By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Nearly two years after Hamilton spent nearly $9 million to renovate the Hamilton Farmers Market, stallholders are complaining the problems are worse than ever.
Ron Jepson, of Jepson’s Fresh Meats, a third-generation vendor at the market, says they are nearing the breaking point, calling the entire situation a mess, as vendors talk about leaving the facility.
He said the renovations, which he acknowledged were needed to improve an aging building, also eliminate the free-flowing movements of customers, removed a needed banner identifying where the market is located, and wiped out the free parking.
He challenged councillors during the Dec. 4 general issues committee meeting there are about 10 vendor spaces open where prior to construction there was a waiting list for people to move in. Jepson said there has been some talk of other vendors possibly leaving because of the poor business. They say sales are down 50 per cent.
Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins, a member of the Hamilton Farmers Market subcommittee, remained frustrated at how the situation is evolving. Even after spending nearly $7 million to renovate the 175-year-old market in 2011, and another $2 million to relocate the market in Jackson Square during the renovations, “one of the largest investments” the city has made, there are still problems, said Collins.
“You are no further ahead with your business,” said Collins.
Jepson said there was a conflict in “vision” between what the stallholders wanted and the ideas that city staff had in store.
For instance, an outdoor market set up outside York Boulevard in front of the market entrance, that was promoted by staff stopped traffic to the market, he said. The creation of a community kitchen has only taken up space and done nothing to encourage people to the area, he said.
“It’s totally unnecessary,” said Jepson.
But Jepson said tearing down the banner that hung up onYork Boulevardmeans nobody knows where the market is located. And the free parking is essential to the market, he said. He also wanted council to freeze the stallholders’ fee increases, which councillors approved last month.
“The biggest issue is the banner,” said Jepson. “These quick fixes will keep the vendors.”
There are about 70 vendors at the market.
The banner that hung up advertising the market prior to the renovations was thrown out.
The market remains a complicated endeavor for city staff and politicians, especially since Hamilton provides on average, about a $200,000 subsidy every year.
Jepson said he wants to eventually eliminate the subsidy and make the market sustainable.
Stallholders have complained over the years about how it is managed, the rising costs for stallholders, two-way conversion ofYork Boulevard, the lack of available parking, and even how vendors are selected.
Jepson acknowledged the recent opening of Nations Fresh Foods has also affected the market’s business.
John Hertel, director of enterprise management and revenue generation, will be presenting a report to councillors in the next few weeks identifying a number of options to improve the market operations, including privatizing it, and creating a non-profit operation.
Jepson was quick to agree with the idea of keeping the city as the landlord, while the stallholders operate the facility themselves under a non-profit model.
In 2012 councillors issued a request for proposals and found only one possible organization interested in taking over the facility. Jepson said no private company would be willing to operate the market, arguing all it would be interested in is making money.
Politicians agreed to freeze the stallholders’ rates, look into providing validated parking and review how to better advertise the market.
They will debate the recommendations at their Dec. 11 council meeting.