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Farmers Market to rebid pavilion

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High costs led market organizers to scale back project

By John Friedlein

By JOHN FRIEDLEIN

jfriedlein@thenewsenterprise.com

ELIZABETHTOWN — As frosty fields sit idle, Hardin County Farmers Market Foundation members are planning once again to put a roof over a fair-weather home.

Local farmers — at least one of whom is displeased with the process — expected to have a pavilion this past May. But a bid came in over-budget; plans were redrawn and not all the necessary permits could be put together in time, Market Foundation Vice Chairman Larry Thomas said. Wet weather also was a factor in delaying development of the seven-acre lot at the corner of U.S. 62 and Peterson Drive.

The proposal has been scaled back.

Project leaders now are considering a laminated wood pavilion — a rectangular building that will cover vendors’ pickup trucks.

Thomas said he expects bids to go out on the project soon, maybe this week.

The earlier bid — which was for a steel structure — would have cost more than $400,000. The land cost $350,000, and the lion's share of money for the project comes from a $500,000 state grant.

A metal building is still an option, though, since the price of materials has dropped — which would be at least one benefit of having waited so long, Thomas said.

The project also will be cheaper now because it won’t cost enough to fall under a prevailing wage law, which requires higher pay for construction workers.

The plan is to have a pavilion in place by next year’s spring opening.

Thomas said he expects it will cost less than $200,000, which is within the Market Foundation’s budget. In addition to the state grant, other sources, such as the Farm Bureau, have given money to the project.

The pavilion — at least at first — will not have a restroom. Farmers want one, though, and Thomas said it is a high priority.

Growers started selling at the site this year, which gives them a permanent home after years of operating in various parking lots.

While Thomas and the market president were positive about the project and this past season’s sales, farmer Kevin Strohmeier said business at the new site was “OK” — but much less than at the previous location in the Lakeshore Plaza parking lot on North Dixie Avenue.

He said market members have not been consulted enough on the project, which he feels has been too large-scale and in a less-than-perfect location.

“In the decades before this past market season, we had been located in the heart of Elizabethtown’s shopping areas as they have evolved and had enjoyed good traffic,” he wrote in a letter e-mailed to The News-Enterprise. “Clearly such an area would have been the ideal situation for a permanent location.”

Strohmeier said in a telephone interview that most people won’t drive very far to a farmers market.

Also, at its new home, motorists driving east on U.S. 62 have only two seconds to see the market, and even then they have to look over their shoulder, Strohmeier said.

“Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd,” he said.

Also, he said the current location — which is at the entrance to an industrial park — isn’t known for its retail shopping.

Strohmeier said the reality of the new market is a “far cry” from the previous dream.

“Here it is December, the 2008 season is completed and we are about where we were over six months ago,” he wrote.

Thomas, a farmer who acts as a go-between between other producers and the Market Foundation board, said there has been no uproar among the farmers.

The foundation presented its plans to the producers, who have representatives on the board, and the location was cleared with the farmers.

Also, it makes sense to keep them happy since they rent the property from the foundation, he said.

Thomas, who sells produce such as sweet corn and blackberries, said “our business was great” at the new location. He has no figures of just how busy the market was this year, but one Saturday he counted 70 customer vehicles, he said.

The site, however, is a little bit more out of the way than members would have liked, Thomas said.

He expects growth on Ring Road eventually to bring in more traffic. And being next to the Hardin County Extension Service has been seen as another advantage.

The group also is meeting to discuss marketing. They have notified nearby factories of dates such as when corn comes in.

Al Lenardon, who has been president of the Hardin County Farmers Market for about a month, said members have been happy and hopeful about getting a building.

The location was more of an issue when gas prices were higher, he said.

As for visibility, Lenardon, who sells produce such as tomatoes and cucumbers, said once the building is up, potential customers will be better able to see the market.

And while Tuesdays and Thursdays were slower than they had been, his total sales were up over last year, he said.

John Friedlein can be reached at (270) 505-1746.