An out-of-town consultant and national expert in farmers’ markets recommended Monday that the Overland Park Farmers’ Market move to the nearby Santa Fe Commons Park.
But residents at a community forum swiftly reacted, mostly negatively, to that idea.
“I think it would be a crying shame to move it out of downtown Overland Park,” Cyndy Crimmins O’Rourke of Lenexa said in endorsing the existing market site at 7950 Marty St. “I think it would be horrible to move it from that location.”
O’Rourke and others said the current market helps sustain the downtown merchants. Many at the forum favored some type of improvements where it is. They questioned how the market would change the park’s character, and how the park would provide sufficient market parking.
Doug Johnson, a manager with the city’s planning and development department, hastened to assure the crowd of about 60 people that no decisions have been made and that four key options identified by the Portland, Maine-based Market Ventures consulting firm are still on the table.
Those options range from modest maintenance upgrades at the existing market, to completely rebuilding on the current site, to constructing a new facility at the park about two blocks south of the current location.
Johnson said the city wanted consultant Ted Spitzer’s top recommendation, which is the park site.
“But I don’t think that limits this discussion,” Johnson said.
Costs of the four options vary widely, and no funding source has yet been identified within the Overland Park city budget. There also isn’t any specific timeline for the improvements, although Johnson said the city council will be briefed in early 2018 about the consultant’s extensive findings.
“There’s really no guarantee anything will happen,” Johnson said, although he noted any changes need a roadmap, which the consultant’s study provides.
Spitzer, president of Market Ventures, emphasized that the Overland Park farmers’ market “starts from a place of strength,” is highly successful, and is projected to continue to grow. But that poses a challenge, he said, because of the facility’s shortcomings.
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.
▪ 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 northeast corner 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.
Sally Riley of Overland Park questioned why moving the park was the top recommendation.
“You endorsed something that’s the most controversial,” she told Spitzer.
He responded that along with other advantages, it would allow the current market to function while the new facility is being built. But he conceded parking at the park could be a challenge, which might be addressed by a proposed office development garage nearby, although that proposal remains uncertain.
Johnson said there’s no perfect solution, and all four options are considered viable. So he said the process now will to be to seek community consensus, to determine the best choice.