A little over two weeks ago, the Dallas City Council approved a plan to “privatize” the market which has been operating since 1941 as a municipally-owned and sanctioned farmers market, and operating at a huge loss for the past several years. The $64 million privatization plans have met with some mixed reviews, but generally response has been positive, even from the vendors who are not sure what some of the plans will eventually mean for them and their business.
Almost everyone agrees that doing something will be better than doing nothing, spending more taxpayer dollars, and watching the market and the neighborhood disintegrate into ruin.
A group of private investors has announced plans to build a mix of retail, residential, public and private spaces which it is hoped will revitalize the area and add a “fresh food-oriented urban neighborhood” to serve Downtown, the Cedars, Deep Ellum and Fair Park, all in the shadow of the freeways and tall office buildings of central Dallas. Existing open sheds, which are somewhat of an eyesore and underutilized today, will be revamped or razed.
Plans currently call for retention of the one closed shed, and of the administration building which will be repurposed to hold a culinary center and a venue for public demonstrations and classes. The plan calls for addition of parking spaces, a bandshell and space for additional restaurants, as well as a mix of uses, calling for a 240-unit apartment complex with street-level retail shops and eating places.
Plans for revitalization of the more-than-century-old location where growers have gathered to sell produce since at least 1900 have been a long time coming, according to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. He noted, “Right now, it’s a plan. We’ve got to turn it into reality.” Just during the past year, the area has seen new construction of condo units and a bit of a clean-up and beautify effort, lending credence to the hope that new plans will spur residential growth and development in the area.
The city plans to use cash proceeds from the sale of three of the market sheds and much of the surrounding property, more than $3 million, to pay off existing debt, and to relocate a sewer line. The land will be deed-restricted to the buyer proposal outlining plans for an improved market. Reportedly, more than $5.5 million in bond funds will be utilized to upgrade streets and sidewalks. In addition, plans call for relocating the entrance to The Bridge, a homeless shelter, away from neighborhood buildings. Police presence is also expected to be increased in the area.
Shed 1, where local farmers now gather to sell their produce, would be retained under city ownership, but would be leased to the group of private developers, who then would be charged with maintaining the shed and leasing space to farmers. The city would continue to retain a percentage of sales from the shed’s tenants. Projections call for 60 vendors in the revamped shed, which would no longer be open to “drive-through” traffic.
Existing property owners and businesses have given the plan their full endorsement. Vendors, for the most part, have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. And the city? Well, the city of Dallas hopes that its traditional farmers market will become something of a destination market, much like Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the Maine Ave. Fish Market in Washington, D.C., or the Philadelphia Farmers’ Markets.
If there is one thing all agree on, it’s that the time to do something has indeed come. And the spirit is one of hope and cooperation.