Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Remodeling of Roanoke’s living room continues to make vendors and farmers anxious

Mark Woods, farmer

Mark Woods, farmer

The threat by market vendors and farmers to permanently move their operations elsewhere spurred Mayor David Bowers to issue a press release last Thursday. Bowers said that he has “had it with the administration’s handling of the Market building … they’re not going elsewhere – not on my watch.”

The vendors and farmers are contemplating permanent moves to Tanglewood Mall. It has even gone as far as meeting with Tanglewood representatives from New Jersey. At Monday’s council meeting Bowers summed up the trepidation saying “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”

The Market building is scheduled for renovation beginning July 1 with architectural and engineering plans completed by April 1. The Market vendors are on a month to month lease and anxiety over the future of their businesses became emotional at the 2:00 council meeting.

The strain of the last 10-years manifested itself as Anita Wilson, co-owner of Burger in the Square with her husband Louis became tearful as she spoke to council Monday. Wilson, president of the tenants association, along with the other tenants anxiously await the fate of their businesses.

“All we ask is that you do a little more work before toppling all these businesses,” said Wilson.

Though last Thursday Bowers wanted to push any consideration for renovating the market building until after a new city manager came aboard his stance softened Monday. Assistant Manager Brian Townsend though not named “the market czar” as advocated by Bowers at the press conference was named the “go-to” person for vendors and farmers.

Mark Woods a multi-generation farmer from Boones Mill whose family has sold peaches and apples in market square as far back as the 1920s sought clarity from council and administration. He wondered how the farmers and crafts vendors would be shuffled during the Center in the Square renovations.

The market building works in concert with the farmers and by closing the market building it “takes one of the cogs out of the wheel,” said Woods.

Council decorum was set aside for discussion as Townsend explained to Woods and council how the Center in the Square renovation would be handled. The first phase on the Church street side would not disrupt the farmers at all claimed Townsend. This phase would begin in January 2010 with anticipated completion in November.

The second phase would follow requiring market square to be blocked while elevator cranes carried material to the planned fifth floor. An attempt would be made to minimize impact by delivering on Sundays.

Until Center in the Square gets the final engineering plans in January a Gantt chart of activity is on hold. Townsend felt secure in their ability to shuffle farmers as phase two progressed. The sites would be carefully choreographed to maintain continuity. Relocation sites suggested were the Church street garage, Century Plaza, and Wachovia Plaza.

City Manager Darlene Burcham said that the “staff is eager to get policy direction from council.” The current concept plan requires a twelve to eighteen month closure.

Vice-Mayor Sherman Lea had said last Thursday that “[council] has not sat down and given the city manager any direction … we’re all over the place.” A 24/7-construction schedule is what Lea would like to see. It was done with the Hotel Roanoke and Lea believes renovations of the Market Building could be completed in as little as four months with an accelerated schedule.

Councilman Court Rosen thought that a rental abatement incentive would assist the market vendors but the Director of Finance thought the cost to taxpayers could not be recouped.

Townsend compared the market building renovation to Roanoke’s living room saying it is shared space that would prevent the project from being done in phases while vendors continued in their stalls. Councilman Dave Trinkle floated the possibility of phasing in the renovation.

As the farmers and vendors sat anticipating clarity there seemed to be some relief for them. They felt Council had sent a clear message to city administration that they should maintain a continuous dialogue with farmers and vendors.

Anita Wilson when asked by Bowers what can we do to make you stay? Wilson’s voice quivered saying “we have a passion for that building … I’m a little bit tired going back and forth with city administration and different councils.” Bowers asked her to “hang in there for a little bit longer.”

Wilson thanked Bowers for sticking by the tenants and doing what he promised when he campaigned. “You’ve showed that this week and I appreciate that,” said Wilson.

Wilson was invited to attend the first briefing when the architects meet with Burcham and several council members on Friday. This will be the first look at the actual engineering plans. Townsend believed that after a review of the plans a strategy could be defined that would identify the cost and likelihood of success.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Business, Roanoke City Politics

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