Year-round public market still viable?

A Red Deer group committed to seeing a year-round public market is downplaying a new report suggesting the city isn’t large enough to maintain one.

Elaine Williams of Innisfail Growers makes an exchange with a customer at her stall at the Downtown Market in the parking lot where the Arlington Hotel was located.

Elaine Williams of Innisfail Growers makes an exchange with a customer at her stall at the Downtown Market in the parking lot where the Arlington Hotel was located.

A Red Deer group committed to seeing a year-round public market is downplaying a new report suggesting the city isn’t large enough to maintain one.

The Commercial Market Opportunities Study, done by Coriolis Consulting Corp. of Vancouver, said that it does not see an opportunity for a public market as is suggested in City of Red Deer plans.

The consultants say they have extensive experience with public markets and lists various examples of them, including Vancouver’s Granville Island, which offers a number of day vendors, from fine art to hats, home decor and prepared foods. The West Coast location also supplies a farmer’s market of fresh, locally grown produce through summer and fall. Also listed was the Forks Market in Winnipeg, St. Lawrence Market in Toronto and ByWard Market in Ottawa.

“In our view, Red Deer’s trade area is not large enough or sufficiently densely developed to be viable for a full-time specialty food market,” says the report.

During his presentation to city council this week, Coriolis Consulting president Jay Wollenberg said a public market normally means a food retail place running 12 months a year, six days a week, with widely diverse retailers. It’s not a farmer’s market, he noted.

He said public markets work reasonably well in affluent areas where people can walk to them. “I don’t think you’d have the high numbers to support it,” he said.

Paul Harris, a downtown businessman who is part of a grassroots group wanting a year-round public market, disagreed with Wollenberg’s evaluation of Red Deer’s potential.

Harris said the market wouldn’t just have food, but products like art. Artist studios, including a Red Deer College glass blowing studio, could be set up. “The big need here is an arts market, as well as a food market,” said Harris, a candidate for city councillor this fall. “When communities organize, we have to let them be organic about it. If we give them the opportunity, we can see how it will all come together.”

The community doesn’t want a year-round flea market, he added.

Red Deer’s longtime public market runs Saturdays outside from May through October. In June, the Downtown Business Association spearheaded a seasonal market on Wednesday nights. An indoor market did run for a while out of a downtown building but shut down.

City documents, including the Greater Downtown Action Plan, suggest setting up a year-round market in an area west of Taylor Drive called Riverlands. This proposed mixed-used district would support culture, entertainment and public get-togethers. One possible market site is the old bus barns.

“When the Riverlands area is built up, it will have lots of (high density residential) which is important to make a market work,” Harris said.

It’s viable now because there’s enough interest in getting one started, Harris added.

Harris said a core group of six will research other communities and hold another public meeting soon.

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