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Major renovations on display for Soulard Market

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 28, 2012 - The city unveiled a master plan for renovations to Soulard Market on Wednesday. The city hopes the renovations will create a vibrant shopping market that will attract more local shoppers and produce more revenue for vendors. Changes will be made to market operations, management, tenant mix, hours of operation, parking and the structure.

Under the city's plan, the market would be open year round on Thursdays through Sundays. It now runs Wednesdays through Saturdays. The new tenant mix would bring in more farmers and prepared food vendors, whereas many of the vendors now get their wares from produce row. During the summer, a regional farmers-only market would be on the plaza outside the market. Improvements in parking would also be made.

Gary Bess, director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry, said the plan was created with input from the public, with the city giving customers and vendors surveys to see what needs to be improved.

"Soulard Market and Park make up a gem in our city," Bess told the 200-plus people who attended the open house. "The City of St. Louis is proud to present the results of extensive evaluation of the market and our plans for improvements and making it a destination for locals and visitors alike."

Bess said this was the last public meeting the city was having before sending the proposal to the City Planning Commission. Attendees could offer their opinions in a survey at the open house.

Vendors air concerns

Dan Wright has been a full-time vendor at the market for four years. He and his wife sell natural soaps, spices and flowers at their booth, Heaven Sent Home Spun. Wright said the market definitely needs improvements to the structure, and that he says will bring more crowds.

"You cannot eat better or cheaper than Soulard Market," Wright said.

He said he believes there will be a lot of "yelling and screaming" among vendors because they won't want to change, and those who don't will leave the market. Wright said he was concerned about how the renovatns would affect the vendors. He also said opening the Market on Sunday would be difficult for many vendors since it is their only day off. However, he said if people show up he will be there.

Sharon Wiszkon, a fourth generation vendor at the Market, is unhappy with the new plans.

"I just don't understand how this works," she said.

She said there should have been more input from the vendors and the city should have shared the plans with the vendors before opening them to the public. Wiszkon said if the city proceeds this way it will hurt business.

She said she is also worried the renovations will take away from the historic atmosphere of Soulard and turn it into a grocery store.

As for being open on Sunday, Wiszkon said it would just stretch the customers out over the two days and would not increase business.

Not all vendors are unhappy. Pete Sharamitaro, who worked at the market for 42 years, now works at the Soulard Florist with his daughter Jean Waters. He says he loves the plans, and the changes should have been made years ago. The only change he dislikes is the change in hours.

"Sunday is the day we're supposed to go to church," he said.

However, he said if they open on Sunday he will be at the market.

Bess said there is a chance of rent increasing, but he said he believes the changes will increase revenue for the vendors.

According to the city, rent prices are now very low, which provides disincentives for vendors to be open during the week. The lack of vendors discourages customers. Under the new plan, rent would be set based on location, type of vendor, day of the week and season of the year.

Three phases

The plan is divided into three phases. Phase one is estimated to cost $3.5 million-$4 million and would include improvements in public rights of way, structural repairs to the vendor areas, plumbing, fire alarms, trash enclosures and improved graphics and signage to make it easier for shoppers to navigate between farmers and resellers.

Funding for the total $14 million-$16 million project would come from a Parks Bond Issue, future parks tax, grants and private donations.

Bess said he hopes that by the winter of 2013 plans and designs will be in progress and renovations will begin in the summer or fall.

To view the plans presented at the open house visit www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/parks/soulard

To share your opinion on the plans visit www.vandivergroup.com/SoulardOpenHouse.html before July 9.