City has plan for City Market changes

Published: .
Updated: .

Some big changes are in store for a downtown landmark.

The west wing of City Market reopens Thursday following a $1.8 million renovation which will house several non-profit agencies.

The city initially planned to demolish the space, then switched gears after it was approached by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) with a reuse plan.

LISC was looking for a new neighborhood hub. The corporation supports the work of neighborhood development groups by helping with loans, grants, technical assistance and public policy.

Instead of spending money on demolition, the city agreed to put it toward the overhaul with LISC agreeing to pay all operating, utility and maintenance costs over the next five to ten years.

The renovated wing has an urban feel. In fact, it uses old farming lumber from 100-year-old houses slated for demolition.

"We wanted to creatively use and spend money on a 1970s building that was getting tired and make it vibrant again and that's similar to what we do with neighborhoods," said LISC's Bill Taft.

The space has also become the permanent home of the winter farmers market, which has used several different venues over the uses.

The historic market hall is undergoing its own transformation.

Vendor Cindy Hawkins, who opened Circle City Sweets three years ago, said, ""When I first came, the entire middle aisle was empty. There was maybe one vendor, so I've seen a lot happening."

For one, the vacancy rate is no longer hovering near 50 percent. There are just two open spaces available for lease and there and more specialty places like Chocolate for the Spirit and Brad Gates Catering and Events.

"It's kind of a foodie place. If you're serious or casual about food, everything is here," Gates said.

The market is also trying new things. Whether you call it the catacombs or the basement, City Market raised $20,000 last summer giving below ground tours. Executive Director Stevi Stoesz said, "that exceeded all expectations."

Gates, meantime, is behind the "12 Chefs of Christmas," a first-time fundraiser set for December 15. It pairs food from 12 chefs with 12 brews from Flat 12.

"It will be a lot of fun, a foodie thing, a beer drinking thing, a philanthropy thing," Gates said. "It bring people to see the whole different animal we have here."

Speaking of beer, Tomlinson Tap, on the second level, which just celebrated its two-year anniversary, is in the black and planning to expand outdoors.

Manager Kristin Knapp said they discovered that Hoosiers "like to drink beer indoors in the winter and outdoors in the summer. We found that all the places with outdoor spaces turned bigger profits in the summer."

She said plans call for the beer patio to operate off the plaza on the west side starting April 1.

Some vendors worry the changes come with a cost. Cara Dafforn's two-year lease is up July. After spending $17,000 on her space for U Relish Farms, she's not sure she can afford to stay.

"My challenge is, if rent increases dramatically, I couldn't make the margin," Dafforn said.

A few other vendors cited the same concerns, that higher rents could force them out.

Stoesz said City Market's goal is to become self-sufficient. It still relies on the city to provide a subsidy of several hundred thousand dollars a year to cover maintenance and operations.

It's hoped the changes and new offerings reduce if not eliminate the need for financial assistance.