Charlotte Center City Partners is backing off its request for up to $1 million in city funds to help upfit a former uptown store as a city market. Michael Smith, president of the uptown boosters' group, told me this afternoon they have "postponed" their return to the city's economic development committee to ask for the money.
Instead, he says, "We just want to be further down the road," with plans for upfitting the former Reid's Fine Foods store on Seventh Street at the Lynx light rail line (in photo, below right). The group will hear potential vendors at the market in a 4:30-6 p.m. session today, and then from the general public at a 6-7:30 p.m. public meeting and workshop tonight.
Afterward, Smith said, they'll use the information they hear to work with design firm Shook Kelly on what changes are needed to the building. (An interesting side note: When Seventh Street Station was originally being built the space that eventually became Reid's Fine Foods grocery was first designed to hold a city market.)
After coming up with the design plans – and here's the change of plans – "an organizing committee will be established to raise funds to build out the interior and exterior of the market by applying for grants from private entities, foundations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will match the private and in-kind dollars already raised," says a CCCP news release.
Whatever the gap is, between what's raised and what the upfit costs, will be what CCCP will ask the city for, Smith says.
That's a much smarter approach. I think a city market is a fine idea. But it was politically clumsy (some might say delusional, though I maybe wouldn't go that far) for CCCP to think City Council members, who got scorched earlier this year when they found $12 million to help launch a city streetcar project, would happily sprinkle $1 million big ones over a market.
As the Observer's editorial board said in a Sept. 15 editorial: "Could the market upfit happen for less than $1 million? Are other funding partners available? The city must explore those options before it plunks down a big chunk of the public's money. We'd hate to see the idea scrapped. That would be a lost opportunity. But $1 million from city taxpayers? That's going to take a lot of swallowing."
The new approach makes much more sense. The group's market consultant, David O'Neil, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture and big foundations are looking seriously at food issues and "food hubs." Further, he says, "You can spend a lot of money on these things [market buildings] and waste a lot of money."
Figure out how much you really need to do on the building – for which CCCP has procured a lease from owner Bank of America – then try to get private money and only then, if you need to, tap the public coffers. That said, it's absolutely appropriate if it's necessary for the city to kick in some money for a market. Ditto the county. Cities all over America have publicly built and- or publicly owned markets. Even little Asheboro, N.C., has a city-owned downtown market building, some Asheboro-based friends tell me. So does Hendersonville, among many other places. There's nothing odd or sinister about the idea, and a market is a great chance to help small entrepreneurs build small businesses.
But politically, right now, with schools being closed, yet more teacher layoffs looming, libraries and rec centers severely cut back, to cough up $1 million for an uptown market would go over about as well as the Ebola virus. Smart move, CCCP, to retrench and restrategize.
Photo credits: Tommie Hagood inspected produce in July at the Historic West End Market on Beatties Ford Road. DIEDRA LAIRD/CHARLOTTE OBSERVER
Reid's building: DAVIE HINSHAW/CHARLOTTE OBSERVER