different restaurants and chefs come in and utilize it," says Lex Zavala, the nonprofit's director of development and operations. "And then we'll also have other small businesses and vendors like independent clothing lines, artists, and different things like that."

DHDC hopes that the outdoor seating and shopping space will help local businesses reach customers whose pandemic safety protocols might otherwise limit them from fully enjoying what's on offer. 

In addition to vendor and dining space, the community development organization also wants to create an entertainment area outside where community members can enjoy events like movie nights. Local DJs, musicians, and poets can show off their skills.

Beyond having dining and vendors at its own building, the nonprofit is also collaborating with Batch Brewing Company, Mudgies Deli & Bar, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 58, and the city of Detroit to bring the market to nearby Dean Savage Memorial Park. There are also plans to close down a portion of Porter Street from Trumbull to Sixth street once a week for an expanded outdoor night market.

DHDC is interested in having Fantazma Market & Cafe open on weekdays first and then transitioning to seven days a week. It's planning to hold the Porter Street Night Market on Fridays from 4-10:30 p.m. Both would operate year-round.  


Supporting Local 

Originally the market project, funded in part by a 2019 Kresge Innovative Project: Detroit grant, was envisioned as an indoor cafe and print shop. But the challenges of COVID-19 persuaded DHDC to revise that plan in a way that put the needs of local businesses, especially restaurants, front and center.

The markets are expected to have room for 220 vendors total, 20 at Fantazma Market and Cafe (held at both DHDC's building and Dean SavageDean Savage Memorial Park (Nick Hagen) Park) and another 200 at the night market. Organizers aim to have between 65 and 75 percent of businesses operating at the markets be owned by Latinos, African-Americans, or other people of color.

Project organizers hope the markets will make a big splash in Corktown. DHDC estimates that Fantazma's annual economic impact for the area will be between $2.6 million and $5.2 million once they're fully operational. At the same time, the Porter Street Night Market is projected to be between 5.52 million and 7.72 million.

Beyond direct sales opportunities, the market will also function as an incubator for new businesses. DHDC is collaborating with Chase Bank and Detroit Regional Chamber to offer free consultations and business courses to participating entrepreneurs. And it's also working on getting a commercial kitchen license for its cooking facilities to help local food startups get off the ground. 

Participating businesses will also be helping DHDC in turn. Vendors at Dean Savage Park will participate in the nonprofit's workforce development program and sell merchandise or Mexican, Irish and Maltese street food for the nonprofit to help it generate a revenue stream to support its work. 

As for recruiting vendors for the markets, DHDC is currently working with Chase Bank, Detroit Regional Chamber, Corktown Business Association, and Southwest Detroit Business Association to find potential candidates.

Theresa Zajac, interim president of the Southwest Detroit Business Association, thinks the market project has a lot of potential to help emerging entrepreneurs and businesses in the area grow their operations.
 
“The Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation’s Fantazma Market concept will create a fun and exciting family-friendly attraction to showcase products, merchandise, and food offerings from within our community," she says.  The SDBA is proud to support local community organizations that advocate for and help keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive in Southwest Detroit.” 


Neighborhood Buzz

So what do area residents think of the Fantazma and Porter Street markets? Jason Trombley, an information technology worker who lives with his wife and two children a few blocks away from the DHDC building, thinks they're a wonderful idea. 

"I think it would be a good addition to this side of the neighborhood. We would definitely stop by," he says. "And I think it's good that it represents [the diversity of] the city well."  

Cliff Seay, who is currently homeless, likes to spend time at Dean Savage Park and looks forward to having vendors there. "I think that sounds great," he says. "With people of color [involved], it's always good [to have developments like that]. It's an enjoyable environment." 

Katelyn Burkhart, a local bartender and musician who lives on the eastern edge of Corktown, is enthusiastic about the new markets. She remembers a few years back when the neighborhood had a more working-class character and hopes the project will be a positive thing for people with longstanding ties to the area who may have been priced out by recent development.

"Unless you have wealth, it’s now impossible to start any small business over here due to high real estate and overhead costs," she says. "And this sounds like it could be such an opportunity to folks who want to be in Corktown but don’t have the high capital necessary."


Getting Ready

Currently, DHDC is remodeling both the inside and outside of its facilities to accommodate the Fantazma market. The nonprofit just renovated the front of itsDHDC remodeling render (DHDC) offices with seating and bathrooms for the cafe. Its plans on using its youth center on the weekends for additional vendor space and seating. There are also plans to   

"We just renovated part of the front of our offices with seating and bathrooms for the cafe and will be using our 10-square-foot youth center on the weekends for additional seating and vendor space," says Zavala. 

DHDC also plans to get the sign on its patio refurbished and build a stamped concrete pathway with luminescent stones that people will be able to see at night. It's also partnering with Ford, working with its youth group to create an urban garden with edible and medicinal plants outside of its facility. 

As for Dean Savage Park, the nonprofit is looking to work with IBEW Local 58 to install new lighting. And it has applied for a grant with Quicken that, if approved, would bring vendor carts, signage, projection-mapped lightscapes, and games like foosball to the recreation area., 

In addition to construction, the nonprofit is also working to finalize permits with the city to allow the markets to operate on public land. Right now, DHDC is just getting started lining up businesses for the project and themed events like the grand opening of its urban garden and an electronic music weekend sponsored by a nonprofit called TechTroit. If all goes well, Fantazma Market and Cafe could be open by late June or early July. 

Angela Reyes, DHDC's founder and executive director, is eager to see the markets open. A native of the neighborhood, she recalls how Corktown was once an important center for Detroit's Latino community. Over the last two decades, the DHDC director has witnessed how new investment has altered the demographics and business makeup of the neighborhood and is beginning to have a similar impact in other parts of Southwest Detroit. Given these drastic changes, Reyes hopes the market can serve as an "anti-gentrification" influence for the area.

"It's an opportunity for businesses that are run by people of color that are generally overlooked,  particularly in the city's economic development right now," she says. "And it gives people an opportunity to come into a part of the city that has rapidly gentrified ... and keep our anchor and foothold in that community." 

Local businesses interested in participating in Fantazma Market & Cafe or the Porter Street Night Market can contact DHDC.

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.

Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.
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