By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
An alternative proposal to expanding the downtown New Albany Farmers Market is gaining steam, but the lead organizer of the venue doesn’t support the plan.
New Albany City Councilman John Gonder proposed last month moving the market from the corner of Pearl and Market Streets to the downtown parking garage.
The council had budgeted $270,000 to expand the market this year, but the lowest bid for the project received by the city was about $319,000. Faced with having to appropriate more funds for the improvements — which include the addition of a second structure, storage space and bathrooms — the council was to further discuss the project last week, but the meeting was canceled due to bad weather.
The discussion was renewed Tuesday during a New Albany Redevelopment Commission meeting, as members of the body include Gonder and Councilman Dan Coffey.
Coffey said the downtown parking garage — located at the intersection of State and Market Streets — isn’t being fully utilized.
“If something doesn’t work, why not go in a new direction?” Coffey asked.
The garage — primarily through monthly parking passes — brings in enough revenue to cover its regular maintenance expenses, and the balance for the tax-increment financing district it feeds is about $150,000.
But Coffey said after millions of dollars were poured into building the garage more than 20 years ago, the public isn’t getting enough return for the investment.
Moving the farmers market to the location would be a way to increase visibility for the parking garage — which offers free parking on the weekend — and would also save the city from spending at least $270,000 on new construction, Coffey said.
The farmers market could open in the garage on Saturday mornings on the first floor of the structure, and a portion of Market Street could close so that vendors could extend out toward the median, Gonder said. The market would occupy about double the space it has now by moving to the garage.
“That corner would then be open to redevelopment,” Gonder said of the existing market site.
The property is owned by the city, but the farmers market is operated by Develop New Albany, and the lead organizer is Susan Kaempfer. She said Gonder hasn’t contacted her about his proposal, as Kaempfer added the parking garage doesn’t have a bathroom and “isn’t a good fit” for the market.
“It’s our preference that we move forward with the improvements to the existing farmers market and get that done as quickly as possible so we can utilize it,” she said Tuesday.
Last year was the most successful year for the market in recent history, as at least 70 vendors consistently maintained booths at the market.
But Kaempfer said some of those vendors are being recruited by competing farmers market, and that delaying the project could hamper New Albany’s ability to retain them.
Coffey said that the city could pay to install bathrooms in the garage for a feasible amount, though no bids have been taken for such work.
David Duggins, director of economic development and redevelopment for the city, said he requested the bids for the expansion because the council had approved the funding in the 2014 budget. He said he had no issue with getting additional information about the garage if officials would like to consider the structure for the market.
Commission members also suggested purchasing a sign for the garage regardless of whether the market is moved there or not.
Kaempfer said the farmers market has dramatically helped downtown businesses, and added that some vendors and local business owners likely will attend next week’s council meeting to voice their support for it.
She said the low bidder for the project, Upton Pry, may review its offer to trim some of the costs to be closer to the $270,000 in budgeted funds for the improvement.
Unless the council moves to remove the funding already set aside for the expansion, the New Albany Board of Public Works and Safety could accept the bid and move forward with the project without the council’s approval.
The council’s next regular meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. March 20 in the third-floor Assembly Room of the City-County Building.