Opinion

Brickworks will benefit our entire community | Guest Column

By MARK MADSEN

I am responding to Bert and Dave Moorhouse’s guest editorial ( "Farmers market project should be up to voters, June 8 SanJuanJournal.com" ) about Friday Harbor Brickworks, the future year-round home of the San Juan Farmers’ Market and a community and tourism-related events center.

The San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild and its many supporters are thrilled to be recipients of the state capital funds that, in addition to the Land Bank’s purchase of a historic preservation and conservation easement and generous private donations, will help to make this project a reality.

While we agree that in difficult times, there are many needs and worthy places for state and local governments to invest, state capital funds can only be used for capital projects. State capital funds cannot be used to pay for ferry transportation costs or teacher salaries, however much all of us support the need for funding in these areas.

My goal in this letter is not to argue the appropriateness of including public sources of funding for the Brickworks project; this is something that individuals in our community differ on, and we will have to simply agree to disagree and express our preferences in the ballot box.

I do want to address several factual inaccuracies in the Moorhouses' guest editorial, however.

The Ag Guild is developing this property according to town code requirements – including the required curb, gutter and sidewalk improvements and the required on-site parking – the same as every other developer. We are also required by the town to build an ADA-approved bathroom inside the Brickworks site during renovations, so that we are not dependent upon the public restrooms next door, although visitors to the market are naturally welcome to use the public restrooms as well.

The Ag Guild will own the 150 Nichols St. property, and the parcel will remain on the tax rolls. The Ag Guild will pay taxes, as does every other landowner in town and on the island. We do not receive special treatment for our requirements to improve the sidewalk, provide a specified number of parking spaces; nor do we receive any special tax treatment from the town or county.

The Moorhouses' editorial is — quite simply — mistaken on the aforementioned points, and we wish to correct the record.

Despite very strong support throughout the community, some are still unhappy about the choice of location. Our choice was based upon a very simple principle: successful farmers’ markets are located in the center of commerce. While the fairgrounds location was considered, we determined that it was not ideal due to location and the lack of dedicated facilities for markets on specific days of each week.

Furthermore, while the cost of development would be significantly less (given the fact that the property and existing infrastructure is already publicly owned), the operating budget would not be sustainable given the fairgrounds' current rental fees as compared to the market’s current vendor stall fees.

While it will be a challenge to raise the necessary capital and start-up funds for the development of Brickworks on Nichols Street, it is more sustainable to raise one-time capital costs than to have ongoing operating fund-raising needs.

Farmers’ market vendors will sell their own locally produced products: San Juan County farm-raised vegetables, fruits, flowers, meats, and dairy products; seafood locally harvested and/or harvested by boats registered in San Juan County; locally prepared foods; and local, handmade arts and crafts. Markets held at Brickworks will not provide for resales or the sale of imports, and so will not compete with retail businesses in Friday Harbor who do.

Those who have concerns about the rules under which we will operate markets at the Brickworks are welcome to talk with any board member, or address the issue at an upcoming Chamber of Commerce meeting, since the Ag Guild has become a member of the Chamber of Commerce. We are happy to discuss the operating guidelines we are developing in partnership with the San Juan Island Farmers Market Association and others interested in selling at the facility.

The Ag Guild looks forward to being good neighbors with our neighboring businesses in downtown Friday Harbor. And, of course, we are proud to be developing the Brickworks, which will benefit our entire community.

— Mark Madsen is co-chairman of the Board of Directors of the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild

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