The City of Saskatoon has officially put out a tender to lease the Farmers’ Market building in Riversdale.
The facility is currently leased to, and operated by, the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market Co-operative Ltd. In its original agreement to lease the property, the co-operative outlined plans to expand the market hours over time.
That vision has only grown to three advertised full-market days. The city is ready to let someone else take a run at it.
The current lease, established in April 2017, operates wholly outside what we would typically see in a standard commercial lease.
The 13,561-square-foot facility is leased at a mere $10 per year for the entire property, with the tenancy effectively only picking up operating costs. These include utilities, maintenance, property taxes and insurance.
As the sole tenant, the Farmers’ Market Co-op charges vendors a fee to occupy a retail space within the building.
Operators tasked with “animating” building
During the original lease negotiations, the Farmers’ Market Co-op was tasked with “animating” the public building with expanded uses outside of the traditional market. It has dabbled in renting out the facility for special events when not in operation for the market, and hosting groups which align with the current vendors.
Farmer’s Market Co-op president Adithya Ramachandran, in addition to not being able to find alternative uses, claims there is insufficient interest from vendors to support increased hours.
Ramachandran said the co-op was blindsided when it was notified the city is seeking proposals for another tenancy.
The city had a number of speakers register to stand before council about the issue, with the majority urging it to keep things the way they are. Not everyone is in agreement that the status quo is working, however.
Farmers’ Market Co-op past president Barb Stefanyshn-Cote said the complete opposite when she spoke to council. Stefanyshn-Cote stated she resigned from her position a year and a half ago after her efforts to increase activity at the facility were shunned.
The Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued Oct. 31. The deadline for submissions is Dec. 14.
The RFP states the city is seeking another farmers’ market model that would operate six to seven days each week.
Council has weighted the RFP to be rated in three areas: experience (30 per cent), business plan (30 per cent) and approach (40 per cent).
Experience is pretty self-explanatory and does require the disclosure of the potential owners, members or investors.
The business plan will be judged on its creativity, innovation and feasibility.
Approach holds the most weight and relies heavily on someone finding a way to better utilize the building, while keeping with a commitment to Saskatchewan food and products.
City council will require what I consider to be extensive reporting from any tenant they contract.
Reports due quarterly and annually seem to focus on how many days the market is open, versus the number of patrons, in addition to reporting revenue.
A tenant will also be required to track how far farmers are coming from and whether that supports a 100-mile food radius.
The Farmers’ Market Co-op is not entirely discouraged by the process, however, and has stated it will be submitting a proposal to go up against other submissions.
The new lease will take effect next spring.
Give the people what they want
I am not a frequent user of the market so I ask: have you been to the Farmers’ Market recently? Would you support a model that is open every day?
Let me go out on a limb here and submit another idea.
What if the farmer’s market was allocated a reduced portion if the facility, and the remaining space was used for something else entirely?
This is a public facility and therefore we all get a say in what it could be.
Maybe the vision for the farmers’ market needs to be tweaked so it can be both sustainable and operate on a model that provides more frequent hours.
What do you think?