City commits to market

Published 4:00 pm Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The contract to build a sheltered market, to be located on Main Street adjacent to Johnson’s Funeral Home will be a structure of wood with a metal roof.

Dan Howe, Downtown Franklin Association executive director, likened the structure to that built in Atkinson Park, across Second Avenue from City Hall.

The successful bid was for $82,000 by Bell-Mkejia of Ashland and will be paid for through a grant from the Camp Foundations.

The pavilion will also be equipped with lighting, and built so that customers can walk through the middle of the structure and visit vendors on either side.

Vendors will be able to back their vehicles beneath the overhang.

The downtown market is part of the Downtown Flood Recovery Master Plan created after Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

The bid is to build a 38-foot by 67-foot pavilion with a concrete floor.

The pavilion could be completed before the end of the year, with a possible grand opening slated for the spring, Howe said.

“We’re very excited about this,” said Mayor Jim Councill.

Howe said he has 600 signatures on petitions from people who are “very excited about having a downtown market.”

Now that the bidding process is complete, Howe said the next step is to establish a set of rules and procedures to manage the market.

“We’ll have rules” to put in place, Howe said, “but we have a lot of outlines” from other markets from which to draw.

He said a part-time volunteer management team might be put in place to oversee the operations, including officials of the DFA.

Among the other rules to be established include what items — particularly non-food selections — can be included.

On component of the project being accepted by the city council, Howe said, was the presentation of “an acceptable management plan.”

Another factor Howe said is crucial to formulating a successful market is working with sellers who have been setting up shop in the Armory Drive parking lot of the Virginia National Guard Armory. They have voiced their concerns to the city council about moving to an area they said offers light foot traffic, which could potentially mean reduced sales.

Farmer William “Winkie” Howell and his wife, Patricia, earlier this month presented council members with a petition signed by 125 people who want the market to stay where it is. The Howells said they have “more petitions to be signed.”

They cited people who walk to the current site and their clientele’s familiarity with the current location as reasons to stay put.

Patricia said, “About 15 years ago, a farmers’ market was tried in the (public safety building) parking lot across from Fred’s, and (vendors) saw a great decrease in income.

“That’s why it moved back to its current location.”

But on Tuesday, Howell said he and his fellow sellers are “going on downtown, to try to make it better.”

Howell said much of the success will also rely on advertising the market and its new location.

“I don’t need just one person” shopping at the new site, he said, “I need everybody.”

He said he also fears the city levying a tax on sales. He said he’s unsure whether the market can bear that surcharge.

“We’re dealing with a lot of poor people, including myself,” he said.

The ideal plan, Howe said, is to draw from the successes enjoyed at some of the other markets that have been researched.

“I think it’s a combination” of what has worked well in other localities. “I want to be flexible enough to see what works.”

Howe said the plan, if coordinated with other services through the Franklin area, can provide transportation to the market, and can “guarantee” 500 people in downtown on Thursdays during the summer when the We Be Jammin’ concert series is held.

Howell, on the other hand, said “You can’t tell when farmers are going to have their stuff” and need to be open through the week, and all year long, to be successful..

“We want to work with them,” Howe said of the Armory Drive vendors. ”We haven’t etched the rules in stone.”S