“We know better, now, how to work together to do big things.” – Chris McGuigan, President, Community Foundation for Muskegon County
The Muskegon farmers’ market has always been considered a community asset, a great place to meet friends and buy fresh food. But the 50-year-old structure needed work and lacked amenities such as running water and electricity that market vendors want these days. Its location, tucked in an area with limited visibility and accessibility, also presented challenges.
“The idea of moving the market into the downtown area originally came from city planners,” says Chris McGuigan, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. “And when they began talking with others involved in upgrading downtown Muskegon, people started getting excited.”
Four empty lots that that were part of a former downtown mall had drawn little interest from commercial developers, but with a new vision for Muskegon, they seemed the perfect spot for a state-of-the-art farmers’ market that would anchor downtown and boost community-building efforts.
“Collaboration brings about a sense of ownership,” says Chris, as she describes the broad community support that generated enthusiasm around the project.
Muskegon Mayor Stephen Gawron and Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, became cheerleaders and chief spokespeople, and the Paul C. Johnson Foundation committed $250,000 at the start. Chuck Johnson, president of the Downtown Muskegon Development Co put together an ambitious fundraising committee. Steve Olsen, president of Northern Machine Tool Company, co-chaired the committee and checked on construction progress daily. On the strength of these partnerships, momentum quickly grew.
Now a regional economic asset, the farmers’ market draws residents and tourists alike. It’s a dynamic catalyst in the drive to recreate a vibrant downtown where people live, work and shop, and where small businesses thrive. And it’s an example of the kind of fruitful collaborative efforts that are propelling key community projects in Muskegon. “That together we could move a 50-year-old market and be more successful than we imagined has improved relationships among everyone who made this happen,” says Chris. “And it’s increased our courage. We know better, now, how to work together to do big things.”
As for the farmers who market their products in the busy new space, Chris smiles at this recent comment from a vendor, “The worst day we’ve had at the new market is better than the best day at the old market!”