Updated July 23, 2019 with comments from Grossmont Center
By Miriam Raftery
July 22, 2019 (La Mesa) – At tomorrow night’s 6 p.m. meeting, the La Mesa City Council is expected to decide on the future of the city’s farmer’s market, following a rift in the community over the market’s location and who should run the popular event.
The city received four proposals, but one applicant, the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce, has withdrawn its bid and endorsed a proposal submitted by Grossmont Center. “The Chamber is all about serving our members and our community and that is why we took this path,” Chamber President and CEO Mary England told ECM in an email tonight.
In a memo sent to the Mayor and Council on July 17, England praised the proposal by Grossmont Center, owned by the Cushman family, to donate proceeds to benefit La Mesa-based charities.
Grossmont would commit $200,000 a year to run the city’s market as a nonprofit on Fridays at the regional shopping mall, in addition to a Wednesday farmer’s market that Grossmont Center was already planning on launching starting this week. England also cited the mall’s parking, option to move the market into a parking garage during rain, and Grossmont’s experience running 50 events or so each year as reasons for her support.
"We just want to present a solution for the city of La Mesa, looking out for the best interests of the community," Grossmont Center's marketing director, Trevor Moore, told ECM. He says most markets charge farmers 10-15% of retail sales, but Grossmont will cap that at 8% and donate 100% of proceeds to a different La Mesa-based charity each month. "We want to make it affordable for farmers to participate and also help support local nonprofits by having people come out and get fresh, local produce...and keep all that money in La Mesa," Moore adds. The market would be located in the parking lot near Claim Jumper and the Walmart Garden Center.
The Chamber’s own proposal had called for promoting businesses throughout La Mesa during the Farmer’s Market downtown, rather than limiting promotion to only one part of town.
The city staff report dated July 23 recommends that the La Mesa Village Association, which currently operates the downtown market on Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m., be allowed to continue it for one year at the same downtown location and time, in conjunction with Brian’s Farmer’s Market, though July 31, 2020.
The fourth bid, submitted by Brian Beever at Brian’s Farmers Market, would have his company manage the market on its own.
Staff notes that after moving the city’s market from the civic center on Alison Avenue to La Mesa Blvd. downtown in May 2018, a survey taken in November 2018 found that 73% of businesses downtown supported the new location and 27% opposed it, saying they lost significant business on Fridays. The downtown market has also been popular with many residents.
Representatives of all four organizations with proposals were invited to interview before an independent panel of experts including the operator of the Lemon Grove Certified Farmer’s Market, Poway’s community services manager, and the executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association.
All ranked the proposals by the LMVA and Brian’s highest due to Brian Beever’s expertise in running farmer’s markets, but found positives in each of the plans.
The LMVA proposal would reduce the number of hot food booths to minimize competition for restaurants.
The seeds were sewn at the last Council meeting to potentially keep the market downtown, when Councilmembers voted to approve having staff prepare recommendations to create a Village Enhancement Fund that will use $40,000 in revenues from parking meters and parking permits in the Village to help fund new, fun events to draw people into the village. The goal is to help boost business, especially for those merchants negatively impacted by having the farmers market downtown on Friday nights, including several restaurants.
But ultimately the decision on which plan to approve will be up to the City Council, which split 3-2 earlier this year in voting to put the farmer's market out for competitive bids.