By Roxie Hammill
It would be a move of only about 700 feet, but a consultant’s recommendation to relocate the Overland Park Farmers’ Market has alarmed people who live in the downtown neighborhood.
Moving the popular market from its covered pavilion at 7950 Marty Street to Santa Fe Commons Park about two blocks to the south may be controversial, but it was the top choice of the four options explored by Market Ventures, Inc., said presenter Ted Spitzer. The company was hired to study expansion options for the market.
The consultant liked the park option because of the flexibility of park space and relatively low cost. Unlike two other options, the city would not have to buy property or disrupt the market’s selling season.
But many of the around 40 people who showed up at a meeting Monday night at the Matt Ross Community Center were having none of it.
Sandra Campbell, who lives within view of the park, worried about the loss of a quiet space for residents of the Santa Fe Towers, a high-rise for seniors adjacent to the park.
“It is a well utilized and a very peaceful, calm walking space for the seniors who live right next to it,” she said, adding that she felt the plan was “kind of kicking those old people out of the park.”
Several people from the immediate neighborhood were particularly concerned about parking. The addition of Farmers’ Market customers on Saturdays could mean more cars lining their narrow streets, they said.
“There’s just not enough parking in downtown as it is today for the shops that we do have. There’s not enough parking for the employees,” said Theresa Benson, who lives across the street from the park. She said she’d prefer the city build a multi-level parking garage to solve the parking shortage downtown.
City looks to address physical limitations of current site
The city commissioned the study to find ways to expand the market and to address some of the physical limitations in the pavilion built in 1991. Shoppers and vendors now must deal with sloping pavement, drainage issues and lack of electrical capacity to meet increasing needs. Also, there’s no enclosed space to keep out rain or accommodate other kinds of events.
Nevertheless, the market has grown in popularity and revenue each of the past five years, with attendance of 190,000 visitors projected for next year. So city leaders also want to find a way to make room available for more vendors and parking. The current market has 54 stalls, but there is a waiting list of around 20 vendors for the peak season.
Although the consultant favored the move, three other options are also on the table. The least expensive, at $250,000 would upgrade the current site, the most expensive at an estimated $17 million would rebuild the market at the current site, with a level, partially enclosed space above underground parking. Another idea, at $6 million, reconfigures the market to face Marty Street. Moving to Santa Fe Commons is estimated to cost $5 million but will also require park improvements.
Besides cost, the options all have unique problems that make them unpopular with different groups, Spitzer said. Rebuilding on the current site, for example, means that the market would have to be at a temporary location during construction, and would require the city to buy a nearby car wash. On the other hand, moving it south makes downtown merchants unhappy.
Parking issues top challenges for projects in downtown OP
Parking issues were top of the list of challenges. Five residential developments are going up downtown, and although developers are required to build one parking space for each unit, some residents may have more than one car. That will put more pressure on parking that is already tight near the market, Spitzer said.
In fact, adequate parking for the relocation to Santa Fe Commons Park is far from certain. Since that site takes shoppers farther from most downtown parking, that recommendation hinges on an agreement between the city and a developer planning office space for the corner of 81st Street and Marty Street. But Doug Johnson, of the city’s planning and development services department, said that development and any arrangement to let market shoppers use its parking on weekends, is still in the talking stages.
Cyndy O’Rourke, of Lenexa, said her family was there at the beginning of the market in 1982, when her mother decided to sell some vegetables from the family garden.
“I just think it would be a crying shame to move it out of downtown Overland Park,” she said. “The whole idea was to build back up the downtown area and to help those retailers in that area because they were struggling,” she said.
The future of the Farmers’ Market is only in the planning stages, Johnson said, and there is nothing in next year’s budget to carry out any of the recommendations. Any final decision would be made by the city council, which probably will discuss it early next year, he said.
“I think all of us realize what a gem we have in the Farmers’ Market. And we certainly don’t want to do anything that would ruin such an important community asset. But nothing stays static for very long,” Johnson said. “You can’t rest on your laurels for very long.”