On any given Wednesday or Saturday at the height of the growing season, more and more shoppers rub shoulders in the crowds at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market, in search of the season’s best peaches, corn, tomatoes and other bounty of the land.
The market, which has operated since 1982, is rated the No. 1 farmers market in Kansas by several cooking and travel websites.
But its success comes despite its problematic facility in downtown Overland Park, according to a consultant who is recommending four improvement options, ranging from modest upgrades to a wholesale move to the nearby Santa Fe Commons Park.
“You have a gem,” consultant Ted Spitzer told the city’s Community Development Committee on Wednesday. “But there are some challenges in that facility.”
Spitzer is president of Portland, Maine-based Market Ventures, a national expert in farmers markets. His firm was hired to study remedies to the Overland Park Market’s overcrowding and pavilion shortcomings.
“It’s a terrific market but it is bursting at the seams,” Doug Johnson, a manager with the city’s planning and development department, told the committee.
Overland Park recreation supervisor Kristina Stanley, who oversees the market at 7950 Marty St., said it is having its best year since the city took it over in 2011, with 54 stalls and 170,000 visitors so far in 2017.
But it can’t add vendors or more refrigeration because its electrical system is maxed out. The market is narrow and crowded, and its unenclosed space is vulnerable to blowing rain. It has a steep slope, which impedes wheelchairs and strollers. It also has drainage problems, flooding in heavy rains, parking constraints and lacks bus service on Saturdays.
City officials and Market Ventures representatives have spent about six months studying the problem, doing interviews, surveys and focus group sessions, and looking at alternatives. Wednesday’s presentation was brief, but a more comprehensive public presentation and question-and-answer period is expected in mid-November, Johnson said.
The four improvement options:
▪ Doing modest maintenance upgrades to the pavilion to address drainage, electrical, lighting and paint. The rough cost estimate is $250,000, but this option wouldn’t allow the market to grow much or add events.
▪ Building a split-level facility on the existing site, with a parking garage on the lower level and the market on top, at the same grade as the Clock Tower. This would eliminate the slope, create more parking, and create more enclosed stalls and some storefronts on Marty Street. This would be the most expensive option, estimated at $17 million, and would require the market to move for a year during construction.
▪ Redoing the market in an L-shaped configuration, with a longer north-south shed facing Marty Street and a shorter east-west wing lining up with the Clock Tower. It would cost an estimated $6 million and would allow for more covered stalls, but would reduce parking. It would require moving the market during construction.
▪ Moving the market to Santa Fe Commons Park, at 81st and Santa Fe Drive, in a facility costing about $5 million. A site in the north part of the park would give the market more visibility while freeing up the existing market’s parking lot, Spitzer said. It would allow for many more events, provide enclosed stalls and locate the market close to a bus stop. But Spitzer acknowledged it’s a controversial proposal, especially with downtown merchants who don’t want the market to make a permanent move.
“There are a lot of differing opinions about this,” Spitzer said, adding that each option has major pros and cons.
Johnson said more information will be forthcoming about public transit options and other issues. But he said there have been no discussions yet about how to pay for any improvements.