The 35-year old outdoor market brings hordes Downtown every week from spring into fall. There are over 100 vendors now, and officials say they receive request from 40 new vendors a week.
People come to see vendors like Ignacio Becerra and Lupe Vargas, whose homemade tacos are legendary.
Courtesy Charlottesville City Market
For as long as the Charlottesville City Market Saturday extravaganza of local foods and crafts has existed on the City parking lot along Water Street–over 20 years, though the popular outdoor market has actually been around for 35 years– there's been discussion about relocating it. Earlier this year, a consulting company called Market Ventures, whom the City paid $100,000 to study the possibility of creating a "market district" downtown, presented two possible ideas: keep it in its current location with some design improvement or move it to a lot that could be leased at First and Garrett streets.
But wait. Didn't the City sponsor a $150,000 design contest to generate ideas for creating a market district in 2007? Didn't City Council have a big discussion about finding a new home for the City Market back in 2010, during which then-mayor Dave Norris noted that the market "needs and deserves" a permanent location?
Indeed, Council is scheduled to discuss the issue again in June, based on the new study. But even if a decision is made, Chris Engel, the city’s Economic Director, points out that there's no time frame on when the new market relocation or improvement would be completed.
After all this time, the consensus seems to be to keep the market in its current location and make improvements– such as adding water, electricity, and seating on-site. As per the current study, the streets around the City parking lot would be reconfigured by removing curbs to allow easy access to the lots and allowing vendors to set up in the street as well. Trees would also be planted to provide shade. However, as Engel points out, the fact that the city-owned lot is so valuable poses some challenges, as there are some who would rather see more lucrative urban development projects occur in this space.
“There is tension between the groups in terms of what your perspective is on future development," Engel says.
Still, Engel recognizes the fact that vendors are tired of this "temporary" situation, which has gone on far too long. That's why the First and Garrett streets location, a triangular lot close by, is also being considered. Under that scenario, the lot there would be leased to provide seating and bathrooms, while Garrett Street, from Second Street to the dead end, and First Street, from Garrett to the railroad tracks, would be used for vendors to set up.
“There is certainly a desire for the market to feel more of a sense of permanence, whether that means improvement or a new location," he says.
Indeed, there's also a big desire to be a vendor at the market. Engel says he fields 40 requests a week from vendors wanting to get a space, but with over 100 vendors there already, there's just not enough room. Improvements to the current location or a move would address those needs.
“I want them to accept the first proposal, the one that uses and enhances the current space," says Diana Branscome with Branscome Glass, one of the vendors at the market. "It’s beautiful, well thought out, and takes advantage of a location where people have been coming for years. Any other place is not going to be as good.”
That may be true, but if the city should decide to give the market a permanent location at 200 East Water Street when the two proposals come before City Council in June, they'll be handing over a prime piece of downtown real-estate valued at $9.4 million, according to the city assessment.
“There really are no logical sites that are good for everybody," says Engel. "There will be people that don’t like the ultimate choice for whatever reason.”
Should the proposal to remain on the Water Street lot be chosen, Engel says the Market would need to move off-site until the improvements are made. Of course, if the market gets moved to the First and Garrett location, the market would stay put until that project gets finished.
So, will the City Market finally get a permanent home? Stay tuned in June.
Don't forget: May 12 is Mother's Day
Thinking about a special meal with Mom? Here's a few spots with special Mother's Day offerings:
Cardinal Point Vineyard (cardinalpointwinery.com), Wintergreen Resort (434-325-2200), Blue Mountain Brewery (540-456-8020), DelFosse Vineyards (434-263-6100), Veritas Vineyards (540-456-8000 Ext.108), the Clifton Inn (which will be serving a special Mother's Day Brunch. 434-971-1800), and Ivy Inn (434) 977-1222).