Story and photos by Jeff Keeling
The seed for a new Johnson City Farmers Market, complete with a roofed, open-air structure, was planted several seasons ago. Now, after several years of talking and months filled with back-and-forth over architect drawings, cost, and who should fund what portion, an actual sprout has burst from that ground.
After Thursday’s bid opening revealed an apparent low bid of less than $1.8 million, if all proceeds according to plan the site and structure adjacent to Founders Park downtown should be ready before the 2015 season opens. The market currently operates in the Cherry Street parking lot between Spring and Roan streets at State of Franklin Road.
“That’s the most wonderful news I’ve heard in a long time,” Johnson City Farmers Market Treasurer and lot manager Lori Love said Saturday morning as hundreds of customers . The market is so much looking forward to having a permanent facility, and having a cover and not have to worry about wind and dirty parking lots – that’s great news.”
The new market site downtown is adjacent to Founders Park, at the park’s east end. Its centerpiece will be a long, covered but unwalled structure with 40 drive-under vending spaces and plenty of room for additional vending.
Thursday saw architect Tom Weems, who produced drawing after drawing for consideration by city commissioners and Johnson City Development Authority (JCDA) commissioners, read out the bid results. With $1.25 million secured in tax increment financing dollars, $350,000 pledged from the city’s general fund and up to another $400,000 in TIF funds likely available, any bid below $2 million might prove acceptable to the city commission.
When all was said and done, Bristol, Va.-based Trademark of Virginia was the apparent low bidder at $1,750,750. An alternate, optional addition that all companies also bid on pushed the total to $1,776,530.
The proposal could head to the city commission for approval as early as tomorrow. A positive result there could lead to a contract signing by early September. Barring legitimate weather delays, the contractor will have 180 days to complete the project.
Johnson City Vice Mayor Clayton Stout, shopping at Saturday’s market with his family, was pleased that work might begin soon on the covered market.
“Seeing the activity and how people are really starting to utilize this area with Founders Park, standing here at what will be the former Farmers Market, I’m excited,” Stout said.
“I think it will just add another piece to the ever-growing energy down there. I’ve talked to a lot of property owners down there that are excited about it. I think it will continue to draw more people to the area.”
The site, which city commissioners selected in mid-2012, includes a parking lot bounded by West Main and Commerce streets and the Norfolk Southern rail line, as well as the land where a former Free Service Tire warehouse was razed in 2012.
“If they (commissioners) were to approve it and start in September, it could be ready as early as March,” Weems said. The market traditionally opens in mid-April, though one advantage of having a structure is the possibility of vending during colder weather.
Weems said he was happy the project appears to be moving on to its final phase.
“It’s going to be a beautiful addition to Founders Park, and when you go by the (current) farmers market on Saturday, that place is packed. We’ve got a lot invested in this and we want it to turn out very well.”