Thursday, March 13, 2014

ON THE AVENUES: I’ll take “Farmers Market” for $108K, Alex ... or maybe I won't.

ON THE AVENUES: I’ll take “Farmers Market” for $108K, Alex ... or maybe I won't.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.


The New Albany Farmers Market is a significant, vital part of our downtown experience, and of course we support it, although we do so with appropriate qualification, namely, that the market’s permanent location should be the subject of due diligence, further study and public participation into the process.

We feel it would be mistaken to permanently anchor the market to its current location at the corner of Market and Bank, or to spend additional monies to improve it, at least until further research is conducted as to the full range of options, and more importantly, as to the future (and value) of the present street corner for infill construction.

Tails should not wag dogs. Thank you.


Earlier this week, the News and Tribune’s Daniel Suddeath reported that the downtown farmers market’s direct overlord, Develop New Albany, is demanding its $300,000 cut for a build-out and permanent improvements, and by God, DNA wants it all, and wants it right now.

The property is owned by the city, but the farmers market is operated by Develop New Albany, and the lead organizer is Susan Kaempfer. “It’s our preference that we move forward with the improvements to the existing farmers market and get that done as quickly as possible so we can utilize it,” she said Tuesday.

Toward this end, Kaempfer raised the ante by threatening – gasp – to instigate political participation.

Kaempfer said the farmers market has dramatically helped downtown businesses, and added that some vendors and local business owners likely will attend next week’s council meeting to voice their support for it.

DNA and politics? That’s a can of worms seldom spotted for sale at the downtown farmers market, but of course the farmers market is all about politics, especially money, and as such, what are the limits to DNA’s role in lobbying for additional lucre to fund it?

Bear in mind that what’s at stake is DNA’s own organizational fixation with supposed limits on political participation, as defined thusly: “We can’t get involved with politics, unless we do … and then we get to decide what this means, and when, and how.”

You’ll sooner see city ordinances written in Sanskrit than glimpse any pattern to DNA’s purportedly apolitical mandate.

Anyone got a Ouija board?

Once upon a time, we begged DNA – after all, it’s our Main Street organization – to take a position on the Ohio River Bridges Project, but it begged off amid a blizzard of bureaucratese, pointing to its non-profit status as absolutely precluding political involvement of any sort.

Now we’re rightly examining options for coping with what DNA said it couldn’t be bothered to consider.

How very civic of it.

No politics for DNA … okay, except when it came to the $15 million parking garage sought by Mainland Properties as collateral to borrow money it didn’t have to build condos it couldn’t build, the entirety of a “plan” comprising an epic real estate pyramid scheme that fortunately collapsed long before the city lost its financing shirt, and all the while, DNA was openly and enthusiastically involved in the political process, in favor.

What about street grid changes as they pertain to two-way streets?

DNA quickly retreated to its non-profit institutional exclusion, and apart from polls and personal cheerleading, mostly has managed to keep its distance. However, DNA lobbied incessantly on behalf of the controversial East Main Street Improvement Project with no such qualms, perhaps owing to a far too literal interpretation of “Main Street” organization, and the fact that it was someone else’s money, anyway.

Hmm. Maybe there is a pattern, after all. If you can spot any semblance of consistency to these positions, climb atop one of the many Main Street tree stumps and scream in the general direction of Pinocchio.

On and on it goes, and where it stops … actually, where it stops should be right now, and who should stop it is Mayor Jeff Gahan and his City Hall team. It turns out that Thursday, March 20, is important for two reasons.


There is a city council meeting, and as we’ve seen, Kaempfer and DNA propose to erect an Elsby-sized straw man to frighten shoppers, mobilize market vendors and supporters, and emotionally insinuate that the market’s very existence is threatened by contentious intellectuals with the temerity to suggest that the market should fit in the context of an overall downtown development plan, and not the other way around.

But earlier next Thursday morning, there is a scheduled meeting of downtown stakeholders, to include DNA, NA 1st, the embryonic food and drink association, and Clean and Green (among others). The meeting has been called by the city, and it is intended as another step toward organization and unification.

That’s wonderful. I’m for it. I fully believe city office holders when they talk of their interest in rowing uniformly in a particular direction. It’s what I want, too.

But if DNA continues to insist that it occupies a special position, inside and outside simultaneously, spinning its wheel on whim, playing the role of 800-lb gorilla, picking and choosing when it deigns to be political and when it doesn’t, and as yet displaying not a jot of past organizational performance suggesting the acumen to play a leading role – enough is enough.

DNA needs clarification. Immediately. Why is it, what is it, and do we have a choice in the matter? It’s far past time for city government to function as city government should, to refrain from the good-cop, bad-cop, passive refereeing between factions, and decide once and for all what role DNA is to play, if any.

I fail to understand why Susan Kaempfer and DNA should be the ones to decide when it comes to the city mortgaging its future prospects at the corner of Bank and Market, without first exploring all the redevelopment options. The farmers market is important, but temporary by its very nature, functioning only at certain times. Meanwhile, downtown is filled with daily bricks and mortar, year-round.

To me, the latter trumps the former ... every day.

I fail to see any transparency behind the council’s appropriation of monies for the farmers market build-out, and I fail to grasp why the money must be spent immediately. Stick it in savings, and draw some interest. If the market is jam-packed in summer in its current configuration, it is successful. If a vendor leaves, won’t another come to replace it? What’s the imperative, and why the hurry? As I stated yesterday, the farmers market is city property, and it consequently "belongs" to us all. Let’s take our time, and get it right.

And, remember: Paybacks can be Hell. They need to stop. Mr. Gahan, please lance this boil.


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