The West Kootenay EcoSociety wants city council to finish construction at Cottonwood Market.
Executive director Montana Burgess is also asking council to change the location of the weekly downtown market and waive licence fees for it.
The EcoSociety has run the Cottonwood Market since 2001 and the downtown weekly market since 2009. The organization also runs the twice-per-summer Marketfest event, along with a winter craft fair and Gardenfest.
Since the old market stalls were demolished in 2015, Cottonwood Market has been in a temporary location waiting for the city to finish construction on a planned permanent site nearby.
“Let’s finish the project,” Burgess said. “I know there have been other priorities but it feels like this could be the year to make this happen.”
She said vendors need the water and electricity that will be provided in the new market oval constructed last year, and the performance stage needs to be built.
“I think it is important to make the park safe and beautiful for families, seniors, vendors, residents and tourists. It has had a kind of dust-bowl vibe the last few years.”
The downtown market
The downtown weekly market ran for several years on the 400 block of Baker and last year moved to the Hall Street Plaza and 400 block of Hall, broken into two parts by the open intersection of Hall and Baker.
Burgess said the new location has been good because there is a electricity and water in Hall Street Plaza and a nearby washroom. But there are safety issues, she said.
“The Hall and Baker intersection is dangerous and it is left open during the market. I am concerned that it is just a matter of time before some kid runs across to the other side of the market and gets hit. That is the No. 1 issue here.”
She also said the market in its Hall Street location, unlike its previous location, has low visibility and is not noticeable from elsewhere downtown.
This has resulted in lowered venue revenue. A survey of vendors reports a 25 per cent reduction, she said.
“And the market has that broken up feeling, it feels less cohesive, it’s a different cultural experience. It doesn’t have that casual, relaxed, busy feeling. People are more squeezed around a busy intersection rather than people being the priority.”
The EcoSociety’s proposal: have the market in the Hall Street Plaza but not the 400 block of Hall. Instead, wrap it around from the plaza onto the 600 block of Baker. Close the 600 block of Baker to traffic but keep the Hall-Baker intersection open from the north and the east, with market-goers able to walk between the market sections on the sidewalk near Sidewinders, separated from traffic by a barrier.
“People would not have to cross traffic to access the other part of the market. Another option would be move it back over to the 400 block Baker,” Burgess said.
Burgess said markets in Nelson run by the EcoSociety attract 35,000 visitors per year and pay almost $1 million to vendors and just under a half million to other storefront businesses.
As such, they are a major business asset to Nelson, she said, but they are a risk for the EcoSociety because they are vulnerable to bad weather and wildfire smoke.
So the EcoSociety is asking the city to waive about $7,000 per year for the downtown and Cottonwood markets.
Burgess pointed out that in 2017 the city used photos of the markets 20 times in various promotional materials, showing the markets are important to Nelson’s image.
Market as incubator
Councillor Jesse Woodward, who ran all of the EcoSociety’s markets for seven years until he was elected to council last fall, responded to Burgess
“The markets give an avenue for people with not a lot of income to try out different things,” he said. “I saw it as an incubator, to have a place where, if you are a jeweller or farmer or potter, you can develop your business. It is a great place to start, costs $20 a day, you can go there and make some mistakes and try again next week.
“It is an important place to keep vital. I saw many marketeers work their product for a couple years, then go on the increase their business, develop a larger business.”
Burgess’ presentation was made to a committee of the whole meeting where councillors hear presentations but don’t make decisions. Council referred the matter to city staff for a recommendation to be brought to a future regular business meeting.