Tompkins Weekly

Ithaca Farmer’s Market planning upgrades

The Ithaca Farmer’s Market (IFM) knows how much you hate trying to park in its lot, so the IFM wants to fix it. The market board has started the process of securing funding to redesign and reconstruct the parking lot, and the pavilion itself, to make shopping at the market easier and more enjoyable.

The outdoor market at Steamboat Landing has been a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. On a sunny summer Saturday the parking lot is packed to the brim with people ready to grab a bite or shop the local vendors’ tables in the pavilion. But over the years, the market has been hearing from area residents that the crowded and inaccessible parking situation is making them less likely to keep coming back.

“The market has a mission to serve a wide variety of people; the locals and tourists,” said IFM board president David Stern. “It’s become obvious that it’s become limited by its infrastructure.”

As it is now, the market is not easily accessible for people with disabilities and can be hard to navigate for families with strollers. This lack of accessibility was one of the most common concerns that both market vendors and market attendees have noted to the IFM in a survey done in 2015.

The market’s success has come with a price; it’s outgrowing its infrastructure. Now, with development on the waterfront making headlines and filling in the spaces around the pavilion, the IFM wants to invest in its future with some upgrades.

“So, the question was, what is the farmer’s market going to do in response to all this development activity?” Stern said. “We met with those developers several times – and will continue to meet with them – and to them the market is a selling point for their development.”

On the upside, because the market is a selling point for waterfront development Stern said they don’t feel like the market will be squeezed out. But on the other hand, they do expect that there will be more demand put on the market when nearby development is complete.

“It became obvious that the easiest problem to solve, in respect to infrastructure, unless it’s just working around the edges and little things, is the parking lot,” Stern said, explaining that the market gets letters every year from attendees unhappy with the parking situation. “It’s relatively easy to knock-off a parking project, as opposed to a whole new building, or set of buildings.”

The IFM has put in a grant proposal to a state program for the funds to start designing and engineering the new lot next year. From there, Stern said the market hopes to gather the funds for the new lot in 2021. Estimates for the parking lot project land somewhere around $700,000 to $1 million. Many of the vendors and board members will likely be able to do some of the construction themselves, helping to keep costs down. Much of the original pavilion was also built by the market vendors and board members, a tradition of community ownership that will be maintained this time around as well.
While the design stage hasn’t officially started, Stern said the market has already started discussing some of the things the new lot could have to address the concerns of vendors and attendees. A drop-off space, electric car chargers, pavement, and lot lines are all aspects of the new lot that the IFM knows that it wants.

For the pavilion, Stern said the market has a grant proposal in with Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD) for funds to do a feasibility study. While there have already been some very preliminary visioning of a new or renovated space, a real study would take into account so much more.

“This feasibility study would be much more engaged with the community, with the neighbors, and of course with our customers and vendors as to what kinds of things we could do with the site,” Stern said. “What are the possibilities and the limitations with the site?”

Winterization of at least a portion of the site would be one of the main goals. With a brand-new parking lot, Stern said the market wants to be using it year-round. Being usable all year long will soon become a necessity, as The Space at Greenstar will not be an option for the winter market for much longer as it has been sold.

“We want to have better event space,” Stern said. “Right now, there’s a lot of weddings at the pavilion but we can offer more to the community, in terms of events, and there’s many other possibilities for partnerships with various people of the community to educate people about food, or farming, or crafts, or whatever it is.”

The market is an incubator for local businesses and with the redesign Stern said the IFM wants to make sure it’s maximizing the opportunities it can offer to help local vendors and businesses get started, grow, and find success. But, maintaining the history and culture of the market, which has become such a staple of the community, is important to the board and the vendors.

The feasibility study will cost around $10,000, but the cost of the project will depend on what the market decides to do. Stern said it will likely be a few million dollars, but is optimistic that with the support of the City of Ithaca, the market vendors, and the community, the IFM will find the money.

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