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Town Council discusses proposed purchase of farmers market site tonight

While the Nichols Street site is commonly referred to as the ‘permanent farmers market site,’ a farmers market is only one component. The former Friday Harbor Electric site will have green space larger than the Sunken Park lawn, an outdoor performance stage, and an outdoor market area. Architect David Waldron describes it as ‘part small park and part town square.’ This rendering looks at the revitalized site from Sunshine Alley.  - Architect David Waldron
While the Nichols Street site is commonly referred to as the ‘permanent farmers market site,’ a farmers market is only one component. The former Friday Harbor Electric site will have green space larger than the Sunken Park lawn, an outdoor performance stage, and an outdoor market area. Architect David Waldron describes it as ‘part small park and part town square.’ This rendering looks at the revitalized site from Sunshine Alley.
— image credit: Architect David Waldron

The Friday Harbor Town Council discusses the proposed purchase of 150 Nichols St. for a permanent farmers market today, 5:30 p.m., in the Town Hall Council Chambers.

The meeting is open to the public.

The San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild is proposing that a permanent farmers market be located at 150 Nichols St. It's the former site of Friday Harbor Electric and, historically, was the home of the Boede Cement Co., which manufactured the cement blocks used in the construction of many downtown heritage buildings, including Town Hall.

The former Browne Lumber Co. site on Spring Street was ranked second on the list of preferred market sites, the fairgrounds third.

Proponents want the Land Bank and Town of Friday Harbor to fund the purchase of 150 Nichols St. for a multi-use site which would include an indoor and outdoor market, a commercial kitchen, a performing arts stage and a public park.

The town would contribute $375,000 in lodging tax money and would own the site; the Land Bank would contribute $400,000 and would own a historic preservation easement. The Ag Guild would lease the site from the town and sublease it to various users.

Proponents prefer the Nichols Street site because it's in the center of downtown activity; they also want to preserve the Boede Cement plant building, which is more than 100 years old, according to the town historic preservation office.

Proponents had asked the council to make a decision by Dec. 18, reportedly a deadline set by the property owner. But Ag Guild coordinator Lovel Pratt said Friday that “if we are required to ask for an extension, that would be an option.” (The property owners, Bill and Joan Erickson, are out of the area for the winter and unavailable for comment).

Questions raised by residents at a forum in November:

1. What if the state auditor determines that the project is not a “tourism-related facility” that qualifies for lodging tax money? How would the town come up with $375,000 to reimburse its lodging tax fund?

2. What if the farmers market and other ventures at the site do not generate enough revenue to pay the lease? What limitations would the Land Bank’s conservation easement put on the site being sold?

Currently, the Farmers Market Association charges farmers $10 per stall per market; arts and crafts vendors and food purveyors pay $20. That’s a total of about $530 per Saturday market during peak season.

3. How much money would it cost to restore the building? Reportedly, there has been no bid solicited. Matt Shildneck, a member of the Historic Preservation Review Board and Friday Harbor Electric employee, said he spent 10 years in the building. “It is a mess,” he said, adding, “but it’s worth saving.”

Architect David Waldron, who is also a member of the town’s Historic Preservation Review Board, estimates renovation will cost $162,000, but, according to Pratt, that doesn’t include the costs of building a commercial kitchen and commercial refrigeration.

4. What will be the project’s impacts on parking and traffic congestion? If the Ag Guild pursues historic preservation incentives for its restoration work, it will only have to provide six to nine parking spaces on site. In a one-day survey by the Farmers Market Association in 2007 revealed that 108 customers drove vehicles to the market, 21 walked, six rode bicycles. Pratt said two options are a shuttle and a “veggie valet,” where customers can drive up and pick up their purchases. Some residents expressed concern that this would contribute to traffic congestion on Nichols Street.

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