After more than a decade of trying to establish a permanent structure for the Columbia Farmers’ Market, city government is taking a stronger role in the project than ever before.
The Parks and Recreation Department would help with design, construction and operation of a permanent farmers market at the city-owned Activity and Recreation Center property. In exchange, Sustainable Farms and Communities, a local nonprofit organization set up in 1998 to bring a permanent market facility to fruition, has two years to raise an estimated $900,000 for the open-air pavilion.
“When they raise that much, we’ll ask, what can we build for that amount?” said Mike Griggs, park services manager for Parks and Recreation.
To assist with funding, the parks department has applied for a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for up to $75,000. The amount of the grant, which would be used for planning and design work, won’t be announced until the fall.
Dan Kuebler, a market vendor and chairman of Sustainable Farms and Communities, said the core fundraising campaign won’t begin until architectural plans are complete.
The idea for a long-term structure was originally proposed in 1992. The city’s new involvement may just give the project the boost it needs to become reality.
“I think our timing is good and everyone is on board, and that’s what’s going to make the difference this time,” Kuebler said.
City involvement blossomed, in part, from the development and popularity of farmers markets in other cities.
“Over the last five years across the nation, this whole idea has really grown,” Kuebler said. “People are seeing the value of farmers markets.”
Griggs said that Columbia Parks and Recreation has been supportive of a permanent structure for the market from the beginning, but was concerned about whether such a facility would lend itself to a variety of uses.
“We didn’t want a facility that was only designed for a farmers market,” Griggs said. “What we wanted was something that was more multi-use. The recent successes of similar cities and similar farmers markets have been helpful in that it has shown us building designs that are compatible for nonmarket uses.”
The plan is for a pavilion structure, with a roof and open sides, with room for up to 100 vendors. Such a structure would let customers enjoy an outdoor ambience without worrying about the sun or rain.
“We want something artful, graceful, instead of the quickest, cheapest kit you can buy,” said Diana Denman, who sells her handmade pottery and jewelry at the market.
Practicality is also a concern.
“I don’t think it has to be fancy. It would just be nice to keep people out of the sun and rain,” Kenny Duzan, a market vendor, said. “I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. It would be nice, and I think (the market) is enough of a part of Columbia culture that everyone would benefit from it.”
Beyond protecting customers from the elements, the permanent structure would also provide an established location for the market beyond its existing hours of operation.
“The market is no different than any other business in that you need to have a permanent home,” Kuebler said. “You want to have a home, a central spot, where people know you do business.”
Columbia Parks and Recreation has been working to see how to fit a pavilion and adequate parking on the property, something of a challenge given the market’s proximity to both the Activity and Recreation Center and the future site of an indoor facility for the Columbia Youth Basketball Association.
“We’re trying to make sure that everything everyone wants will fit,” said Toney Lowery, a senior park planner for the city.
A portion of this report first aired Wednesday during “News At 10” on KMIZ/Channel 17 ABC, Columbia.