Farmers’ Market expansion to fully close the downtown square on Saturdays

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The Fayetteville Farmer’s Market has once again outgrown itself.

City Council members last month approved a proposal to fully close the downtown square during the Saturday market.

The measure was sponsored by Ward 2 Council Member Matthew Petty, who led a similar proposal that expanded the market in 2013.

The new plan means that Center Street will close between East and Block avenues on Saturdays. It had previously been open to traffic. Vehicles traveling west on Center Street from College Avenue will still be allowed to turn right on East Avenue. The change does not affect the Tuesday and Thursday markets.

Dane Eifling, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian programs coordinator, said as the market continues to draw large crowds, it’s important for the city to provide a safe and enjoyable pedestrian experience for market goers. He said constrained pedestrian space on Center Street forces congestion on the interior of the square, and car traffic volumes create conflicts for drivers as well.

Petty agreed.

“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.”

Aside from increasing safety, Eifling said closing Center Street would open nearly 7,000 square feet of new space and connect with an additional 10,700 square feet of public space including Arvest Plaza and the sidewalks on the north side of the road.

The extra space could be used for additional vendors, which market officials said would be welcomed considering there is currently a waiting list for members who’d like to set up shop on Saturdays.

The additional room could also be used for more community programming like yoga classes or children’s activities.

The idea was first proposed in September, but was put on hold after some market members expressed reservations.

Chuck Rutherford, board president of the market, said competition between vendors was a sticking point.

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 were worried their sales would 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 asked the council to hold off on its decision until the full membership could vote on the idea at its mid-November meeting.

After the market vote, Rutherford said the count was in favor of the expansion.

The council then voted unanimously to approve the proposal at its Nov. 19 meeting.

The market ended its season on the square on Nov. 23. It will return in April 2020 with full closure of the square.