City solicits bids for redevelopment of Dallas Farmers Market
Thursday March 22, 2012
Dallas Morning News – By Rudolph Bush
The historic Dallas Farmers Market could undergo a radical redevelopment with a City Hall plan that aims to entice investors into taking a chance on the 13-acre site.
The city’s long-awaited request for proposals, which City Hall posted to a website Thursday, throws open a wide range of possibilities for a market that is beloved by many but operates perpetually in the red.
For example, outdoor produce sheds could be pulled down and replaced with housing and retail developments, even as portions of the market are retained for use by the produce vendors, boutique store owners and other small-business owners who have long been the market’s heart.
“The successful applicant will recognize the historic importance of the Dallas Farmers Market and set out a program to preserve the Market for future generations, while adapting to changes in the market and competitive forces,” the bid proposal reads.
City Hall expects to select a winning bid in August. Officials did not respond to interview requests Thursday.
The proposal is the latest attempt by the city to come to grips with challenges at the Farmers Market. In 2010, City Manager Mary Suhm sought to privatize its operations but received no acceptable bids to operate it in its present form.
The market has consistently relied on city subsidies to keep it afloat — more than $280,000 so far this fiscal year. Vendors and other small-business owners have long complained that erratic management and haphazard investment from City Hall have made conditions increasingly difficult.
The request for bids from prospective investors makes it clear the city is ready to cut direct ties with the market’s operation.
“The City’s preference is for a private entity to manage the Dallas Farmers Market, but is open to continuation of public management of all or some aspects,” the proposal reads.
No more subsidies
Either way, there won’t be any more operating subsidies coming from City Hall.
“Under any operating plan, there should be no expectation that there will be any funds available from the City to offset any ongoing operating losses,” the plan states.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be additional investment by City Hall.
Over the years, voters have approved millions in bond funds to invest in the market. About $5.5 million remains unspent. That could be used to redevelop public facilities.
But only two of the many public buildings on the market’s property would need to stay under the city’s plan.
That would be the administration building and Shed 2 — the only enclosed shed of the four at the market.
Shed 2 was built with the hope it would help revive the market with boutique stores and restaurants. Though it is home to some good and successful small businesses, the shed has been a disappointment that sees few customers on all but the busiest days.
The plan laid out by the city could see more vendors pushed into Shed 2 because the successful bidder will be permitted to reduce vendor space 40 percent — from 100,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet. Shed 2 is 27,000 square feet.
Overall, the plan seeks to preserve the market’s historical significance — and capitalize on it.
“The successful applicant should develop a vision for the site that creates a ‘destination’ that is attractive to a large cross-section of market segments and is family friendly,” the plan says.
The city also indicates that it is “open to potentially selling (at fair market value) the entire site except for the portion dedicated to ongoing operations.”
Word of the proposal drew mixed reaction from business owners at the market Thursday.
Quincy Brown, owner of Ain’t No Mo Butter Cakes in Shed 2, said he has received little information about the city’s plan, but he’s worried.
“I believe Dallas Farmers Market is a historic part of Dallas, and it would be preposterous to just close it down. Half the people from Dallas, Texas, grew up coming to Farmers Market,” he said.
Bill Glover, owner of The Fudgemakers candy store in Shed 2, said city administrators have treated vendors poorly recently.
But a new business plan for the market could be good for everyone, he said.
“I worked for a guy named Ross Perot for 20 years, and I take a business approach to it. I do not have a problem with reducing the footprint of the market as long as that mixed-use isn’t another homeless shelter,” Glover said.
Many vendors and others at the market point to the city’s construction of the nearby Bridge homeless shelter as a downward turning point.
Some have concerns
Tanya Ragan, who manages property near the market, has the same concerns.
The Bridge, and plans to convert high-rises into permanent supportive housing for the homeless, are the biggest obstacles to the market area’s growth, she believes.
But she praised the proposal laid out by the city as a step forward.
“They got it as close to right as they could. … I think it is a fabulous opportunity for the right developer and for an experienced urban public market operator,” she wrote in an e-mail.
The city drafted its plan with input from the CityDesign Studio, a city office dedicated to sound urban design.
The group’s influence can be seen through much of the proposal.
It signals the city’s commitment to maintaining Pearl Street as a public plaza closed to cars. Some vendors complain the street should be opened to let traffic flow better through the market. But many users of the market enjoy the pedestrian plaza outside Shed 2 as a place for children and families to gather.
The plan also calls for pocket parks and tot lots as desirable additions.
And, overall, there is an interest in seeing the market become more closely linked with nearby townhome developments.
“The overall intent is for the Farmers Market to be the heart and defining landmark of this neighborhood,” the proposal states.
AT A GLANCE
The city’s request for proposals to operate the Dallas Farmers Market asks for a five-year plan that turns the market into “the heart and defining landmark” on the southeastern side of downtown. Some of what the request mandates:
RESPECT FOR HISTORY: According to the request, “the successful applicant will recognize the historic importance of the Dallas Farmers Market.” “It is the hope of the City that the historical uniqueness of the public marketplace can be incorporated into the final branding and marketing plan,” the plan says.
SITE PLAN: The request requires a site plan that retains at least 60,000 square feet of vendor space. It now has about 100,000 square feet. A reduction is not required, however. The city expresses a desire for streetscape improvements, public gathering spots, pocket parks and playgrounds.
ALTERATIONS: The city mandates that the physical structure of Shed 2 not be changed, although its use may be modified. “The configuration of all other physical elements of the property, including Sheds 1, 3 and 4 may be altered.”
NO FUTURE FUNDS: Potential developers are told not to expect “that there will be any funds available from the city to offset any ongoing operating losses.”
BOND MONEY: About $5.5 million in bond money may be used for the redevelopment, though that spending is subject to the city bidding process.
FOR SALE: The plan says the city “is also open to potentially selling (at fair market value) the entire site except for the portion dedicated to ongoing operations of the Dallas Farmers Market and privatizing market operations.”
SOURCE: City of Dallas