Building a new shelter and bathrooms for New Albany’s farmers’ market is a bad idea made worse by a stunningly high price tag attached to it. Very little I’ll say here that I haven’t said before, but it clearly needs to be said again. The farmers’ market needs no expansion.
New Albany owns a prime tract of property at the corner of Bank and East Market streets (the southwest corner, so to speak). It was once and now is again the site of a thriving weekly farmers’ market during the warmer months. It also hosts sellers for a few late-day hours during the week.
James Garner’s mayoral administration (2004-2007), hoping to attract a critical mass of vendors to ensure that downtown had a farmers’ market, but unable to manage it, granted Develop New Albany (DNA) the exclusive contract to operate and manage the market. Within just a few years, DNA recruited a nice mix of farm product vendors, making the weekly farmers’ market an essential part of our weekend.
Now, while the vendors are what make the market, I would not begrudge the giving of applause to DNA for bringing the market back to life. It had developed a really nasty reputation with farmers in the area and for holding it together the way they have, the putative Main Street organization deserves praise.
There is much – and I mean MUCH – about DNA that deserves criticism, starting with their … oh, never mind. That is not what this is about.
The market is great. The current manager claims that the vendors are insisting that the city cough up $321,000 for a second shelter and bathrooms. She also implies that some vendors have “threatened” to leave the market unless we do so.
The only such “threats” I’ve heard about arose when the manager herself decided that she was not the landlord, but the boss. These vendors are independent business people. Such people don’t take kindly to being bossed around. Because their market business is transient, it is not tied to New Albany. I don’t believe a single farmer who sells there lives in this city. They do have options.
Here’s what a market vendor wants: A market where (many) people come to buy their farm products. That’s it.
No one has even hinted that market traffic is dwindling. No one has said that we have too few vendors and need more covered space. The market is meeting demand and most vendors are doing well. Vendors with seniority are under cover. Vendors without seniority bring pop-up tents when necessary.
In fact, I’ve heard two complaints. One is that the market is too crowded. The other is that carrying groceries from the market can be an ordeal when shoppers must park blocks away.
Frankly, the discussion should end here. The market does not need to be expanded. If it does need to be expanded, the current location is not the right place. And $321,000 is far too high a price tag for the taxpayers to bear.
Most farmers markets are set up in idle parking lots or even fields. In a distant past, our market was semi-permanent and sited down the middle of, yes, Market Street. Vestiges remain today. The current shed is, to be blunt, a bit of an eyesore. By design, it is supposed to conjure the image of a steaming paddlewheeler of the type so skillfully built by New Albanians in the city’s first century.
Instead, visitors to our city probably wonder why a large picnic shelter is sited on such a central piece of the city’s property.
For 216 hours a year, however, it serves a purpose. Vendors, mostly farmers, come in from out of town and peddle their wares to an appreciative public. Saturdays are particularly vibrant. In contrast, most downtown businesses are open that many hours each month, 12 months a year.
And yet, we’re being asked to pay for a $321,000 facility to host transient businesses from out of town. There’s something deeply wrong when anyone thinks this is a good idea.
Would the farmers’ market collapse if it were moved? It might, but I seriously doubt it. Market Street itself is configured in such a way that the entire market could be set up on the north side of the street. Vendors could sell off the back of their trucks or off tables. Portable tents could be easily erected to provide cover for vendors and shoppers.
At least 2 city council members believe that the city’s parking garage, just 2 blocks away (and situated beside a two-way street) would serve as an excellent alternate site if there is truly a need and demand for an expanded farmers’ market. It’s an idea worth exploring.
To me, the most compelling argument against spending $321,000 to expand the farmers’ market is the intrinsic value of the land on which it sits. For one thing, sinking that kind of money into that site makes a statement that this plot of land is and always shall be the site of some kind of “official” farmers’ market. Granted, having a farmers’ market there is a nice amenity. But there are dozens of nearby locations where a temporary market can be established, and quickly.
My own building, 2 1/2 blocks away, gives you some idea of what $321,000 can buy. The Destinations Booksellers building is slightly more than 3,000 s.f. It is a year-round, climate-controlled, secured building with ethernet, gas heat, air conditioning, electricity, and water. It includes a licensable functional kitchen and bathrooms. In addition, it has more than 4,000 s.f. of paved parking that would be suitable for temporary vendors to set up tents.
Nearby are plenty of parking spaces.
Now, if that’s available downtown today for that price, why on earth would the city pay that much for 2 bathrooms and another shed cover on a key commercial corner of downtown?
In fact, let me make this offer. Pay me $321,000 for my building and give me an option on the land where the city intends to invest $321,000. I’ll vacate the property within 30 days of closing and find another place for my store.
While I’m completely serious about that offer, I don’t think that if the current proposal were framed that way that anyone would be proposing to do it. Maybe so, but it’s awfully hard to imagine.
And yet, here we are trying to stop the city from pouring vast sums into a farmers’ market that’s open 216 hours a year.
I’m told the city council will be discussing this appropriation at this Thursday’s regular meeting. If you can’t go to the meeting, call your council member and let them know what you think of the idea. I know that CM Baird and CM Benedetti are on record as supporting the idea. Presumably, at least 2 other CMs are in favor, so this decision will be a close-run thing. Call the mayor, whose Board of Public Works and Safety came within a few minutes of approving this expenditure. Ask him to oppose it and to veto it if it passes through the council (they’ve already appropriated $271,000 for it). Let’s stop it right now.
DNA is running a curiously tricky poll that casts the decision as being between expanding the market in place or moving the market to the city’s parking garage. It’s a dishonest poll designed to present false choices and generate support for their desired windfall on the backs of the taxpayers.
Read these pieces at NA Confidential, please. Then go vote FOR the garage proposal, if only to show that you won’t be fooled.