[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]
Dan Hocking, out shopping for tomatoes at the Columbia Farmers’ Market on Saturday, said he thinks a permanent farmers market would be a great idea.
“It could be a nice community gathering spot,” said Hocking, who was out with his fiancée, Lesley Read.
Apparently, others agree with him.
Three out of four Columbia residents surveyed this spring by the Olathe, Kan.-based ETC Institute said they would support continuing to pay the full quarter-cent parks sales tax if some of the proceeds went to pay for such a market. A publicly funded farmers market complex was the most popular project among respondents, ahead of buying land for new neighborhood parks and building walking and biking trails. The survey of 613 people has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
The Parks and Recreation Department, which was charged with drawing up conceptual plans for the complex in May after preliminary survey results were released, did not expect such high levels of support.
“It was surprising to say the least,” said Park Services Manager Mike Griggs, who noted public funding for a farmers market has received little support in the past.
Creating a permanent farmers market also came out on top when residents were asked to choose three projects for which the parks sales tax should be used. The Columbia City Council is considering whether to ask voters to extend the tax before it expires next March.
Fifty-two percent of people surveyed said they would be very likely to continue paying the tax if proceeds paid for projects they thought were most important. Only 17 percent said they were unlikely to support a continuation of the tax.
Read wouldn’t mind continuing to pay the tax because she sees the market as a benefit to both farmers and the community.
“People are already paying the tax anyway,” she said. “It’s not like they’re going to notice.”
Not everyone at the farmers market Saturday was convinced taxpayers should pay for a permanent complex.
“It’s quite a subsidy,” said Doug Coley, who said he lacks enough information to support a publicly funded structure. “What’s wrong with this parking lot and tents and open air?”
The Parks and Recreation Department has released two plans for the market so far. Both show the market remaining at the old Boone County Fairground next to the Activity and Recreation Center at Clinkscales Road and Ash Street. Griggs said the department tried to develop designs that would add parking and could be used for other events, such as picnics and outdoor concerts.
“A multiuse facility would be our first choice,” he said. “It provides more options for the city of Columbia.”
The plan, which Parks and Recreation staff favor, features a pair of pavilions on both sides of two face-to-face rows of stalls.
Both plans would create about 90 stalls under a roof similar to those used to cover picnic shelters in city parks. About 340 parking spaces that could also be used by ARC visitors would be added.
Griggs said the $1 million price tag for a permanent market could rise or fall significantly depending on the final design and the materials used.
“You could build a nice little complex for $500,000,” he said.
The plans also include space for a $2 million basketball and volleyball complex and a
$2.5 million indoor ice rink, both of which could be added later.
Betty Wilson, who has visited farmers markets across the country and has been coming to the Columbia Farmers’ Market for years, said she thinks a permanent complex would be a good idea. But she is concerned about the cost.
“I don’t know the taxpayers are going to support such elaborate plans,” she said.
Public money for the market is back on the agenda in part because Sustainable Farms and Communities, the nonprofit group formed in 1998 to build and operate a permanent structure for the Columbia Farmers’ Market, was unable to come up with funding of its own. The city’s preliminary plans, offering more parking and multiuse opportunities, differ substantially from those developed for Sustainable Farms and Communities by architect Daryl Rantis in 2001.
Guy Clark, president of the Columbia Farmers’ Market and a member of the Sustainable Farms and Communities board of directors, declined to comment on the city’s conceptual plans, saying the two organizations had not discussed the matter internally or with the city.
In 2003, disagreement over plans for a permanent farmers market caused a rift among growers, some of whom split from the Columbia Farmers’ Market to create the Boone County Farmer’s Market, which continues to operate in a parking lot at 1100 Business Loop 70 W.
A new complex could again create a single market.
“We would prefer to work with a unified farmers market,” Griggs said. “We hope that a permanent facility would bring them all together.”
James Hohman, a member of the Boone County Farmer’s Market board of directors, said that’s possible, provided the city is behind the plan.
“If it’s city-owned and -operated, and the rent’s not too high, it could work,” he said. “It would probably serve everybody best to have one market.”
The Columbia Farmers’ Market is open every Monday and Wednesday through early November from 4 to 6 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. The Boone County Farmer’s Market is also open every Monday and Wednesday evening from 4 to 6, but opens from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.