The Red Deer Public Market has been given three months to find a new location after Red Deer city council voted not to renew its lease in the Servus Arena/Pidherney Centre parking lot for this upcoming season.
Operator Patrick Moffat said he was “severely disappointed” that councillors voted 5-4 to give him just 87 days to find another location.
He noted that the market that traditionally opens on the Victoria Day weekend has been a beloved public gathering place and economic boon to Red Deer for 50 years.
The Red Deer Curling Club successfully petitioned the city to make it move. Club officials had complained that the vendor stalls restricted access to their Pidherney Centre and obstructed plans to turn it into a year-round event centre.
“We will find a new space,” said Moffat, after watching the council meeting on video. For many citizens of Red Deer, going to the market is a social event, “a culture, and ideology,” added the operator, who described long-time vendors and customers as a family.
But he believes finding a new location will not be easy. Neither of the alternatives city administrators suggested — in front of the city’s culture centre (former Central Intermediate school) or in Capstone — are possible without creating traffic jams or raising complaints from nearby businesses and residents, added Moffat, who still hopes a walkable and centrally located site can be found.
Councillors Bruce Buruma, Michael Dawe, Cindy Jefferies and Dianne Wyntjes had unsuccessfully argued the market should have one more year to continue operating in its usual city-owned parking in front of Pidherney Centre and Servus Arena — or that a mediator be hired to try to resolve differences with the Red Deer Curling Club
Dawe cautioned that forcing the market to move could cause hardship, since it’s no longer as “robust,” after a previous move to the Memorial Centre (during construction of the Servus Arena) and the COVID pandemic.
“It has nowhere near the 200 vendors that it had in the past…”
Wyntjes called forcing the move with three months notice “bad form,”and said she first wanted the city to collect feedback from market customers and vendors.
Keeping the market at its current location was supported by a lot of the nearby groups, including the Tennis Club, Golden Circle and Parkvale Community Association.
But the majority on council — Mayor Ken Johnston, Kraymer Barnstable, Victor Doerksen, Vesna Higham, and Lawrence Lee — voted along with the city’s administrative recommendation not to renew the lease for the Servus parking lot.
While Barnstable had initially put forward an amendment that would have allowed the market to stay at its usual spot for another year (he agreed that the recommended alternative locations were not ideal), he withdrew support for it after a one-year time limit was removed from the wording. “What will it accomplish?” he questioned.
Many councillors felt the market operator already had three years, since concerns were first raised in 2020, to resolve the dispute with the Red Deer Curling Club or find another location.
The term “ground-hog day” was used by several councillors, who feared being caught in the same position again next year if the market was allowed to remain in its usual location until this November and efforts weren’t made in finding a new site.
Johnston voted to not extend the parking lot lease because the city is a steward of public land and has to provide “equity” of access. He could not agree to a mediator, saying this could potentially tie the city’s hands in terms of trying to expand its own rentals of the Servus Arena.
But the mayor pledged that the city will offer Moffat whatever help he needs in marketing the new location and facilitating the move, even if it requires temporarily closing off a street to traffic.