ST. PETERSBURG — Two years ago, when the Wednesday Midday Market debuted in Williams Park, its organizer ended the season four months early in order to break even.
This year, David Cellon is planning to keep the lunch market open from its debut next week through the warmer days of April.
Cellon says a groundswell of support — from monetary contributions he has received from area businesses to big crowds he has witnessed at the recent Saturday Morning Market — will make things different this time around.
"I feel pretty confident that this time we'll make it through the season," Cellon said.
It will be bigger this time, too. Where there were 25 vendors last time, now there will now be 35. Of those, 15 will offer fresh and prepared foods; the other 20 will have plants, flowers and crafts for sale, Cellon said.
Don't forget the free music, which Cellon says will be a huge draw for this lunchtime spectacle. On Nov. 5, Mayor Rick Baker is expected to attend for encore performances with local singer-songwriter Sam Stone.
The market will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Wednesday in Williams Park, between First and Second avenues N and Third and Fourth streets.
The market's goal isn't just to provide you with a lunch break concert for the price of a sandwich on the grass. It's part of the revitalization of downtown, said Cellon, who is a member of the Friends of Williams Park, a revitalization group.
"It's all about improving the local economy, making Williams Park the showcase it was once again," he said.
Residents have long awaited Williams Park's rebirth, and the Wednesday Midday Market's return, said Marilyn Olsen, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. The association has sponsored cleanups of the park and hopes to introduce theater productions and movie screenings there. Last year, council member and artist Leslie Curran launched an ongoing Saturday exhibit called Arts in the Park, to much fanfare.
Dating to the 1894, the park was constructed around a band shell. For generations it was the gathering spot where families and politicians alike were drawn.
In more recent years, drugs and criminality have gravitated toward the park. Homeless people have also concentrated there, drawn to services offered by local churches.
In response, the city has increased its efforts to beautify the park and to keep it safe, with more police patrols, landscaping and the creation of a no-panhandling zone that encompasses several blocks around the park.
"We have a large amount of people who utilize the park, whether its business people or people who just want to lounge," said Robert Danielson, assistant marketing manager for the city. "We feel an urban market is a perfect use for the park during the week."
Sponsors of the Midday Market this year are Progress Energy, the Downtown Partnership, St. Petersburg College and the city parks department. The neighborhood association and the downtown Business Alliance also are supporters.
Among the prepared-food vendors this year: Brady Johnson, the top hat-wearing produce and barbecue salesman known as Mr. I Got 'Em; Caribbean restaurant Island Flavors and Tings; crepe vendor Le Petite France; M-N-M BBQ; and local pastry chef Michael Ostrander.
More vendors are welcome. Information is available at www. wednesdaymiddaymarket.com.
All will set up booths on the grass that can be accessed through the park's existing walkway. Cellon promises they will be there even after the Christmas lights come off trees in Williams Park.
"We realize the economy is in a bad place," said Cellon, "but I seriously think that this venture is important enough to all parties involved that folks will be willing to spend $7 for lunch and maybe do a little Christmas shopping as well."