DOAG: Farmers Give Input on Hartford Regional Market Redesign

This article appeared in the May 28, 2014 edition of the Ag Report.


Farmers Give Input on Hartford Regional Market Redesign

By Steve Jensen, Office of DoAg Cmsr. Steven K. Reviczky

 

They want more space to sell their products, perhaps a bigger roof over their heads and more ways to attract farmers and customers.

 

That was the broad consensus voiced by a group of producers at a presentation last week of DoAg’s proposed redesign of the Hartford Regional Market. And according to the man leading the design effort, the plan is to provide all of that and much more.

 

“We want to showcase Connecticut food and agriculture,” said Ted Spitzer, president of the Market Ventures firm that is heading the planning efforts. “We’re looking to increase the number of farmers who participate in the market and increase the retail sales that they make.”

 

Spitzer pointed out that the plan calls for bigger outdoor stalls and construction of a larger open-sided “shed” that could accommodate 105 farmers under its roof. At 23,000 square feet, the new shed would provide nearly triple the space of the existing one.

 

“If it was about the same price (as an outdoor stall) I’d absolutely go under the shed,” said Becky Jones, a Farmington beekeeper and honey producer who attended the meeting with her husband and business partner, Ted.

 

A portion of the shed also could be equipped with garage-type doors to accommodate an indoor winter market.

 

All of the producers at the meeting, held in the Market’s conference room, are veteran tenants of the farmer’s market that has been a centerpiece of the facility for decades. Many of their questions and comments centered on planned changes to the selling area.

 

“We need more space to get our products out there on display,” said Luke Zapadka of Woodland Gardens in Manchester.

 

“Every stall will be bigger than they are right now,” replied Hugh Boyd, a design architect on Spitzer’s team, adding that electric power and water service also will be available.

 

The meeting was called to discuss the completion of the master plan’s development and design phase. Five Connecticut farmers who sell at the market also sit on the project’s steering committee, which has provided ongoing input.

 

A separate meeting was held with the year-round tenants of the Market’s wholesale warehouses and processing facilities, which would be greatly expanded under the plan.

  

The plan calls for all buildings on the 32-acre site to be demolished and replaced. Work would be done in phases to minimize disruption to the tenants, ensuring that businesses will be able to operate throughout the multi-year construction.

 

“No one will be put out of business as the transition happens,” Spitzer said.

 

Increasing efforts to draw more customers was also suggested by several at the meeting.

 

“There’s a lot of competition now,” said Ted Jones, mentioning a few popular big-box stores, as well as the nearly 140 local farmers’ markets across the state.

 

Spitzer replied: “We need to do more marketing and outreach and we have to have the staff to do that.”

 

The master plan suggests an appropriate level of increased staffing covering a broad spectrum of management, marketing and maintenance.

 

Other highlights of the plan include:

  • A new multi-use building that will house an expanded restaurant, as well as space for retail sales, offices and educational programs. The building also could be rented for special events such as weddings and conferences. Expanded and reorganized public parking.
  • A new public entrance and a public bus stop off Reserve Road.
  • Creating a “service hub” to provide farmers convenient access to farm-support information and organizations.
  • Expanding the Market’s role in providing fresh food to residents of Hartford and surrounding communities.
  • Improved storm water drainage and sanitation facilities.
  • A shared commercial kitchen that could be used by tenants, regional farmers or entrepreneurs.
  • Enhancing promotional signs visible from nearby highways.

Spitzer said the new market will incorporate elements of successful markets in South Carolina; Rochester, New York; Grand Rapids and Detroit, Michigan; and even the largest market in the world, Farmer’s Square at Rungis Market in Paris.

 

“We want this rebuild to take us into the next century,” he said. “All the trends in Connecticut farming are moving in the right direction – we just need the facility to accommodate that.”

 

The master plan is a joint project between DoAg, the state Dept. of Administrative Services and the Connecticut Marketing Authority.

“The current facilities were designed and constructed in the 1940s and 50s,” DoAg Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said. “We are looking to revolutionize the regional market by creating state-of-the-art facilities that will grow jobs and Connecticut farms.”

 

The final phase of Spitzer’s report, expected this summer, will encompass construction cost estimates and funding sources, as well as an economic impact analysis.