Keep the Farmers Market right where it belongs

Why gamble with the future of the Farmers Market Oceanside, the wildly popular market that for nearly a decade has been drawing more and more people on Saturday mornings to the heart of the island’s beachside shopping district?

Moving the entire Farmers Market – which during season spans Ocean Drive with about 60 vendors, a success story not even dreamed of a decade ago – out of its winter home, pushing everyone onto the sidewalks and walkways of Humiston Park, isn’t going to solve Vero’s parking problem in the Central Beach business district.

Why mess with something that has become part of the fabric of Vero Beach – something that enhances our quality of life, something that adds to the seaside, small-town charm of our community?

At best, moving the market out of the city-owned lot on Ocean Drive will make the parking situation better for a couple of hours, one day a week, and only in the immediate vicinity.

It would do nothing to discourage employees of the Ocean Drive hotels and restaurants from parking on the street, where they occupy many of the increasingly insufficient number of spaces needed by merchants throughout the business day.

It would provide no relief to Ocean Drive merchants whose shops are north of Beachland Boulevard.

Even in the Humiston area, it would not free up enough parking spaces for a long-enough period of time – and for enough days of the week – to make a noticeable dent in the beachside parking shortage.

So why bother?

Why jeopardize the Oceanside Business Association’s sponsoring of the monthly Sunset Saturday free concerts, Vero Beach Christmas Parade, retailers’ sidewalk sales and decorative banners on the light poles along Ocean Drive and Beachland Boulevard, all of which is funded by revenues generated by the Farmers Market?

Any possible reward isn’t worth the risk.

“Take the Farmers Market out of the parking lot and, yeah, it’s in jeopardy,” said Al Benkert, OBA treasurer and vice president of events. “And some other things are in jeopardy, too. The money for the parades and the concerts and the banners? That has to come from some place.”

Benkert said the OBA was caught off-guard two weeks ago, when members of the City Council discussed the possibility of removing the market from the lot as a way to address the parking shortage in the Central Beach business district.

The issue wasn’t on the meeting’s agenda and no vote was taken, but, the next day, City Manager Jim O’Connor called OBA president Georgia Irish and told her the council wanted to move the market out of the lot.

“Apparently, they’ve decided to do this, spur of the moment, without bothering to study the viability of the park,” Benkert said. “Is it even feasible? I don’t believe it is, at least not without modifications to the park.

“We probably haven’t stated that as strongly as we need to.”

Without the parking lot, Benkert explained, the sidewalks would become overcrowded and the walkways in the park aren’t wide enough to accommodate the large number of in-season market goers.

According to Benkert, the market typically has about half again as many vendors during the winter as it does during the slower summer months, when the parking lot isn’t needed – and the OBA regularly turns away would-be vendors because there’s not enough room to add tents.

If the city forces the market out of the lot, Benkert said, there would not be room on the sidewalk for the seasonal increase in vendors. “And we’d have a very tough time putting 20-plus vendors in the park,” he added.

Even if there were room for those vendors, Benkert said getting their vehicles into Humiston to unload merchandise would be difficult and the incline of the park grounds might be too challenging for some shoppers.

“The city would have to design ways to provide access and add some walkways,” he said. “I’m willing to listen if they want to show me how it can be done.”

In the meantime, the OBA responded to O’Connor’s call with an online petition to “Save The Vero Beach Farmers Market Oceanside.” As of last weekend, the change.org post had garnered more than 4,300 signatures.

Benkert said the OBA would present that petition at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, which he hoped would attract a large crowd opposed to moving the market out of the parking lot.

“Without those 20-something additional vendors who come in for the season, we’d be in financial trouble,” Benkert said. “I’ve looked at the numbers, and they tell me, ‘This is not going to be good.’

“Could we continue with the market?” he added. “We’d try to, but I think we’d have a very hard time making it work.”

For what it’s worth, the City Council members who proposed moving the market – Lange Sykes and Val Zudans, with the support of Mayor Harry Howle – are merely responding to a never-ending chorus of justifiable complaints from Ocean Drive merchants whose businesses are being hurt by the beachside parking shortage.

Unlike past councils that were all too willing to tolerate the status quo, this group appears to be serious about tackling the issue, which has no obvious or easy solution. At least these folks are thinking, talking, trying.

But this isn’t the answer.

Worse, it’s a bad idea, one that deserves no further discussion and should be given no more consideration, because it doesn’t solve the problem.

Surely, upon further reflection, this City Council possesses the wisdom to see that moving the Farmers Market doesn’t really accomplish anything meaningful – that it does far more harm than good.

Some Central Beach merchants might disagree, arguing that the market exacerbates the in-season parking nightmare along Ocean Drive. And they’re not wrong.

But the market runs from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, and its impact on beachside parking can be felt mostly during the final two hours. Again, we’re talking about two hours of one morning each week.

That’s a minor inconvenience to endure for something that does so much good in so many ways – something that helps make this community such a special place to live.

You want to keep Vero Vero?

Keep the Farmers Market Oceanside where it belongs.

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