Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston is optimistic about what 2023 will bring. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Johnston: Market decision was made with community in mind

My fellow Red Deerians, this month I want to share with you a decision that was made by Council. A decision that was very difficult for all of Council, myself included; a decision that will see the Red Deer Public Market relocated from the Service Arena and Pidherney Centre in 2023.

On Tuesday, February 21, City Council leaned into this difficult debate with a focus on community and with the knowledge that the right path forward considers our role as stewards of public lands and the need to provide equity of access.

Providing equity of access means where spaces and places in our community are meant for public gatherings, programming and events, we need to provide as much opportunity to do so as possible. The reality is, this cannot happen with the market taking over the parking areas on Saturdays for five months a year.

The Red Deer Public Market, a beloved weekend community event that runs annually from the May long weekend to October, has been serving Red Deer and area for more than 50 years. Without a doubt, all members of Council agree it is an asset to downtown and we want to continue to support the for-profit business to be successful in Red Deer, preferably in the downtown.

In previous years, City staff collaborated extensively with the owners of the public market and the curling centre to find a mutually beneficial opportunity to co-exist. Unfortunately, an agreement was not made to share the site.

As a result, City Council directed administration to allow the license agreement with the market owner to expire in fall 2021 and to explore other potential locations. Multiple viable downtown options were identified, and though City staff worked with the market owner on a change of location since January 2021, an agreement has not been reached. A temporary, one-season license was issued in 2022.

The decision by Council came on the heels of much debate about this primary challenge; the inability for the facility owners, being The City of Red Deer and the Red Deer Curling Club, to fully capitalize on revenue generating opportunities through event hosting and facility rentals without access to parking on Saturdays during market hours.

The decision to not lease the land to the Red Deer Public Market in 2023 was made for our community. It is to add value to our already incredible spaces and explore opportunities to create experiences within the Servus Arena and Pidherney Centre year-round.

I want to make it clear – the decision by Council is not a trigger to say goodbye to the public market – quite the opposite actually. This is an opportunity for us to come together as a community and support it when a new homebase is found.

The essence of the Red Deer Public Market is, and always has been, the people. It’s the owners, the vendors, the customers, and the visitors who have created this incredible space to visit each weekend during the warmer months, rain or shine.

That feeling when you arrive at the market isn’t created by the location, it’s created by the excitement as you walk, bike, ride the bus or drive downtown and take your first step into a row of vendors, see all the incredible products and smell all the exquisite food waiting for you. It’s the sound of our community coming together, laughing and talking, enjoying everything Red Deer and area has to offer. It is truly one of Red Deer’s most loved events, and Council wants to support this business and see it flourish as it moves to its new location.

Along with excitement around seeing where the market will be, we are also looking forward to what opportunities lie ahead at the Pidherney Centre with the changing landscape of large gathering spaces in Red Deer. We look forward to seeing this centre flourish over the coming years and will continue to support in its success.

Red Deer, I understand there are mixed emotions around Council’s decision relating to the market, but I know that decision is one we’ve made with the community in mind.

We look forward to supporting the Red Deer Public Market and the Red Deer Curling Club in their next chapter. We know they are both in good hands and we are excited to see new opportunities explored and achieved in our community, with our community.

Ken Johnston is the mayor of Red Deer.

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