Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Good Idea For City Market Vendors

City Market Building (above) and Councilman David Trinkle>

A chat with Roanoke City Councilman David Trinkle during a lull at an event today turned up an interesting idea from him regarding the Roanoke City Market vendors who are feeling a pretty distinct level of anger at Roanoke these days. They've been expressing their strong disapproval of the city's plans to shut down the building in order to do a major renovation, effectively closing their businesses for a year to a year and a half.

They have good reason to be mad because this has not been handled as well as it could have been and the city has made mistake after mistake in its approach to major market renovations and even closing the building because of an infestation of mice.

Fact is, though, that this renovation is at the heart of any future the City Market has as an economic driver for downtown. With all the development in the center of the city, the Market becomes more important with each different building upfit surrounding the center of the city. That's why, as important as these vendors have been in the past, they cannot be allowed to be the determining factor as we move forward.

It's hard for me to say that because I know most of the restaurateurs and eat at their businesses on a regular basis. They're good people, salt of the earth and they deserve consideration. But they can't be allowed to stop or even delay the renovation.

An option has apparently been opened to these restaurant owners by Tanglewood Mall, which, according to Roanoke's daily newspaper (whose name escapes me) would like to re-open a food court with the market vendors at the core. David suggests that if that is the case, "The city should pay their moving expenses to go to Tanglewood and, if they decide to move back to the Market Building when it re-opens, the city pays the moving expenses back."

We're talking a few thousand dollars spent and a bizillion dollars worth of good will (something in short supply these days) and public relations. This is not a solution that will negate all the ill will that has built up in recent months, but it's a good idea that should be considered strongly.


  1. I think that is a great idea. I would hate to lose those wonderful vendors and what they bring to that area. I can't be the only one that would go to the market building to eat a pressed sandwich (or something else) and inevitably end up spending money at nearby businesses.

  2. I have the utmost respect and concern for the market vendors, all 8 of them. I suggest they move to the place that they have the best chance of success, and when the Market building is completely renovated, they move back, if they choose, to continue the success they have enjoyed for the last several years.Help with moving expenses is resonable.
    Tom Anderton

  3. Things to consider - Tanglewood who would pay to set them up so I imagine there would be some lease agreement and implications if they left within a short period of time.

    The cost for build out when or if they move back is another of their expenses. Would this be part of what the city would help them with?

    Where would the money come from to move them?

  4. Val: All reasonable questions, none unworkable. The money for the move could come by cutting out 3/4 of the budget for weed-eaters, used for general mowing, and leaf-blowers, which do exactly nothing. Many, many thousands of dollars and man hours involved in those anti-environmental, wasteful activities.

  5. I think David has an idea worthy of consideration.
    Surely some time must be taken to understand the real cost of moving to wherever, including upfit requirements in temporary(?) space, and reestablishing the vendors in the market(?)
    How would that cost compare to conducting renovations to the City Market Building incrementally? What might the increments be? Half the building at a time, one quarter at a time, upstairs/downstairs, vendor-by-vendor?
    With Twists & Turns and Claire V's expression of intent to leave the market due to Center-in-the Square's intent to sell the building next summer to reduce expenses and raise money to allow the beginning of their major renovation; thoughtful consideration must be given to the implementation of these "most public" of projects in an open design lab atmosphere (as compared to another "Town Hall" format).
    The problem is arising from an obscure & archaic planning process. It is no one's fault! The confluence of an economy in a tailspin and increasing divisiveness/partisanship in our society demands change in our approach to designing, planning and building our future.

    The process needs to be transparent, flexible and responsive. Think monumentally; act incrementally. Think globally; act locally.

    Think for The Heart of Roanoke. A forum for discussion of issues like these.

    Eldon L Karr-Architect

  6. Eldon: Most excellent response, sir. Your ideas are always good. Dan

  7. City officials have made it abundantly clear for quite some time that they have no intention of renewing the current market building leases beyond 2009, yet the majority of these vendors do not appear to have made any sort of contingency plan. Call me a heartless bastard if you will, but I simply do not understand the incessant calls for subsidies. From the beginning, the dominant theme of the debate has been an unchallenged assumption that the food court vendors are somehow entitled to preferential treatment beyond the term of their lease agreements. No one seems to have a basic understanding of the fact that a lease is a contract for a specified period of time, and nothing more. When the lease expires, the relationship between tenant and landlord is terminated.

    There is no question that the food court is a unique Roanoke destination, but that alone does not warrant subsidies for these small business owners. Whatever becomes of the market building, it is essential that the unique local flavor is preserved. The real questions we should be asking are to what extent are the taxpayers of Roanoke responsible for subsidizing the livelihoods of these particular vendors, and what makes these people more deserving of our generosity than any other small business owner in the city?

    The undeniable fact is that the building is in need of a complete overhaul that will require an investment of millions of taxpayer dollars. Should the taxpayers be expected to bear this expense purely for the benefit of the existing vendors? Will any of these vendors be able to afford the massive rent increases necessary to offset the renovation cost, or do they believe the city should pick up the tab without increasing their rents?

    Standing up for the little guy has a great populist ring, but let’s look at this from the point of view of all the other little guys who will be footing the bill for this project. If the city decides to pick up the tab for the renovations without passing along the cost to the vendors, doesn’t every other small business owner in Roanoke have a legitimate claim to the same sort of subsidy? If the city uses tax dollars to create a shiny new market space, shouldn’t other entrepreneurs have an opportunity to compete for that space at true market rates?

  8. Chris,
    I agree that the City is under no obligation to renew leases if the lease agreements do not delineate such an option.

    On the other hand Governments on all levels have not shown a good track record of conducting "business", profitably, in the private sector.

    The City Market Building is a public building and the conduct of public business must, necessarily, be more transparent than in the private sector.

    The questions at this point are:
    Does the City propose to continue to manage the building? Is the City intending to seek a private management company, once again? Does the City or a proposed management company already have new tenants committed? If not, why haven't negotiations for new leases already begun?

    Among all of us, City Council should already have the answer to these questions and more.

    I agree, no subsidies; however, negotiate new leases,now, yes. Who is paying for this multi-million dollar renovation? City funds have already been designated in the budget (so lease negotiations can occur). The City has reached it's debt limit. Staff and Council are already looking for additional taxes.

    I understand risk. I don't understand or appreciate deceptive or foolish business practices. In this economy, I don't believe City residents want to bail out their government again. Nor do I think adding additional consumer tax burdens is cultivating economic growth.

    We must insist on spending the money we do have, wisely.

  9. I proposed a win-win solution to this problem on my own blog over a year ago, but apparently the dozen or so folks who read it didn't have much influence with the City.

    The City of Roanoke owns the parking garage on Church Avenue, and the building is already in the midst of a renovation that will convert the lower level to retail space. The square footage that is planned for retail conversion is approximately equal to the size of the existing food court and could easily serve as a new permanent home for the existing Market Building vendors. The structure is within site of the Market Building, and the location would be just as accessible for downtown workers and tourists.

    Locating a major attraction on Church Avenue would also serve the purpose of extending the market area and drawing visitors into other parts of downtown. This was a major objective spelled out in the 2006 City Market Plan by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

    There have been numerous proposals put forth involving temporary relocation for these vendors, but the people making these suggestions clearly have no idea of what is involved. Any food service establishment, be it large or small, requires substantial infrastructure investment in exhaust hoods and fire suppression systems. These installations typically costs tens of thousands of dollars, and once in place cannot simply be packed up and moved to another location.

  10. Chris and Eldon: You boys keep talking. You're both making a lot of sense, asking great questions and I think some people are listening. Dan

  11. I think Chris makes a great point about the Church Ave. garage - any efforts to spread downtown activity around instead of just centering on the Campbel/Market intersection would be beneficial.

    Chris also makes a good point about subsidizing the existing vendors that I hadn't considered. I can understand the impetus to protect the existing vendors - they have been a foundation of that building and Downtown commercial life for quite a while, and it doesn't feel fair to kick them out. Then again, I'm not sure that "feel" and "fair" are the appropriate words here - this is a business enterprise, after all. I seem to recall, too, that there have been efforts to get the existing Market vendors to stay open later into the evening to offer a low-cost alternative to some of the pricier downtown dining, an effort they have (I believe) resisted. It would be a shame to spend millions renovating the new building only to have it remain a largely lunchtime venue.

  12. Jeremy, (ridesolutions)
    In a typical multi-tenant retail setting, it is the landlord and not the tenants who dictates the hours of operation. In the unlikely event that these vendors actually make the move to Tanglewood, they will be required to keep the same hours as every other store in the mall. Any new leases for the renovated market building should stipulate extended evening and weekend hours. In order for the taxpayers to benefit from the cost of renovations, the building needs to be open 7 days a week, and until at least 8:00 PM.

  13. Man, I'll tell you what! You guys get rolling on a topic and there's no slowing you down. To paraphrase Anotnio Salieri evaluating Mozart's music: "Too many words!"

  14. You're right about to wordy morefront, but, we not journalists.
    Yet your are correct in that, unfortunately, the attention span of a lot of our audience is very short.

    Just makes it harder.