Award-winning attorney moves market capital campaign forward

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Community activists who are dedicated to expanding and upgrading the Fulton Street Farmers’ Market, with all of its resulting neighborhood, city and regional benefits, could tell you how much it helps to have an attorney involved.

In this case, the attorney under discussion is Jack Hoffman of Kuiper Orlebeke, who merited the Grand Rapids Bar’s Donald L. Worsfold Distinguished Service Award this year.

In addition to the standard legal representation on such issues as contracts required for a development campaign, Hoffman has come up with an innovative avenue for providing a good chunk of the funding.

His idea is to use money from the city’s parking system to come up with a portion of the approximately $2.6 million the Fulton Street Farmers’ Market  (FSFM) is seeking.

Since 1922, the City has owned the land the FSFM operates on near the corner of Fulton and Fuller, and therefore its parking lot. The parking revenue fund, as Hoffman well knows because he served on the Parking Commission for almost a decade, is in good financial shape.

Therefore, Hoffman will be submitting a request to that commission, on behalf of the Fulton Street Farmers Market Development Campaign, asking for up to $400,000 in Parking System funds to complete the project.

The letter makes the case that the end result will be investment in a city-owned asset worth $2.6 million, leveraging over $2 million raised by the non-profit FSFM, an especially sound idea since the site currently requires unavoidable repairs.“This involves relating the project to the Master Plan and Green Grand Rapids plan and also to the state enabling legislation and the city parking ordinance,” Hoffman explains.

Though the outcome of that request is still unknown, raising money for the expansion is already going well. On July 13, the group, which operates under the Midtown Neighborhood Association, held a kick-off for what they are calling “Our Goodness is Growing.” The campaign is just opening up its public phase, and has already obtained $1.5 million from a variety of foundations and large donors.

These include the Wege, Frey, W.K. Kellogg, Steelcase, Grand Rapids Community and Consumers Energy Foundations.

Farmers’ Market Development Project Manager Christine Helms-Maletic comments, “For me, what is unique from the legal and policy perspective is the whole public-private-nonprofit partnership.” When the City of Grand Rapids held community meetings in 2009-2010, then-new City Manager Greg Sundstrom made it clear that the City’s challenging revenue situation meant relying on nonprofit organizations to spearhead some of the important Green Grand Rapids initiatives. As a member of the Green Grand Rapids team, Helms-Maletic saw an opportunity to take the lead on the market expansion.

That is how Hoffman got involved, since he too serves on the Green Grand Rapids committee, including a stint as its chair until 2009. “Jack’s involvement with Green Grand Rapids made me think we should ask him to be our attorney,” Helms-Maletic said, “and we’re very happy that we did.”

The Midtown Neighborhood Association took over operations of the Fulton Street Farmers’ Market in 2005.

Midtown has been an active player in the City of Grand Rapids Master Plan development, creating the first of the “area specific plans” that process called for with its Brickyaat Plan.
The plan envisioned a vital farmers’ market at the heart of the neighborhood. The finalized design proposal will include indoor year-round stalls, the enhanced parking area and a plaza with seating. Stormwater retention and other environmental improvements are part of the design.

With the jump-start provided by the foundations and business/individual donors, the FSFM “facelift” will start in the fall, and should be completed by April 2012. However, raising the last dollars is critical for its success.

Said Diane Griffin of Griffin Properties, capital campaign chair, “We now hope that the greater community will embrace this campaign to help us raise the additional funds... Donors can support this campaign by visiting OurGoodnessIsGrowing.org or by stopping by the Market to make a donation.”

Hoffman and FSFM expect to submit their request to the Parking Commission in August.