When Press staff writer David Floyd reported last week that the Johnson City Farmers Market organizers were considering alternate locations for the market because of the high fees to rent the downtown Pavilion, we were puzzled.
Apparently, this season the city began charging the market $150 per half-day — a discounted nonprofit rate — in accordance with the city’s fee structure for the rental of downtown facilities.
Originally, under the Johnson City Development Authority’s management, the farmers market paid $1 a year for the facility. The fee rose to $125 a month last year to cover costs the city said it incurred for cleanup and setup.
It’s strange that the city’s recent actions may price the farmers market out of The Pavilion, because the city built the downtown facility as a permanent home for the farmers market.
Ten years ago, city leaders named creating a permanent, open-air home for the market, which then resided under portable canopies in the Cherry Street parking lot, as a key component of downtown revitalization.
From then until shortly before The Pavilion opened in 2016 — the first event there was a meet and greet with farmers market vendors — city officials referred to the project being designed and built next to Founders Park as “the farmers market.”
The building was built in part with the market in mind, allowing farmers to back their trucks and vans into parking spaces and sell their produce to visitors protected from the sun and rain by a roof.
Some city leaders now seem unconcerned that what was once considered a key component to the downtown area’s future might leave after the 15,600% fee increase in the last two years.
City Manager Pete Peterson and Mayor Joe Wise both told the Press that they believed $150 per day was a reasonable price.
Wise, making the unrealistic assumption that every single vendor spot at the market would be filled every week from spring to fall, said the fee would only cost $3 or $4 from each $12 vendor fee.
“Only” a third of all incoming funding on the busiest days?
Cities host farmers markets not because they generate revenue, but because they are quality of life amenities.
They provide residents with fresh, low-cost produce, they give growers secondary outlets to sell their wares, and they bring needed foot traffic from potential customers to local businesses.
Sometime in the last decade, city administrators forgot about these benefits and started thinking about ways to squeeze money from this downtown fixture.
-The Johnson City Press