Possible Farmers Market at Liberty Lofts

Open house to explore market on Ann Arbor's Old West Side
The commercial space next to Liberty Lofts.

Commercial space, in the foreground, abuts Liberty Lofts condominiums in the background. This shot is taken from West Liberty Street, looking south. (Photo by the writer.)

The cavernous commercial space next to the Liberty Lofts condo complex isn’t always empty –  as recently as May, The Chronicle documented a temporary architectural exhibit there. Mostly, though, passers-by can look through the floor-to-ceiling windows and see roughly 18,000 square feet of emptiness at the corner of Liberty and First.

But on Wednesday, July 8, the former factory space will have another temporary occupant: Karen Myers and Archie Welch are holding an open house from 3:30-7 p.m., hoping to garner support for a European-style indoor farmers market.

Myers and Welch work with the local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit grounded in the philosophy that “nutrient-dense” whole foods are the key to health. The genesis for their current effort began in September 2008 with the Deidre Currie Festival, an event they organized at Washtenaw Community College dedicated to the memory of Welch’s wife, a nutritionist and food activist who died in early 2008.

The festival included a “gourmet” farmers market, featuring organic food from Michigan farmers and food artisans. Myers said they wanted to keep the momentum from the festival going – both of them had seen the vacant building next to Liberty Lofts, and thought it had great potential for a year-round indoor market.

The Space

The one-story commercial space has been vacant for several years. The building’s owner, Morningside LLC, renovated the former auto parts factory and opened 68 condo units in mid-2006. However, they’ve been unable to find a tenant for the commercial portion of the complex.

The availability of parking might be hindering their efforts. Earlier this year, the company tried – unsuccessfully – to get permission from the city’s Historic District Commission to demolish two houses it owns on the site, which would have given it the option to add to the existing 54 parking spaces. Speaking to the HDC at its March 12 meeting, Morningside president David Strosberg said that as they’d tried to market the building, the most serious of their potential tenants had wanted a contingency to make more parking space available.

Meanwhile, Myers said she and Welch decided to call and find out if the building’s owners would be receptive to their idea of an indoor market. When they first called the broker, Colliers International vice president Mike Giraud, Myers said Giraud told them that the owner felt a single tenant would be the best option – in other words, the firm didn’t want to lease to multiple small tenants. But he agreed to meet and show them the space. They also arranged a meeting in late May with Ron Mucha, Morningside’s senior vice president, who leads the firm’s Michigan office.

Myers described Mucha’s reaction as enthusiastic, but she also added that they’ve got a long way to go before making this project a reality. Reached by phone on Monday, Giraud also characterized the discussions as very preliminary but called the concept “phenomenal.”

The Concept

The idea is to provide permanent booths to local farmers and food artisans year-round, Myers said – in this case, “local” would include food producers throughout Michigan. For products not grown locally – like coffee or seafood – they’d like to see the food sourced from producers who use fair trade practices. The food shouldn’t just taste good, Myers said. It should also be good for the earth and for our health. That means an emphasis on organic, biodynamic, naturally raised, wild-caught food, or items from producers committed to sustainable practices.

To sustain a market year-round, they’d need to rely less on seasonal farmers and more on artisanal food producers, like cheesemakers and bakers. Myers said they don’t want to compete with existing merchants like Sparrow Meats & Produce or Monahan’s Seafood Market, both located in Kerrytown, or with Zingerman’s. Rather, perhaps those businesses might want to have a satellite location at the indoor farmers market, she said. Other ideas include having a café or microbrewery in the space as well.

The concept is modeled after the Borough Market in London or the Cork English Market in Ireland. The Morningside building “lends itself very well to the type of market we want to create,” Myers said.

There are still a raft of issues to address before making the market a viable business. If the project were to move forward, the building would need some modifications, such as adding public bathrooms and making it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. And there are no commitments from vendors or investors at this point.

That’s one of the purposes of the open house – to gauge interest in the project and to identify people who are actually willing to commit resources to it, versus those who are merely supportive. Myers and Welch also hope to get feedback on issues like how to finance the market, determining the ownership and management structure, and, of course, parking.

When asked about city council’s recent resolution to convert a nearby surface parking lot into open space, Myers said she supports the idea of having more green space, but that the change could definitely affect what goes into the building. (The lot is located directly across First Street from the Morningside building.) One option, she said, might be to use pedicabs – perhaps to shuttle people from the market to parking lots or garages, or even for delivering groceries to homes.


  1. July 8, 2009 at 8:56 am | permalink

    Ann Arbor could use this type of market close to residential and downtown.

    One critical issue not addressed is that this site is 100% in the Allen’s Creek Floodplain and nearly 100% in the Floodway in the new proposed Allen’s Creek flood map.

    Getting insurance could be a major problem for any stationary business using this site, parking seems to be the least of their problems.

    Creating a park space in the First and William parking site across the street in the floodway, where the DDA wanted to place a parking deck, will greatly reduce the flood potential for those homes upstream in the Old West Side, under great flood hazard the city has paid little attention for many years.

    Holland MI has just has a 2nd 100 year rain (7-8”) in 2 years which wreaked havoc on the city, closing 11 major streets and flooding about 1,300 cars parked in the floodplain.

    West Central Michigan had a 500 year rain storm last year at 11“ rain. This increase in flooding for Michigan because of Global Warming has been predicted by several major scientific bodies, including the US EPA.

  2. July 8, 2009 at 9:19 am | permalink

    Excellent points about flooding vulnerability.

    I’m curious about the financing. There have been rumors from time to time that various food-related enterprises considered locating there, but that the rent asked was too high. This multiple tenant model could be a managerial challenge. It would be nice to think that Morningside might accept a lesser lease payment, especially since it would enhance the value of the residential units.

    Back in the days of Calthorpe visioning, we heard a lot about the need for groceries downtown. The idea was that as part of a pedestrian-oriented residential area, people would walk to buy their groceries. This would be more in keeping with the big-city or European model where you buy fresh goods daily or every other day and carry your modest purchases back to your urban flat. Leave the stock-up on laundry detergent and toilet paper to the monthly visit to the big supermarkets and malls.

    I’m also curious about parking restrictions on the existing area. Are there any problems with commuters parking on the Liberty Lofts space? How does the existing parking square with the needs of the residents?

  3. By Tom Whitaker
    July 8, 2009 at 11:27 am | permalink

    We would certainly walk or bike to this market from our South Fifth Avenue house, just like we and our neighbors currently do for other shops and restaurants Downtown. That is, unless our neighborhood is destroyed by incompatible developments and we are forced to move back out to the outskirts, along with our wallets.

  4. By Susan Whitaker
    July 8, 2009 at 11:34 am | permalink

    The Ferry Building in San Fran is a perfect example of this kind of use, too. We walked through and picked up all the parts for a picnic at the various vendors and then ate right there at tables set up nearby. We grabbed some Stonehouse Olive Oil and a tshirt, too. Just the thought of having an Ann Arbor version of this makes me happy!

  5. By Jody
    July 8, 2009 at 12:00 pm | permalink

    What a great idea! The concept reminds me of the setup at the Lansing City Market. (Link to photo on Flickr.)

  6. By Marvin Face
    July 8, 2009 at 4:09 pm | permalink

    Wow. This IS a great idea! If you’re ever in Ann Arbor there’s this place that’s just like it called Kerrytown. You should visit it sometime!

  7. By UMGrad1234
    July 8, 2009 at 5:41 pm | permalink


    Are you saying that area of town proposed for the indoor market isn’t a good spot, or are you saying that Ann Arbor only needs one indoor market (Kerrytown)? More than anything, I actually think competition is good. The price fixing extravaganza that is the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market drives me crazy and, frankly, drove me away from shopping there for the most part.

  8. By KT
    July 9, 2009 at 8:55 am | permalink

    I am curious about what days the market would be held– Saturdays and Wednesdays would compete with the Kerrytown Farmer’s Market though it sounds like the products offered would vary somewhat from the Kerrytown market. Sundays might be a good idea. Or would this be a multiple day market? I look forward to hearing more as the idea develops.

  9. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 9, 2009 at 9:16 am | permalink

    Without parking this isn’t going to happen. Pedicabs or no pedicabs. But it’s a wonderful idea.

  10. July 9, 2009 at 9:39 am | permalink

    A good question about the days to be held. To make it economically viable, I would think it would have to be open most days. The indoor markets I have visited in some other cities seemed to be open consistently. But for small producers, that would be difficult to reconcile with other time needs.

  11. By Marvin Face
    July 9, 2009 at 10:03 am | permalink

    UMGrad, I was reacting to the breathless explanations of other indoor markets as if one did not already exist in Ann Arbor.

    I wonder if people are reacting more to the architecture of the space rather than the need. Sure, its open, airy, bright…why not a market! But is that what we need? Another market in downtown only a few blocks away from an existing one? I don’t buy it.

    I like the existing farmers market but don’t go very often because I have my own garden and supplement with a CSO.

  12. By Mark
    July 9, 2009 at 10:34 am | permalink

    I think this is a great idea — and one that is long overdue in a place like Ann Arbor. It should be open at least 6 days a week, until at least 6 pm, so people heading home from work can grab some things there for dinner.

    If there were one management, with them doing the subleases for the market tenants, that could work, I would think. Either that, or make it a cooperative.

    That indoor space is perfect for such a venture, and that is one thing that downtown needs more of — food shopping.

  13. By Sophie
    July 10, 2009 at 10:41 am | permalink

    This is a fabulous idea!
    It should avoid Wednesday, and probably not be on Saturday for a year or two, to see how it differs from the Farmers market.
    There could be much more to eat at the place, and a good proportion of non-food stalls (arts and crafts, yogistas etc.).

    It may draw more people from outside Ann Arbor to both markets, or it may increase local non motor traffic. We live the other side of Seventh and could easily walk or bike. One stall should be leased to Great Lakes Bikes or someone to sell bike baskets and panniers!

    Flooding is not a big issue for stall-type fixtures without much permanent goods inside.

  14. By Anne
    July 21, 2009 at 9:09 pm | permalink

    I had hoped Aldi would move in there.

  15. By John
    September 26, 2009 at 9:41 pm | permalink

    The abandoned Georgetown Mall site might be a good opportunity for developing an indoor market. It’s got plenty of parking, quick access from other parts of the city, and is close to the highways. It would require new construction, but an energy-efficient structure similar to the many indoor markets around the country might be financially feasible. It doesn’t need to be a Somerset Collection for vegetables and cheese. Could the city help broker some kind of deal with the mortgage-holder? Recent article on Georgetown’s demise: link

  16. September 29, 2009 at 11:28 am | permalink

    Great idea to use the Georgetown mall. From the article John linked, sounds as if any change at the Georgetown mall is going to require significant infusion of cash from someone.

    Where’s that stimulus money when we need it?