Who can save Hamilton Farmers Market?

Who wants to run the ailing Hamilton Farmers Market? At a meeting next week, the city’s subcommittee will vote to put out a call asking exactly that.
Next week, city hall will look at how the Hamilton Farmers Market is run and look at putting out a request for proposals to see who is interested in doing it. Many vendors, such as farmer Gord Williams from Waterdown, would like to see a joint board of directors with the city, stallholders and the public. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Who wants to run the Hamilton Farmers Market?

At a meeting next week, the city’s farmers market subcommittee will vote to put out a call asking exactly that.

A staff report released Thursday recommends putting out a request for proposals for private or non-profit operators for the historic market in Jackson Square.

Several vendors say that the market is at a crisis point, and needs free parking, better signage and better governance to work.

Committee members — including three councillors — will look at a report from John Hertel, Hamilton’s director of enterprise management and revenue generation. They'll debate it at a meeting on Dec. 12.

A request for interest from private operators went out last year, but the city only got one taker, Hertel’s report says. But many potential operators won’t answer such a preliminary call.

The goal is to improve market business and eliminate the annual six-figure subsidy taxpayers give the market. Last year, the subsidy was $170,000.

Hertel looked at several markets in Ontario. Only one — St. Jacob’s — is run by a private operators. Four have municipal operators, including the Ottawa Byward Market, and five have not-for-profit operators.

Hertel got input from vendors and the public on the report, and held five focus groups before compiling it.

Shane Coleman, president of the stallholders association, feels confident city hall is on board for a "hybrid" model of a non-profit board of directors including three vendors, three councillors and three members of the public. That group could then hire a market manager.

"I think that's got full support now," said Coleman, who runs the Dilly's booth.

He doesn't want to see the market privatized. Neither does Gord Williams, who's been selling produce from his family farm in Waterdown for 25 years.

"I don't think that would work," Williams said. "The place just doesn't make that much money."

If the city chooses the joint board option, "guaranteed it won't cost taxpayers the $200,000 they say they've been losing every year."

Coun. Jason Farr, Ward 2 councillor and chair of the market subcommittee, is leaning toward the board of directors model.  

"If there's one area I'm interested in more than the others, that'd be it."

Daniel Haartman lives on James North and visits the market weekly. Whatever happens, he wants the market to feel like a multicultural meeting place. This vibe, he said, is why the nearby Nations grocery store has been so successful.

"There's the potential for people to be able to make something and reconnect," he said.  

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