The Sarasota Farmers Market plans to move some vendors from State Street to First Street, but some businesses are fighting to preserve the current layout.
Phil Pagano’s primary concern, he says, is the safety of his customers.
Pagano, executive director of the Sarasota Farmers Market, announced a notable change for the local institution earlier this week. A portion of the market — the segment south of Main Street, which includes parts of Lemon Avenue and State Street — will temporarily relocate beginning May 6 to First Street and Orange Avenue.
At least that’s what the plans are now. Pagano is motivated by the looming construction of The Mark, an 11-story, 157-unit condominium on State and Lemon.
Working with the farmers market board, Pagano determined the potential side effects of the project were too risky to keep the market in the same place.
“Nobody wanted to get any customers and vendors in harm’s way,” Pagano said.
As the decision to relocate solidified, merchants on State Street were motivated to find a way to persuade the market not to move. Business owners in the 1500 block of State Street are effusive with praise for the market and its impact on the area.
“It’s important to State Street and State Street merchants,” said Wayne Ruben, owner of the commercial space in the State Street garage. “We’ve been strong supporters of the market.”
Ruben and Tre Michel, owner of State of the Arts Gallery, tried to come up with solutions to calm Pagano’s fears. To the merchants, that effort seemed to be progressing well.
The contractor for The Mark indicated it could provide additional insurance for the market. Contractor Ernie Ritz, former chairman of the Downtown Improvement District, worked with the city to find a new power source when light poles were removed from State and Lemon.
The Mark’s developer said it would be willing to pay for taller fencing with printed windscreens to better mask the project. In total, the merchants made an eight-point list of incentives for keeping the market on State.
They hoped they had covered all their bases. In the wake of the announcement, they’re not sure what concerns Pagano still has.
“I’m perplexed as to why it’s moving,” Ruben said. “I don’t understand it. We haven’t given it a chance.”
Pagano isn’t doing this because he wants to. It’d be easier to stay on State Street, where the market has an established presence and there’s plenty of shade. But he said safety is still a pressing issue.
“Customers said to me about six months ago, ‘Why would the city even allow something to go on in front of this large construction?’” Pagano said. “You’ll have to ask them. We’re planning on doing something safe for the community temporarily.”
“I’m perplexed as to why it’s moving.” — Wayne Ruben
The day the announcement went public, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown asked Pagano if he could meet with the market’s board of directors. Brown said the city was interested in serving as a facilitator.
Because of the State Street merchants’ concerns, Brown wanted to make sure every avenue had been explored before the move actually occurred.
“We have no desire to stop the farmers market from using First Street, if that indeed is what they’re trying to do,” Brown said. “We want to be sure they’re aware of what everyone is willing to do to make sure the market can stay in their current footprint.”
Michel understands Pagano’s concerns. She felt intimidated during the construction of the State Street garage, and she knows Pagano isn’t acting in bad faith. But she wants everybody involved to at least try to see if the market can stay on State Street after May.
If the market does relocate, State Street merchants have considered holding a separate event to continue drawing people to the area. Pagano expressed concern about that idea, suggesting it could compete with his market. But Michel said their event would focus on distinct, family-friendly events like yoga and chalk drawing.
“I don’t think anyone here wants to look like we’re working against the market,” she said.
Pagano has agreed to Brown’s request: The market board will hold a public meeting March 28 at the Bayfront Community Center on Tamiami Trail.
Ruben, Michel and other State Street business owners are confident the area will remain attractive even if the market goes away. But they know the farmers market is an incredibly valuable neighbor. They’re not letting it go away without a fight.
“State Street is a destination because of the entire vibe — that makes the magic,” Michel said. “But the market is the magnet.”