Farmers Market continues to look toward future

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Athens Community Center ‘campus’ under consideration for possible new market site; no timeline set yet


The East Side dog park, shown here, has been discussed in the past as a possible new site for the Athens Farmers Market. It’s unclear whether it’s still in the running. Photo by Terry Smith.

 

The Athens Farmers Market is the focus of an ongoing two-year project headed by ACEnet aiming to develop a business plan and secure a permanent location for the market, ACEnet Director of Programs Leslie Schaller explained at the Athens City Council meeting Monday night.

Schaller presented council members with an update on the planning project and information about the next stage.

“What we’re attempting to do,” Schaller said, “… is to really work with the city of Athens and many of the other partners who would benefit, I think, from the development of public market space.” Schaller said the conversation and the planning process began in 2004 when the organization secured its “first round of funding” for the project.

For many years the Farmers Market has leased space in the front parking lot of The Market on State mall in the East State Street commercial district.

Based in Athens, ACEnet – its full name is the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks – is a community-based economic development organization serving the 32 counties of Appalachian Ohio.

ACEnet last year managed to secure a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant to fund a viability analysis of a permanent location for the market. Schaller said that the end goal involves more than the market alone. “What we’re really contemplating is more public space for markets and for public activities to happen in many different ways,” she explained.

The three main goals of the feasibility study, Schaller said, are:

1. To see if a new site could be constructed on city property, “preferably on the Community Center’s campus,” Schaller said.

2. To secure a national consultant to determine feasibility and financial viability of the new site.

3. To support the Athens Farmers Market Association.

Using the grant funds, ACEnet already has hired a national consultant through the Project for Public Spaces to help with the feasibility project. Schaller confirmed later that PPS representatives visited the current market site this spring. Another consultant from the Farmers Market Coalition has been hired to help with the project, Schaller said, and has been helping for a “long time.” These consultants have been crucial resources for the project, she said.

A lot of the activities for the study primarily have taken place since January of this year, Schaller said. So far, the feasibility project has involved “a lot of planning meetings” between all partners involved, monthly surveying and data collection, among other activities.

Schaller said the AFM membership “has a tremendous sense of urgency that at some point in time they have a permanent location that they feel secure in that provides more amenities” for them and for customers. That permanent location ideally could be developed on the Athens Community Center property, though no sites have been decided upon yet, Schaller confirmed in an email Wednesday. That property includes city-owned land between the Community Center and the Hocking River, and includes the East Side dog park, a former baseball field.

One benefit of having the new location on the Community Center campus is that some of the desired amenities are already in place, like wireless connectivity, access to public restrooms, and easier access to water and sewer connections, Schaller said.

Based on interviews with market attendees regarding methods of transportation to the market, a lot of people ride bikes, Schaller said, which is another reason the Community Center property would be ideal for a new location.

“There’s a lot of interest in having the market on the other (south) side of East State Street,” and having a location with “greater access to the bike path,” Schaller said.

The feasibility project is in its early stages and has yet to determine whether “the development of a public market space on city property, preferably on the campus at the Community Center, (is) going to be something that is… financially viable for the city,” Schaller said.

Since it’ founding, the Athens Farmers Market has evolved significantly, Schaller said. “We’ve seen this incredible growth occur in terms of the market being more business-like and really focused on their own market plan.” She noted that the market now has “strong” executive leadership that’s been meeting more regularly.

Schaller said the ACEnet team is currently identifying potential funding sources. The project “is going to require a lot of investment,” she said, adding that she hopes ACEnet can utilize its expertise to find that funding “hopefully… at some point in 2019.”

THE NEXT STEP IN THE PLANNING process will involve public forums, to be held “hopefully this fall,” Schaller said. Part of the reason for the presentation at City Council, she said, was to ensure that “everyone has a sense of how this project is going to move forward, and that there will be ample opportunity for input along the way.

“Hopefully at the end of the planning process we will have more information on the possible sites,” Schaller said, adding that she hopes ACEnet can secure additional assistance from the USDA. “They offer a variety of different site and architectural services free of charge to folks who were funded through the program,” she explained.

The project should yield two business plans, Schaller said, “one for the Athens Farmers Market Association and one for the viability of a public market.”

Schaller gave a rough six-month estimated timeline for the remainder of the feasibility project. Public forums and “probably smaller-group engagement meetings” will be held to get feedback, she said, adding that more data collection is needed regarding the Farmers Market’s collaboration with the Athens Art Guild.

“We’ll see a lot of that between October and December,” Schaller said, adding that she would like to have “a more thorough, written document in terms of viability and a business plan for the farmers market” by January 2019.

City Council Member Chris Fahl added at Monday’s meeting that “this process… is in the very, very beginning,” and reiterated that “there will be ample time” for input from the many stakeholders involved with the project, including community members.

The potential new site would not only serve the Farmers Market, Fahl said. “Going forward, we can also identify those other opportunities for this space,” she said. “Because it could be… a makerspace, a festival space. So going forward, it’s much more of a comprehensive look.”