Fully closed square not likely for Farmers’ Market expansion

Alan Long (left), Ward 4 alderman, discusses proposed changes to the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market laws with Ward 2 Alderman Matthew Petty during an Ordinance Review Committee tour held last month during the Saturday morning market.

Todd Gill, Flyer staff

The City Council is still trying to decide whether the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market should be allowed to expand its downtown footprint on Saturday mornings during market season.

While most aldermen are in favor of some expansion, a proposal that would close traffic on all four streets surrounding the downtown square was trimmed a bit this week.

Currently, East Avenue is the only street closed by law. Mountain Street is closed by police to ensure safety for the thousands of residents who walk between the market and the Town Center plaza during the Saturday market.

Alderman Matthew Petty has suggested adding official closure of Mountain Street, Block Avenue and Center Street to the 40-year-old policies that created the downtown event to allow the market to grow and to bring more pedestrian traffic to the surrounding businesses.

Petty said he received overwhelming support from business owners who’d be directly affected by the changes on Saturday mornings including Town & Country Shop, The Mustache Goods & Wears, Terra Tots, The Independent Denim & Essentials, Riffraff, The Fayetteville Visitor Center, Jammin’ Java and Matt Miller Studio.

There is, however, one holdout.

John Schmuecker, who owns Tim’s Pizza, has been a vocal opponent of the market for years. Petty said Schmuecker told him the market should “go away,” which echoes a statement he recently made when he told a Northwest Arkansas Times reporter that he loses money every time the market sets up shop on the parking spaces in front of his business.

Despite being outnumbered, Schmuecker has the sympathy of at least one council member.

During an Ordinance Review Committee meeting on Tuesday, Alderwoman Adella Gray said it would take a lot of convincing before she could support an expansion of the market.

“We all love the Farmer’s Market, but bigger is not always better,” said Gray, who suggested re-opening Mountain Street to traffic to free up the six parking spaces in front of Tim’s Pizza.

Council members Alan Long and Sarah Marsh urged the committee not to overvalue parking spaces that sit directly in front of the businesses.

“When those spaces are closed, customers still have free access to the Town Center parking deck and the other lots,” said Long. “It’s really not a trek.”

Marsh agreed and said while the businesses might lose some front-door parking, they’re gaining potential customers in the thousands of people walking in front of their shops and restaurants on Saturday mornings.

City Attorney Kit Williams said unless the market sees a drastic decrease in attendance, Schmuecker and Gray are probably fighting a lost battle.

“At this point, I don’t see how we can keep Mountain Street open,” said Williams. “I just don’t see how that could be safe.”

With Mountain Street already closed and unanimous business support for closing Block Avenue, the conversation turned toward Center Street.

Market officials have said although they’d welcome the opportunity to fill the northernmost side of the square with vendors and non-profit booths, an expansion to Center Street wouldn’t occur until at least 2014.

As it’s written, Petty’s proposal offers market officials the flexibility to close Center Street whenever they’re ready to expand, but Williams said he thought it might be illegal to give away the power to close public streets to a third party.

Alderman Long agreed.

“Since Center Street is not going to be utilized, I don’t feel comfortable closing that public street,” he said.

The group eventually agreed to remove Center Street from the proposal before forwarding their recommendation to the full council.

Aldermen are set to make a final vote on the issue at the next regular City Council meeting on May 7.