Bing: Meijer, other retailers will help bridge Detroit-suburb gap

By Karl Henkel | The Detroit News

Detroit broke ground Thursday on a project that promises the city’s first large-scale grocer in two decades, hundreds of jobs and a shopping center along the Detroit border that may help bridge the longstanding gap between the city and suburbs.

The ceremony was five years in the making, as the recession delayed the 350,000-square-foot Gateway Marketplace at Eight Mile and Woodward Avenue. Now, the $72 million project is scheduled to open next spring and give Detroiters more retail choices, including their first Meijer Inc. and Marshalls discount stores.

The project also will create up to an estimated 900 retail jobs and 300 construction positions.

“For years, Eight Mile has been the divide in southeastern Michigan,” Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said.

“No longer does Eight Mile have to be the dividing line.”

Gateway Marketplace will include a K&G Superstore, a Dots women’s clothing outlet, a PNC Bank and a McDonald’s restaurant.

“To think about buying a pair of socks as some sort of aberration. … But in this city, it is,” said Marvin Beatty, a partner at Gateway Park LLC, owners of Gateway Marketplace. “We are now making a contribution toward resolving many of our shopping dilemmas that have existed for a very long time.”

The retail project is a breath of fresh air for city residents who often shop outside Detroit for necessities.

Some areas of Detroit, including the 14th Congressional District where the project is located, have been tagged as food deserts, lacking fresh produce and other food basics, according to a 2010 Food Research and Action Center study.

Retail analyst Ken Dalto of Farmington Hills-based Kenneth J. Dalto & Associates says the retail options at Gateway Marketplace fit the needs of the surrounding community.

“They are the target market, and there will probably be other discounters or large discounters that would consider that spot, plus more eateries,” he said.

It is also the culmination of more than three years of planning between developer Gateway Park LLC and Grand Rapids-based Meijer.

“It’s a happy marriage of our way of offering shoppers a lot of choices and a city where those choices are a great piece to the revitalizing puzzle,” said Hank Meijer, co-chairman and CEO of Meijer Inc.

But Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, which includes many independent grocery store owners, criticized how the superstore company was attracted to the city.

“Everyone welcomes these kind of establishments in Detroit,” Manna said.

“The core issue is you have grocers right down the street who have spent $7 million, $8 million, $9 million and don’t get any tax abatements and incentives.”

In December, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority approved $6.1 million in brownfield redevelopment tax credits for the project and a school tax break valued at $10.8 million, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp., among other incentives. The project also received a $28 million loan from the General Retirement System of the city of Detroit.

Manna said the government assistance gives Meijer an unfair advantage over independent competitors.

The Detroit Independent Grocers says there are more than 80 full-service grocers already within the city limits.

“Detroit’s a food oasis if you ask me,” Manna said.

Detroit Economic Growth Corp. CEO George Jackson has argued that independent grocers have received city assistance.

Dalto is less optimistic that the project will bridge the Eight Mile divide because Oak Park and Ferndale, two cities immediately north, have shopping options.

“I don’t think they will draw from the north,” he said.

“I think they will draw from the south.”

But Gov. Rick Snyder lauded Detroit’s retail addition as a step in the right direction.

“We’re on the path right now to be the comeback state in the United States,” Snyder said. “The reinvention of Michigan and the reinvention of Detroit go together.”

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