Adaptive Reuse: Flint's Water Street Pavilion

Very few urban revitalization innovations have generated as much popularity as the festival marketplace craze by the Rouse Company during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

1. (UM-Flint)

After starting the concept with a bang in Boston (Faneuil Hall - 1976) and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor (Harborplace - 1980), James Rouse of the Rouse Company formed the Enterprise Development Corporation (EDC) to build similar projects in smaller cities. In 1983, the EDC completed their $13.5 million Waterside project along the Elizabeth River in Norfolk. The following year, Toledo’s $14.5 million Portside Festival Marketplace was completed along the Maumee River.

In 1985, Rouse opened a $15.75 million festival marketplace in Flint, Michigan. Adjacent to the Flint River, Rouse predicted that the 100,000-square-foot marketplace and its 60 tenants would attract at least two million visitors a year in a city desperately in need of a retail attraction to assist with the redevelopment of its declining downtown. Despite a June 27, 1985 grand opening that drew a large crowd, Water Street Pavilion quickly failed as a retail center and officially closed its doors for good in September 1990.

Seeking to repurpose the property as a community gathering space, the Downtown Development Authority sold the failed marketplace to the University of Michigan-Flint (UM-Flint) for $60,000 in June 1993. UM-Flint then spent $3 million to renovate the structure into an university administration building and community gathering space. Now called University Pavilion, the building houses a bookstore operated by Barnes & Noble and a food court on the first floor. Eateries include O’Blendz, Jilly’s Pizza, Shawarma Bite, Sportlite Grill and Subway. While Flint ultimately proved that the festival marketplace concept would not work in small communities, the building remains an important fixture in Flint’s landscape with a new use that better aligned with the needs of area residents.

2. (UM-Flint)

3. (Michael Barera/Wikipedia)

4. (Jilly’s Pizza)

5. (UM-Flint)

6. (UM-Flint)

7. (UM-Flint)

8. (Michael Barera/Wikipedia)

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at