Board of Works 10/28/13: The Farmers Market expansion plan is baaack … but at what price?


As threatened, I attended Tuesday’s weekly (10:00 a.m.) Board of Public Works and Safety meeting. During public communications time, I discussed two-way streets and the Harvest Homecoming hangover downtown. It was a good experience, and I think my presentation was solid.

Here are a few observations, which might be summarized: We’re planning to spend money on lots of stuff, none of which has to do with changing the street grid or facing up to the 800 lb orange-clad gorilla. But hey — those agendas already were written.

There is a proposal to demolish the medical office building on the corner of State and Green Valley, and replace it with a (drum roll, please) CVS Pharmacy. Whether the building design itself is the typical cinder block, windowless, annoying and anti-urban-design monstrosity scattered throughout America was not discussed; these are matters for the Board of Zoning Appeals. Rather, the Public Works portal has to do with street access and (to a lesser extent) parking.

There was no discussion of walking or biking in this context or in any other during the meeting. 

Appointments were made to a new Public Arts Right-of-Way committee, which is to advise the Board of Public Works when questions arise.

There’ll be a contract awarded to same usual design suspects for determining the historic value (if any) of buildings in the path of the next Greenway phase, which I assume to mean the boat club. ‘

There’s another contract to be awarded to the same usual design suspects for a dog park, which might be located at the old city dump, but might not. It is to include dog aquatics, seeing as $9 million for a human waterpark did not include such a feature (okay, it wasn’t stated in exactly those terms).

Permission for the man who sells Christmas trees annually at the old Farmers Market likely will be renewed.

Then there’s the newer Farmers Market, and the long dormant planned expansion. CM Baird was on hand to join David Duggins in noting that the city council has approved $275K on its 2014 budget to move this forward, and the city and same usual design suspects agree, but there was no explanation as to whether the price has come down since last this surfaced, or if there’ll be another source of funds … and I refer to this only because We Have All Been Here Before.

Here is Jeff’s post from May 13, 2011. What’s changed since then?

It’s extremely difficult to believe it would cost anywhere near $374,000 to build the proposed Farmers’ Market improvements shown in the above rendering, a good portion of which already exists. For that price, one could purchase a large downtown commercial building or a4,800 square feet, two-story brick home with five bedrooms, five bathrooms, a full basement, high quality finishes, and the land on which they sit.

Yet, in conjunction with Develop New Albany, the mayor’s office has asked the City Council to approve spending up to $400,000 for the proposed project. Have other imagined uses for leftover funds rocketed the estimate into unrealistic space? What justifications have been provided for such a bloated number? In general, what gives? If being asked to pay for it, the Council and the public deserve more objectivity and respect than they’ve yet been shown.

Despite being subjected to the usual “slap our name on it” fight for credit, the Farmers’ Market has indeed been successful and does serve important economic and social functions in the community. The importance of those functions, however, is precisely the reason the market should not be used as the centerpiece of some politicized, unexplained financial scheme.

The mayor’s office should get real, itemized estimates from multiple local contractors via a public process before moving forward. Until then, the Council and the public should treat the proposal with the same level of care and seriousness as has been afforded them, which is to say very little.