Friday, January 19, 2018
Politics

Don't mess with the outdoor market

On its best days, this was how a downtown should feel: Crowds of people strolling through an open-air market amid tall buildings, picking up fresh carrots here, a loaf of bread there, perusing handmade jewelry, smelling specialty soaps, tasting local honey, buying a smoothie just poured from a blender by a vendor under a tent.

You had live music and tantalizing food smells and most important, people — a few who even came with dogs on leashes, evidence they were actual residents living in an actual downtown and not fleeing for the suburbs daily at 5 p.m. sharp.

And miracle of miracles, this wasn't even downtown St. Petersburg, home for nearly 10 years to the vibrant outdoor Saturday morning market that is pretty much everything that other outdoor markets dream of being.

No, this was a more modest lunchtime event on Fridays, October to May, in downtown Tampa, and a plucky bit of cityhood all its own.

But is it over? Is Tampa doing that one-step-forward-two-steps-back thing when it comes to progressively evolving as a downtown?

Yes. And, no.

Tiffany Ferrecchia, who ran the market (and notably runs successful markets in Hyde Park and Seminole Heights on Sundays) recently told vendors the downtown Friday event that started in 2008 won't be back come fall. She is disappointed. And it was bad news for those of us who had fallen in love with a certain sterling silver jeweler or a particular lemon pasta you could buy by the scoopful, or who just liked an excuse to go outside on a workday.

I called Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has added to that downtown vibe with his monthly mayoral food truck rally. "I like the market," he said. "I think there's a place for it."

The question, apparently, is the time and day for it.

The Tampa Downtown Partnership announced its Friday event in the fall will be "Lunch on the Lawn" at a park with food from local restaurants and live music.

Okay, but where's my market?

"Being reinvented," Partnership president Christine Burdick tells me. "Reincarnated. We intend to make it a bigger and better market."

Just not on Fridays. They're considering Saturday or Sunday or a weekday after work. Why?

"Downtown has changed over the last five years, and the market can be better than it was," Burdick says. "That's what we're going for."

Yes, the market had glitches. A couple of restaurants complained that food vendors drew away business, though it seemed to me the crowds it drew balanced that out nicely. And because it was a workday, people shopped for maybe two hours even though it was open four.

A survey is out to determine what market will work best (it's at http://www.research.net/s/GNJNSJX ) and they hope to have it up and running by the fall.

Promise?

Because downtown these days is looking remarkably, well, downtown. We're getting ready for the Republican National Convention (in less than four weeks, if you're counting). But we've also made some long-lasting steps like the gloriously restored and re-opened Floridan Hotel, and a great sprawling park on the river people actually use.

And the kind of market that tells you a place is interesting, and alive, even downtown.

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