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Clearwater to start Saturday farmers market in East Gateway

CLEARWATER — The economically depressed East Gateway area has long been linked with homeless people and seedy motels. There are no chain supermarkets there, so the neighborhood isn't exactly known for its selection of affordable fresh vegetables.

The city is trying to change all that. It has a long-term strategy to clean up this area east of downtown.

More immediately, city officials are poised to use a federal grant to start a Saturday farmers market there, to bring in fresh produce and attract more visitors to the district.

The proposed location for the Clearwater Gateway Farmers Market is on Cleveland Street just east of Missouri Avenue. The market is scheduled to operate every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a targeted opening day of Nov. 3. Like other local farmers markets, it will have vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, cheese, flowers and plants.

Because it will be a weekend event, officials don't think it will compete with the existing Downtown Clearwater Farmers Market, on Wednesdays from October through May near the western edge of the downtown district. That street market attracts office workers as well as snowbirds who live nearby.

"The two markets will really not be in competition with each other. They have very different markets that they're serving," said Geri Campos Lopez, the city's director of economic development.

The City Council will likely vote Thursday night to accept a federal grant of up to $20,000 to pay for the new market's startup costs — tents, tables, chairs and marketing materials.

Where's the money coming from? In 2010, the Pinellas County Health Department got a $4.85 million federal grant to combat the obesity epidemic, improve nutrition and increase physical activity. The grant was awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using federal stimulus money.

The Health Department has used that money to pay for a number of projects, but the grant expires Sept. 29.

Once Clearwater buys the startup equipment, a local nonprofit group called the Intercultural Advocacy Institute will operate the market and will hire a manager to run it.

The Health Department partnered with the institute and found that the East Gateway community has little access to affordable, locally grown foods, officials said. Although the East Gateway has an organic supermarket, Nature's Food Patch, it doesn't have any mainstream grocery stores.

Plans call for the Gateway market to be held in front of Nature's Food Patch and the Greektown Grille restaurant. Those businesses have expressed concern about whether their customers will be able to park in their lots on Saturdays. The city is going to discourage farmers market customers from parking in those lots, said Clearwater community development manager Ekaterini Gerakios.

At least for vendor parking, the city plans to use a large vacant lot where last year it demolished a rundown block around the former Economy Inn at 1274 Cleveland St.. That motel was once a market for drugs and prostitutes and a symbol of the neighborhood's squalor. The city bought the land for future redevelopment in 2010.

The East Gateway Business and Neighbors Association, which has fought fiercely against locating any more social service agencies in the neighborhood, is firmly in favor of the farmers market.

Like the weekly market in downtown Clearwater, the East Gateway farmers market will shut down in May. That's partly to avoid the heat, but there's another reason.

"We want to focus on Florida produce," Gerakios said. "There's a limited supply during the summer."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Clearwater to start Saturday farmers market in East Gateway 09/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 7:41pm]
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