Monday, February 18, 2013
Dallas Farmers Market is getting a facelift, going private
The plan will take two to four years to complete.
DALLAS The city of Dallas has finally revealed its plan to transform the downtown farmers market from a money-losing city-owned disappointment into a $64-million privately owned and operated destination filled with restaurants, retail, apartments, a band shell, a beer garden, miniature athletic fields, a community garden and, of course, farm-fresh produce.
The city, which has lost millions running the market, has been trying to find a private operator since 2010, but real hope didn’t take root until The Farmers Market Group submitted a proposal last May. It took nine months to seal the deal because it involves selling a majority of the market to the group spearheaded by Spectrum Properties president Brian Bergersen, developer of downtown’s Third Rail Lofts.
According to city officials and briefing documents posted below, the city will sell three of the market’s sheds and much of the surrounding property to the group for $3.2 million. That sale price is based on the fact the land will be deed-restricted to the group’s proposal for a new-and-improved market.
The city will retain a single piece of the existing market: Shed 1, where local farmers sell their produce. The group will lease the shed from the city for $30,000 annually; the city will also keep a percentage of sales from the shed. The city plans to upgrade streets and sidewalks in the area with $5.5 million in bond funds set aside for market improvements.
“I believe in this project,” says Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans, who will brief the city council Wednesday. “This development will provide growth, moving downtown southerly and easterly to help complement the growth that’s occurring on the northern side of downtown. This will anchor the southeast portion of downtown and create growth all around it — to the Cedars and perhaps even the Fair Park Area.”
Evans points to other related developments, including a plan to bring more police to the area (the Police Athletic League will move to nearby 515 Park Avenue) and one that involves moving the front entrance to The Bridge homeless recovery center away from the market.
The Farmers Market Group’s proposal will overhaul the market to the point where it won’t be recognizable in two or three years. Sheds 3 and 4, which are empty now, will be razed to make way for a 240-unit apartment complex with ground-level retail and restaurants and underground parking. The white building on Taylor Street, already owned by Spectrum, will be razed to make way for more restaurants, a band shell and a roof-top deck.
Shed 1 will change: Marketgoers will no longer be allowed to park beneath the shed, and farmers won’t be allowed to park outside the shed. Instead they’ll have a place to offload — and, if need be, refrigerate — their goods, with a remote parking lot available for farmers located behind the new development.
Shed 2 — currently an enclosed food court anchored by Pecan Lodge barbecue and La Popular Tamale House — will remain. But it’s unclear how many current tenants will remain, or how they’ll be arranged in the renovated and upgraded shed. There may even be a second level added to the space, which the briefing says will “increase usable space by 25 percent.”
The existing administration building will remain, but its use will change: The Farmers Market Group hopes to bring in a name-brand culinary institute and convert it into a cooking school. There’s also some expectation of turning some of the building into a “production studio.” Behind that will be a community garden and four fustal fields.
City documents show the total project will cost $64.3 million, with the group contributing $26.3 million in straight-up equity. The only money Bergersen’s group will get from the city is $670,000 in a Public Private Partnership Grant, as well as $15 million out of the expanded Farmers Market Tax Increment Finance District.
Because of the new plan, the TIF will now also include Dallas County, which will add $4.3 million to the pot.
As city officials point out, right now the land is off the tax rolls, and putting it in the hands of a private owner will add millions back to the city coffers over coming years. More to the point, the city will stop losing money on the market. Documents show it has lost $3.7 million over the last six fiscal years.
As far as The Farmers Market Group is concerned, that’s only because it doesn’t offer what the city wants or what downtown needs.
“There’s a huge trend nationally for farmers markets and local-grown produce and organic produce,” says Bergersen. “That’s what excited me about it.”
Bergersen counts among his partners Jay Pack, the former owner and CEO of Standard Fruit & Vegetable Co., and his wife Ruthie; Phil Cobb, co-founder of the Black-Eyed Pea restaurants, and his wife Janet, who founded Mi Piaci; and their son Blair Black. Janet Cobb has long been eying the spot, which is a shadow of a shadow of markets in Seattle, Manhattan, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
The group is partnering with Good Fulton & Farrell, which designed the new market; The Richards Group, which will market it; chef Kent Rathbun; and other well-known artists and architects. Jack Gosnell, a partner at UCR Urban, has been tasked with finding retailers.
“The market is such an anchor for Dallas,” says Bergersen. “It could be such a great amenity for the city. When you look at it, everything’s there, but it needs work and needs somebody to take it to where it needs to go. It’s the last leg on the stool in downtown. That’s the way I look at it.”
City officials hope the council will approve a master agreement with The Farmers Market Group at the February 27 council meeting, with the group taking possession of the market by July 1. But the change will not occur overnight: Tenants will have to be relocated, as will an enormous sewage pipe running beneath the market. City officials don’t expect it to be completed for two to four years, though Evans says Bergersen and his group want it done as soon as possible.
“We’re just pleased that we’re finally getting to the finish line with it, and we’re excited about the opportunity,” says the developer. “We think it’s going to be a great amenity for downtown Dallas. It’s much needed, and hasn’t been what it probably was intended to be. But with a lot of work and a lot of planning we plan on getting the farmers market to be a great thing for the city of Dallas and a great thing for downtown.”
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