Food for thought: Where to put the City Market?
When it comes to finding a permanent home for the long popular Charlottesville City Market, City government hasn't exactly been quick on the draw.
"We were looking at a City memorandum dated 1993," says Kathy Kildea of Market Central, a non-profit organization formed to preserve and enhance the City Market, "that talked about the Water Street lot as a temporary move, and that priority ought to be given to find a more permanent solution."
Indeed, the 35-year old City Market (which is operated by the City but funded by vendor sales and slot fees) has been "temporarily" located in the city-owned Water Street parking lot for nearly two decades. And while there's been a lot of talk and study about creating a permanent home for the Market, including a $150,000 tax-payer funded design contest meant to inspire private development on the Water Street lots (one of them is privately owned) that would incorporate the City Market, there hasn't been much action.
During a November 4 Council session on the future of the City Market, Kildea and other market supporters gathered to encourage the City to finally follow through on its promise.
"The sporadic conversations over the last 17 years have not been focused on a permanent home," says Kildea, "they've simply looked at locations where it might fit."
Court Square, the Jefferson School, the east end of the Downtown Mall, McIntire Park, the LexisNexis parking deck, and the parking lot near the Albemarle County Office Building were all mentioned as possible locations, but no decisions were made. Instead, Council agreed to form a task force to study the issue and give recommendations in about three months.
Of course, the irony here is that an "overwhelming majority" of vendors and customers have said they'd like to see the market stay right where it is, says Kildea. However, with over 100 vendors now crowding the lot, she says the space has become problematic. But the temporary arrangement makes it impossible address those flaws.
"Would you remodel your kitchen in a home you rented month-to-month?" Kildea asks.
But wouldn't it be risky to move a farmer's market that has made such a name for itself in its current location?
"You're absolutely right," says Kildea. "Moving the market is risky. But the City has made it clear that their intention is to develop that lot. There are no imminent plans to do so, but as long as we know it's going to happen, is it not wise to plan a thoughtful move versus waiting until we have to move?"
In addition, Kildea says the Market isn't about to count on a future development of the lot that might include them.
"The design contest was simply to inspire ideas," she says, "with no guarantee that any of the submitted design proposals would actually be built."
On Market Central's website they have a section called "Dreamer's Corner," where they showcase farmer's markets around the country that have managed to secure permanent locations. One of them, the Harrisonburg Farmer's Market, moved into a beautiful Turner Pavilion in 2008 that was built on city-owned property.
"We were also in a parking lot for 30 years, " says market manager Josie Showalter, "but we were blessed."
That blessing came in the form of a $100,000 gift from the local Turner family, another $100,000 raised from market supporters, some City funds, and a last-minute $100,000 to fund the construction of the Pavilion. The City, says Showalter, offered a 30-year lease and asked only that the public be allowed to use it on non-market days.
Kildea says that the Market Central, as a non-profit, would be willing to secure grants and seek donations to minimize or even eliminate the cost to tax payers of such a move, and would even considering purchasing a property outright, but as she points out, those efforts can't commence without first finding a location.
To begin to realize such a dream, of course, the Market first needs a location where the threat of development won't be hanging over their heads. And as far as Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris is concerned, that's what this new task force will be all about.
"The Market needs and deserves more permanence," says Norris. "That's one of the top criteria we'll use in finding a site."
So, where do you think the City Market should move?