Employers, the city and private foundations zeroing in on Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood to lure new residents to the city may have a secret weapon in their arsenal: Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc.
Crain’s has learned that the grocery chain, known for its organic produce and above-average prices, is shopping for space in Midtown.
Sue Mosey, president of newly created Midtown Detroit Inc., a nonprofit encompassing the formerUniversity Cultural Center Association andNew Center Council Inc., confirmed last week: “There has been some expressed interest by Whole Foods in looking at the possibility of a store in Midtown.”
On Wednesday, Mayor Dave Bing went one better. At a private lunch meeting of young professionals and corporate supporters of talent attraction efforts in Detroit, Bing said the deal with Whole Foods was getting close.
“It’s not a question of “if’ but “when,’ ” he told an attendee in a side conversation.
A Midtown location would seem to meet some, but not all, of the criteria Whole Foods sets for its stores.
According to its website, the company looks to build 25,000-50,000-square-foot stores in high-traffic locations with a large number of college-educated residents, at least 200,000 people within a 20-minute drive, easy access and plenty of parking.
According to a 2010 Social Compact study funded by the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., Midtown has the city’s highest rate of resident income per acre at $231,961. Social Compact is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that measures community economic indicators to spur urban investment.
The study, which was updated in 2009 from a previous one in 2006, shows Midtown also as having the highest average household income of new homebuyers at $113,788, followed by the Central Business District at $111,509 and Indian Village with an average new homeowner income of $111,200.
Whole Foods would not confirm any interest in Detroit, but Kate Klotz, Midwest Region public relations manager, said the company has deviated from its criteria in the past. One notable exception was a store in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago that the company now considers a Midwest flagship.
“When we built the Lincoln Park store, it was an empty lot with not much around it,” Klotz said. “But if we reviewed that site today, it would be a slam dunk.”
Whole Foods has five stores in Southeast Michigan, all in more affluent areas: Rochester Hills, Troy, West Bloomfield and two stores in Ann Arbor.
Besides produce, Whole Foods is known for its branded ready-to-serve products made with organic ingredients. It also carries many varieties of high-end wines and cheeses and has an in-house bakery that uses cage-free eggs, natural butter and unbleached, unbromated flour in its dough.
Whole Foods is already building its brand in Detroit by providing a sponsorship of more than $20,000 to help pay for pole banners promoting Eastern Market that are visible along Russell Street and Gratiot and Mack avenues, said Daniel Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp. The banners promote the year-round market and include the Whole Foods logo.
“They have an interest in the metropolitan area’s food system and are always looking to improve connections between local growers and specialty food processors,” Carmody said.
By Nathan Skid, Crain’s Detroit