(pictured above: This market for farmers and other vendors is slated to open soon.)
The city constructed two covered shelters at 1551 Liberty St. for the market last fall.
Liberty CDC President Jim Shaw said the project began when Ruben Gonzalez, the city’s now retired business development project supervisor, approached him about starting a farmers’ market on Liberty Street. Shaw said both he and the CDC board loved the idea
“I was approached about how did I feel about having a farmers’ market on Liberty Street at that particular location, and I agreed that, ‘Hey, that’d be good idea,’ because the people in this section of town have to go to the fairground or someplace to get fresh fruits and vegetables,” Shaw said.
Shaw believed the market’s shelters would be built with money left from $600,000 in Revitalizing Urban Commercial Areas (RUCA) funds that the city awarded to the Liberty CDC so that it could help businessowners along the Liberty Street Corridor. He also thought the CDC would run the market once the project was up and running. But that didn’t happen.
The city solicited bids from operators to run the market. The Liberty CDC missed the bid deadline but was still invited to put in a bid, which the city didn’t except. According to the City, management consulting and professional development firm, Mercedes-Empowers, Inc., bid and will be the Vendor Market Operator (VMO) for the site. The firm is owned by Mercedes L. Miller, who is known locally as an author and motivational speaker.
Richie Brooks, who now oversees the project as the city’s Business and Community Development director, said he knows that Gonzalez had conversations with the Liberty CDC, but was unaware of what was discussed. He said he does not know of any conversations with the CDC about running the market without going through the bid process.
Brooks said the construction of the market was paid for with a federal Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) and Capital Reserves, not RUCA funds, which Shaw said he was unaware of.
Brooks said since the funds generated by the market go to the operator, who will be solely responsible for its upkeep and operations, that the decision didn’t come down to the lowest bid, but, instead, to who would run the operation best. He said Miller’s proposal addressed all the city’s concerns.
Brooks said once a fence and sign are erected, the vendors market should be open for business. He said it’ll be a place for the many outdoor vendors who are often seen in the area to come to sell their wares.
The two covered structures have fans, lights and electrical outlets. One shelter includes restrooms and heat; it has aluminum garage-like doors that can be closed so that it can operate in the winter. The shelters are surrounded by a parking lot with more than 70 spaces.
Mayor Pro Temp Vivian Burke – who represents the Northeast Ward, which includes the market – said she too was unaware of any plan for the CDC to run the market in lieu of a bidding process. She said she was pleased with the direction the city has gone and that the market will be beneficial to area street vendors.
“It’ll be a little more structured and organized, so they can go and have a good place to sell their products,” she said.
Miller said she hopes to make the market a major attraction. Each structure can hold 18 vendors, and she plans to use some of the parallel parking spots to dock food truck vendors. She said the city has gotten many inquires from a variety of vendors and expects to have no trouble filling spaces.
“There’s a list of about 22 vendors ready to go, that included local farmers, jewelry makers … so it’s a wide variety,” she said.
Shaw said the market would’ve been a great source of revenue for the CDC, which works to revitalize the heart of Liberty Street.
“Sure, we would have loved to have opened that because we think it would’ve been good for the city and for the community for the people to come and shop,” he said.
Shaw said he is still glad that community and the Liberty Street Corridor will have the market and has full faith it will be well run.