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HACKETT: In praise of transparency

If you have stopped here with any frequency over the past year, you have undoubtedly read me whining about transparency and openness.

If you have stopped here with any frequency over the past year, you have undoubtedly read me whining about transparency and openness.

Leadership and boldness have also entered the mix, as well as compassion and honesty.

And I have to applaud the City of Red Deer for what I hope is a strong attempt at all of the above.

Ahead of Monday’s council meeting, the city released a breadth of information about public land use for the Public Market.

City council will be discussing whether or not to allow a license for the private business, aka the Public Market, to operate its market on public lands.

Of course, it’s not nearly as cut and dry as that, as the city points out.

The Public Market has operated in the city for more than 50 years and is a “beloved amenity in our community.” Its deep ties to the community surely make it a hot-button issue, as surely many regular market goers appreciate its central location and wide open set up. Those are both major sticking points for the market operators, for what it’s worth.

On top of a press release outlining some of the key issues in this debate, the city also released a two-page FAQ sheet, detailing many of the questions both the community and stakeholders might have about the issue. This is a fantastic resource in the name of transparency and honesty, laying out the debate clearly and in valuable enough detail for citizens to digest.

At the forefront is the curling club and Servus Arena – the Public Market is hosted in these facilities’ parking lot every Saturday between Victoria Day and Thanksgiving.

“The main challenge is the inability for the City of Red Deer and Red Deer Curling Club to fully capitalize on revenue-generating opportunities through event hosting and facility rentals without access to parking areas on Saturdays during market hours,” a portion of the backgrounder Q and A reads.

“The operation of the market impacts the south parking lots of Servus Arena and Pidherney Centre from approximately 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Saturday during market season. There are 20 to 22 markets in a regular season.”

That’s about as honest as it gets. One of our facilities is losing out on revenue because of this privately owned business that we have previously awarded a license, but we don’t want it where it is anymore.

Can’t get any more transparent than that. The city even says it’s willing to offer a special event permit in a location they prefer, which I imagine those who operate the market won’t be happy about.

The city says they prefer the downtown for the market and the city believes that “new areas have been developed that would support the weekly market.” Again, the market owners vehemently disagree with that and I certainly understand their perspective.

Reading that last quote, you have to believe the city has pegged Capstone as its preferred location for the market, given all its down to promote and revitalize that area. I’m not sure that will be a fit, but it’s easy to see why the city would want to pursue that direction.

You move one of your most beloved events to an area in which you are actively trying to grow and develop.

This whole situation obviously leaves the city between a rock and a hard place. They want the market, they believe in the market. I’ve seen the mayor and other councillors there on countless occasions. They clearly know what it means to the community.

But they also have a city to run and to miss out on opportunities because the market occupies the parking space of their buildings is not financially viable.

Because I’m not a city planner or administrator, I’m not sure if it would work but I’m sure it’s being considered because let’s face it, there are not that many places downtown where 100-plus vendors can set up shop and not be completely disruptive of life around it.

The Gary W. Harris Celebration Plaza is one of those places, but of course, parking and space would be a serious issue. A few rib fest events were held there before the COVID-19 pandemic, so there is somewhat of an outline of what an event in that space might look like. But parking would be a HUGE issue in that space.

The market, at its peak last year had about 100 vendors, down from its typical 200 pre-pandemic. That’s a significant change but any growth for the market would likely be stifled by a move to the celebration plaza.

Patrick Moffat, the market operator, sees potential in using the Memorial Centre parking lot, where the market was located while Servus Arena was under construction. My sense is the city won’t be as big a fan of that as the other two locations.

The city claims they’ve done a lot of “targeted” consultation on the issue. Stakeholders looped into the discussion include Red Deer Curling Club, Red Deer Minor Hockey Commission, Red Deer Tennis Club, Parkvale Community Association, Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery, Golden Circle Senior Resource Centre, Red Deer Children’s Festival, Norwegian Laft Hus, Baymont Inn & Suites, and Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.

I will say that’s a strong list, but I will note that the Downtown Business Association, which spoke out when news first arrived about a potential move of the market, is not on that list. That’s not to say they weren’t involved in discussions, only that they have a huge stake in the market and its success downtown. I hope they can be part of a production resolution in all of this too. Of course, the market, which has operated as an integral part of this community for more than 50 years, can’t die on the vine if a move has the potential to do that.

It seems the city is acutely aware that a move could be a disaster for the market. They are in a tight spot on this one, trying to thread the needle between public interest and community prosperity.

They need to show some gusto on this one– some pride and passion about a viable solution that will satisfy as many parties as possible.

Be bold.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

Byron has been the sports reporter at the advocate since December of 2016. He likes to spend his time in cold hockey arenas accompanied by luke warm, watered down coffee.
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