Farmers’ Market expansion decision on hold until November

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A decision on whether to expand the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market footprint is on hold for at least two months.

City Council members on Tuesday agreed to table a proposal to close Center Street during the Saturday market.

The measure would fully close the downtown square to vehicular traffic during the most popular day of the market. City officials said as the market continues to draw large crowds, it’s important to provide a safe and enjoyable pedestrian experience for market patrons.

Aside from increased safety, closing Center Street would open nearly 7,000 square feet of space for market vendors and pedestrians, and would connect with an additional 10,700 square feet including Arvest Plaza and the sidewalks on the north side of the road.

Chuck Rutherford, board president of the market, said while the board is in favor of the proposal, there are some market members who are opposed to closing Center Street.

Mayor Jordan said he’s also heard from several members who told him they don’t want to see the street closed.

Competition between vendors is the sticking point, they said.

The market uses a sales-based point system to determine the order in which vendors can choose their booth locations each year.

Rutherford said the four street corner spaces are always chosen first, but after that, it’s Center Street which fills up before any of the other three streets. He said the shade trees on the north side of the square make for a more pleasant experience for both vendors and market goers, which typically leads to more foot traffic in that area. With the potential for more space on Center Street, some vendors are worried their sales will continue to lack in comparison to those on the north side.

Rutherford said there were similar concerns amongst vendors when Block Street was closed to traffic in 2013. When asked how that expansion eventually played out, he said there are still mixed feelings about the decision.

“You hear from both sides,” he said. “Some vendors say their sales improved, while others say they’ve dropped.”

Rutherford said the full membership of the market is scheduled to vote on the proposal at the next market meeting in mid-November. He asked the council to hold off on its decision until after that vote.

Council member Matthew Petty, who led the charge for closing Block Avenue six years ago, said he understands the concerns of the vendors, but the congestion on Center Street creates a safety issue that’s only getting worse with time.

“If you’re a fan of the Farmers’ Market you’ve probably noticed there are a lot of people walking back and forth across Center Street today,” said Petty. “I think it would be wise for us to close that safety gap relatively quickly.”

Council members Sarah Marsh and Sloan Scroggin agreed, and said they’d prefer to vote as soon as possible.

“Safety first,” said Marsh.

The council voted 5-3 to table the discussion. Marsh, Scroggin and council member Kyle Smith voted against tabling. Council member Sarah Bunch had to leave the meeting shortly before the discussion and did not vote. Mayor Jordan cast the fifth vote needed to table the issue. He said he promised several market vendors he would try to hold off on a decision until after the market members could vote.

The council will revisit the proposal on Nov. 19.