The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has granted $175,000 for the Ann Arbor Farmers Market Infrastructure Improvement Project.
The funding, announced Feb. 26, is slated to be used to construct an improved, partially indoor market space that can operate year-round, particularly to extend the market’s open hours in the winter months. Currently, the market operates Saturdays in the winter months and Wednesdays and Saturdays May through December.
The project, which is yet to be approved by the Ann Arbor City Council, proposes a new roofed structure that features large glass panel doors that can open in the warmer months for an outside feel. The original main aisle of the market will remain the same as the new infrastructure will be constructed at what is currently a sandlot.
In a statement, the DDA board said they believed the newly renovated space will be an essential part of the community.
“It meets the mission and values of the DDA to strengthen downtown, spark increased economic activity within the Kerrytown neighborhood, cultivate a memorable sense of place and enhance walkability along north Fourth Avenue,” the board said.
David Santacroce, associate dean for experiential education and professor at the University of Michigan Law School and the chair for the Public Market Advisory Commission, said the project has been discussed for many years due to an ongoing need for a warmer space in the winter months.
“It’s been talked about forever,” Santacroce said. “It’s very inhospitable in the winter to shop there, both for customers, but also for a lot of vendors who are now in recent years growing a lot more produce during the cold months.”
Some current vendors and city residents do not believe the funding allocation is the right option for improving the farmers market. Main reasons for resistance of the new project are centered around a miscommunication of the market’s needs: The physical area around the market will lose multiple parking spots, some vendors will need to move to different locations on the site and the DDA is spending more money than is needed to achieve an improved market.
There are over 120 market vendors throughout the year at the market, according to Market Manager Sarah DeWitt. Many of those vendors want to sell year-round, she added.
However, several of the current vendors said this week that they do not believe the funding allocation is the right option for improving the farmers market.
“We don’t want (the market) winterized, what we wanted was the main aisle winterized,” said Janna Field, co-owner of Fieldfarms, a permanent vendor at the farmers market. “I went to the Toledo market last fall; they have the exact same setup as we do, but they have roll-down shutters and radiant heat and it only cost them $70,000.”
Nonetheless, despite some vendor disapproval, Santacroce said he believes the newly proposed space is important for maximizing the market’s potential.
“There’s also what we call the sandlot where the building would go. It’s not covered and not divided the way it could be because people have to bring their own tents and they only come in a certain size, so we are not maximizing the space of that area,” Santacroce said. “We want to better maximize that space so we can increase vendors, because there’s more vendors that we can’t accommodate, especially in the peak season.”
For at least some students, the heated space might make them more likely to attend in winter months, LSA junior Molly Weiss, who shops at the market, said.
“I think students will definitely take advantage of this new addition to the farmers market,” Weiss said. “For those living close to Kerrytown, the farmers market has always been such a great way to get local goods, and the winterization of the market I believe can only help the business of vendors. And students will be more likely to go.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Janna Field’s name as “Janna Fields.”