New Businesses Revamp Downtown Jackson

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Seven-thousand people work downtown in Jackson everyday, says John Burtka, owner of the new Grand River Marketplace restaurant, but the trouble is keeping them there at the end of the day.

"If you don't have a downtown that's vibrant, it kind of loses its character and it becomes a commuter community," he said. "And we'd like to be a destination rather than a place to just sleep at night."

A destination. It's what businessowners, employees and the Chamber of Commerce continue to call the future of downtown Jackson.

"I would say within the next year, downtown Jackson is going to have something for everybody to see, taste, explore, enjoy and just have a really good time," said Mindy Bradish-Orta, President of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.

Burtka's restaurant seems to be a microcosm of the city as a whole. The Grand River Marketplace will feature not only a restaurant, but a brewery, a wine bar, a deli, a space for live music and a place to by meats and cheeses. And its employees are people who grew up in the city, many coming back from other states.

"It's just a really good feeling to know Jackson is doing something for itself," said Head Chef Corey Beiber, who came back from New England to work at the restaurant. "Or at least the people are trying to do something for Jackson to bring it to the next level."

Front of House Manager Coley Kennedy moved with his wife from Chicago to help run the restaurant.

"It would be fun to have the downtown area become young and fresh as it was years ago," he said.

Livening up the city you grew up in is a big draw, Burtka said. Having the vibrance of a big city with your friends and family is a big plus.

"We have a lot of people in Jackson that travel to Lansing and Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Marshall just to do things on the weekend or during the week," he said. "And that's cool but wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to?"

Burtka's restaurant is one of five that has opened in Jackson in the last six months, Bradish-Orta said, and more could be on the way. Construction has torn down taller buildings to make room for new ones and streets are being changed from one way to two way to make storefronts more accessible.

"[People] want to be in a place that's welcoming, in a place that's appealing to them," said Jonathan Greene, Executive Director of the Jackson Downtown Development Board. "They want to have great food and they want to have great atmosphere. And I think we provide that in downtown Jackson."