City Hall

The City Finally Revealed Plans For a Privatized Farmers Market, and It Looks Pretty Cool

For the past three years or so, the city has been actively seeking a private developer to take the Farmers Market off its hands. It finally found one last summer, but details were kept tightly under wraps as a final deal was hashed out.

Those details were released, very quietly, on Friday afternoon in a stack of memos for Wednesday's City Council briefing.

The Dallas Farmers Market is great. Why get rid of it? Sorry, but the Farmers Market kind of blows, and the city knows it. Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans starts off his briefing with photos showing flocks of pigeons occupying vacant stalls, broken-down trucks that have become permanent storage space for some vendors, and a nearly empty Shed 1 which is the hypothetical heart of the market, where local farmers hawk their wares.

And that's not even mentioning a cavernous Shed 2 that remains mostly empty despite the popularity of Pecan Lodge and the city's $3 million investment; the market's relative isolation from downtown thanks to acres of warehouses and parking lots; and the fact that pedestrians have to dodge cars while shopping for produce thanks the roads that inexplicably bisect the sheds.

All of which goes some way toward explaining how the city has lost $3.7 million over the past six years on the market, according to the Morning News.

OK, so the city sucks at running the Farmers Market. Whose Who's going to do it better?That would be the Farmers Market Group, the blandly named consortium of mostly local food/real estate/entertainment types who submitted the winning bid to take over the market.

The lead developer is Spectrum Properties (the company behind downtown's Third Rail Lofts) which has enlisted a slew of fairly big Dallas names: Restaurateur Janet Cobb is part of the group in charge of operations and programming; chef Kent Rathbun is one of two "farm coordinators." Six Flags Over Texas scion/promoter Angus Wynne III will handle entertainment; The Richards Group will do advertising and branding; Good Fulton and Farrell is in charge of design.

What's the plan?At the heart of the redevelopment is a renewed focus on local produce. Shed 1 will be renovated to double the number of stalls for area farmers and "re-oriented for pedestrian use," meaning no more cars. Meanwhile, Sheds 3 (dominated by produce wholesalers peddling non-local fruits and vegetables) and 4 (currently unused) will be demolished, replaced by a mixed-use development featuring 240 apartments and ground-level retail.

In Shed 2, the plan is to upgrade the building in hopes of attracting more local restaurants and specialty food vendors who will make the place less empty. In the same spirit, there will be a beer garden on the building's north side. Directly across from Shed 2, in place of the mostly vacant buildings on Taylor Street, FMG has plans for cafes, a rooftop deck, and a band shell. As for the current administration building, that will soon double as a cooking school.

And no Farmers Market would be complete without a futsal field, which is like soccer but smaller and more obscure. It will occupy a little-used parking lot to the southeast of the market, where it will share space with a community garden.

What's in it for the city?The only piece of the Farmers Market the city will keep is Shed 1, which it will lease to FMG for $30,000 per year, plus a share of revenues, plus streets, sidewalks, and the like. The rest -- Sheds 2-4, the administration building, the remote parking area -- it will sell to Spectrum for $3.23 million.

The real benefit for the city, though, is twofold. The deal brings a $64.3 million development (a quarter will be reimbursed via the Farmers Market TIF) to an ignored corner of downtown that has only recently begun to show signs of revitalization. It also puts a large, potentially valuable chunk of land onto the tax rolls, since it will be in private, not city hands. Kind of a no-brainer.

The sale is slated to be finalized on July 1, with Shed 1 renovations slated to begin in October. All the improvements are scheduled for completion by the end of 2015.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson