Last week, the WP Downtown Development Authority Board postponed a decision on whether the market could use Lot#2 of Woodland Station this summer until April 21, as the DDA determines the cost of preparing the site and how much they are able to spend on the project. These delays, though, are sparking concerns by leaders of the Farmer’s Market, with a deadline approaching.
Lot #2 is the section of Woodland Station west of Woodland Hardware and south of Bergstrom Park. The DDA is looking at two possible design proposals that would make room for up to 100 venders and guest parking. An engineering survey and earthwork need to be done to bring the site up to city standards before it can be used. The DDA may invest up to $20,000 to improve the spot, which could potentially be used for other events besides the Farmer’s Market.
In past years, the Farmer’s Market has been held on Henrietta Street on the south side of Memorial Park. The reconstruction of Memorial Park forced the market to move to an empty lot behind Vectra Bank last summer. While this space is available for use again in 2016, it is too small and parking is limited. The market may be able to move back to Henrietta Street by mid-summer after construction at the park is finished. Local businesses would like to see the market move away from Henrietta Street permanently because market visitors use all their parking, but rarely stop to shop with them.
The outdoor Farmer’s Market is due to start on June 3 and will be held every Friday morning from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. through September. The event has been held for 25 years and can attract as many as 3,000 people each weekend. With the kick-off date for the 2016 season rapidly approaching, the Farmer’s Market organizers are eager to get their planning done, which is hard when they don’t yet know where the market will be held. They need to have a site map as soon as possible to assign spaces to vendors.
The market organizers expected to get the green light to use Woodland Station Lot #2 at the April 7 DDA meeting. They were surprised when the DDA was unprepared to give them the okay for using Woodland Station. Although two design concepts have been created, the DDA has not yet calculated the cost of implementing either plan.
“We need to know the actual cost before a vote can happen,” said DDA board member Merry Jo Larsen, calling for the board to postpone their vote on the matter.
However, there was confusion over how much money the DDA actually has in its budget to spare for site development. DDA Treasurer Al Born was concerned that abatements coming due would affect the amount the DDA has to spend. Concerns were also raised by the audience about whether the DDA should be using these funds to finance their $1 million debt to the city. Both City Manager David Buttery and DDA Director Brian Fleer assured the group that there is no conflict with the funding.
Representatives of the market were clearly frustrated. Farmer’s Market Manager Jane Enger expressed concerns that the market could loose vendors because of the delay. She said they lost money in 2015 because of the inadequate space and did not want to repeat that in 2016.
“It is getting very late to switch the location,” Enger said. “We need to know where the market will be as soon as possible.”
Farmer’s Market volunteer Steve Storr questioned why it was taking so much time and expense to move forward. He wondered if volunteers could be recruited to do the site work. He wanted to see the Woodland Station site available for use by the community as it was originally intended by Bert Bergstrom.
Bergstrom donated the land to the city decades ago for the saddle club and rodeo, but the aging saddle club was removed and the land sold to the Downtown Development Authority several years ago. Since then, the DDA’s efforts to develop the 11 acre site in the middle of town have been stymied by the economic downturn in 2008 and other difficulties. Most recently, it was hoped that the new Woodland Aquatic Center as well as mixed use buildings with small shops and loft apartments and a Family Fun Center would be built there, but it all fell through last summer.
DDA board member and local businessman Jon DeVaux was quick to defend the DDA. “The land is not owned by the city. It is not a city park,” he snapped. “The land belongs to the DDA. It’s purpose is to support the downtown merchants. The site has to be developed to city standards.”
DDA board member Noel Sawyer said that the board needed to give the market a “drop dead” date when the decision would be finalized so they could move forward with their planning. In the end, it was agreed that the DDA would have a final decision about the Farmer’s Market’s use of Woodland Station Lot#2 within two weeks. Their decision will be announced by April 21 at the latest, or sooner if possible.