With its 25th anniversary approaching, the clock is ticking for the Columbia Farmers’ Market to find a permanent home.
The nonprofit group that oversees the market has until April 1 to begin construction or site preparations on such a project. Failure to begin by that date would violate the group’s 30-year lease with the city of Columbia, in which case the city could reclaim control of the land. The City Council must approve alterations to the lease.
Sustainable Farms and Communities Inc., the leaseholder, is not in a position to begin construction this spring and is not actively fund-raising, said Dan Kuebler, chairman of the nonprofit group’s board.
“We’re just beginning,” Kuebler said. “You really don’t want to go to the rest of your constituents until you probably have 80 to 90 percent of the money raised behind the scenes.”
Kuebler declined to specify the amount of money raised so far, or the amount needed to provide the market a year-round home. The market closes in November for winter and reopens in mid-March.
“You really don’t want to go to the rest of your constituents until you probably have 80 to 90 percent of the money raised behind the scenes,” he said.
Despite the pressing deadline, market organizers aren’t worrying yet.
“The Columbia Farmers’ Market
hasn’t talked about it at all,” said Guy Clark, a farmer who is board president of the vendors’ group that operates the market. “It has to be decided by the (City) Council. We were given hope that we could get an extension.”
The market has had a number of homes throughout its history. In April 2002, the market returned to its original location under a 30-year agreement with the city. But the city also set the coming April deadline for “site development and construction,” with another two years to complete construction.
Tim Harlan, a Sustainable Farms and Communities board member for three years, said he has spoken with City Manager Ray Beck several times over the past year, most recently in November, to keep him informed about the group’s progress.
“The city has an interest in having a viable farmers market improving that site,” he said. “Sustainable Farms and Communities is interested in developing a farmers market that goes beyond people buying vegetables out of the back of a pickup.”
Kuebler said he is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Beck to discuss the lease and the looming deadline.
“It’s not a pressing deadline,” he said. “The city has always worked with us in good faith. What we’ll have to do is start with the city manager.”
Beck said the city could extend the deadline, but he did not indicate whether he supports that approach. The city would then write a report and wait for the council to decide the next step, Beck said.