Gateway Farmers Market will have to overcome hurdles if it is to reopen

— The city council is considering re-opening the once fledging Gateway Farmers Market near the East Gateway neighborhood.

The market, located in the 1200 block of Cleveland Street near Cleveland Plaza, did not reopen last year after city economic development officials opted to not commit money after a state grant ran out.

In addition, conflicts arose when local business owners in Cleveland Plaza at Cleveland Street and Missouri Avenue complained that market patrons were taking their customers’ parking spaces on their busiest day of the week despite being directed to other nearby lots. An idea to hire off-duty police officers to deter people from parking wasn’t affordable or particularly desirable.

A director at Nature’s Food Patch told the St. Petersburg Tribune last year that their sales went down 8 percent during market season.

So when the market’s management staff asked the city’s Downtown Development Board for $15,000 to bring the market back last year, the owners of the Cleveland Plaza and Nature’s Food Patch objected. Finding no workable solution, the board decided to cancel the event.

According to city records, the market attracted 15,800 visitors in 2012-2013 and was subsidized by the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and the Pinellas County Health Department.

During Monday’s work session, councilman Jay Polglaze said that while he was among those who withdrew support for the market, he’s had a change of heart and now supports the re-opening of the multicultural market.

“If leadership of the community steps onboard to work with the city, the market could be a success,” he said.

According to city staff, officials from the Pinellas County Health Department are in the process of applying for grant monies that could be used to help offset the start-up costs for the market and the non-profit organization, Volunteers of America, expressed strong interest in managing and overseeing the market’s operation.

Although it’s unknown how much the city may need to contribute to the start-up, a feasibility study conducted by city staff called for a city subsidy of $20,000-to-$30,000.

Mayor George Cretekos raised concern that a subsidy would establish a precedent that would cause organizers of other community farmers’ markets to seek financial support from the city.

Council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito voiced complete support to bring the market back and will do whatever she can do to advocate and support it.

Council member Hoyt Hamilton supports it as well, saying it would be prudent to relocate the market further east, an area with a more concentrated population that shop the market.

Rod Irwin, Assistant City Manager for Economic Development, suggested that before the city commits to reopening the market “we need to have a lot more discussions on the budget.” And understand how much the county will fund the market as well as understand the level of commitment by the Volunteers of America.

City Manager Bill Horne suggested that the city will need to re-approach the owners of Nature’s Food Patch regarding the site of the market which they previously opposed in the past.

“We really had some pretty direct and terse conversations with them about that (market site)…honestly I don’t think they have any interest in any competition with their business,” said Horne. “I think that’s what motivated them to oppose it.”

In the end, the council directed staff to meet with county officials and concerned parties to determine costs, logistics and funding expectations and then report findings back at a later date.

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