Modernizing the market: New features and higher rent at the WNC Farmers Market

Modern times: The agriculture department has released a master plan for the WNC Farmers Market calling for everything from LED fixtures and improved signage to a new brewpub, outdoor dining and increased rent for businesses leasing space from the state-run facility. Photo by Carrie Eidson

The N.C Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has released a master plan for the Western North Carolina Farmers Market, covering future business and development operations for the facility.

“The master plan addresses the future of food in Western North Carolina,” says market manager Doug Sutton. “It’s a project for the farmers, the consumers and the region.”

The Brevard Road market opened in 1977 and is one of four farmers markets owned by the state of North Carolina and operated by the state agricultural department. The market’s 36-acre-parcel includes the retail market, as well as the land that holds Jesse Israel and Sons Garden Center, the Moose Café, wholesale market operations and NCDA&CS administrative offices.

The new master plan is intended to guide management at the WNC market over the next 20 years, while serving as a guide for future investments in the facility.

“This plan takes a very frank look at the market,” says Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “The [WNC] market is almost 40 years old, and this comprehensive study will help us modernize and set a path for the future.

“In this region, there is a huge amount of interest in buying locally grown food,” Troxler continues. “We need to make sure the market’s facilities can continue to meet that demand.”

The consultant team that assembled the master plan was led by Market Ventures, Inc. of Portland, Maine and supported by Architectural Design Studio of Asheville, which served as a local subconsultant. Market Ventures began the planning process late last year with guidance from a local steering committee and input from vendors, local officials and the public. Market Ventures’ findings identified a number of weaknesses at the market, including declining sales and an overemphasis on marketing to tourists.  The study also noted a lack of regionally specific products and on-premise dining options as limitations.

“Over the almost 40-year life of the market many things have changed, including the expectations of customers and the needs of sellers,” notes Kent Yelverton, director of property and construction division at NCDA&CS. “Customers today want to know where their food is grown.  Sellers today require the infrastructure necessary to meet food safety requirements.”

Yelverton says that plan was guided by five goals: increase the efficiency of wholesaling; enhance the retail experience to attract more local consumers and visitors; highlight and support North Carolina farmers and encourage sales of regionally grown and produced foods; upgrade facilities to modern standards; and allow phased implementation and minimize disruption to operations. The plan also identified three core audiences who will remain in the market’s focus as it transitions into the future: local consumers who are have higher incomes and are more likely to be “foodies;” local consumers from low-income households who receive government assistance such as WIC and SNAP; and tourists.

In terms of the physical structure of the facility, the plan calls for upgrades such as LED fixtures, improved signage and new landscaping. The plan also suggests new features including an event center, an outdoor seating area for the Moose Café, a “dining terrace” at the end of the retail building and a restaurant and brewpub within the facility.

While the plan has the potential to create some buzz, its full realization would call for hefty increases in rent for the businesses on the market’s parcel.  Jesse Israel and Sons would see the rent of their garden center increase by threefold and tenants in the wholesale building would see their rent nearly double. Xpress reached out to Jesse Irsrael and Sons for comment but did not receive a response as of print time.

The plan will be completed in phases over 20 years at an estimated cost of $37 million. Projects will be implemented as funding becomes available, and Yelverton says some changes could be expected to roll out within the next 12 months. However, large capital projects may take longer to become a reality.  “There is currently no dedicated funding available to implement recommendations in the masterplan,” Yelverton notes.

The full plan can be reviewed at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website.

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About Josh O'Conner
Josh O’Conner is an urban/land use planner with a passion for urban agriculture. He can be reached at @kalepiracy or @joshoconner on Twitter or e-mailed at josh.oconner@gmail.com.

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