LARGO – The Largo Commission is due for a debate on the value of a downtown market.
The discussion began when Tanya Pistillo, organizer of the new Ulmer Park Market, asked commissioners for their support of the market during their meeting Jan. 21.
“We started out with a mere five vendors. This past month, we jumped up to 19. And I’m already booking into April,” she said.
Nearby residents have appreciated the activity in their neighborhood and have even requested more events in Ulmer Park, which sits in the center of the West Bay Drive redevelopment district. But hosting the new monthly market has not been cheap.
“I would love to have more city backing, maybe waiving some fees, some sort of agreements we can come to not have to worry about the fees so I can carry on doing these events, bringing the community out of their homes, getting them downtown, getting them to realize more businesses exist downtown,” Pistillo said.
Market-goers have asked for produce vendors to be a part of the market, she added. But that would require the market to be open on a weekly basis, not just second Saturdays.
Kimberly Platt, owner of the Charlie Tulum’s Taco Shack and Dos Tacos Food Truck, said the market has been great advertising for her new taco business, which opened in Largo three months ago. She too was in favor of bringing produce to Ulmer Park.
“I try to take (the taco truck) to the markets and actually purchase my food directly from vendors there and then cook that on the truck,” Platt said. “I would love to be able to do that here.”
Commissioners discussed the issue later in the meeting. Largo has had markets at Ulmer Park before, but the operation was moved to the Largo Community Center. Commissioner Harriet Crozier said she had been under the impression the city-operated market was meant to be a weekly endeavor.
“We don’t have the staff we used to have,” Mayor Pat Gerard commented.
Gerard asked staff to investigate how other cities in the area were supporting, or not supporting, community markets. Commissioner Woody Brown said he didn’t think other markets were manned by city staff, but were a result of a partnership with the respective cities. Having produce at a market was important to its success, he later commented.
“From my research, I don’t think you’re going to get produce in the park unless it’s weekly,” Brown said.
City manager Mac Craig said his staff was working with Pistillo to help keep the market going, despite the costs.
“We think we can get there,” he said. “We think we can get it done.”
The costs to host an event like the market include the rental fee for Ulmer Park, a utility fee if the vendors need electricity, a charge to deliver and pick up a dumpster and the cost of renting portable toilets. Park clean-up fees are $22 per hour per staff person. The city requires every vendor to have insurance, and the community development department charges a fee for a special event permit and a banner fee.
In the end, the market costs roughly about $1,000 each month, Pistillo said. She does charge the vendors who participate for the space they use.
“It’s not even covering the costs,” she said.
The West Bay Drive Community Redevelopment Agency has an events and promotion assistance program to set aside finds for purposes like the market. A city sponsorship through the program provides up to $1,500 per applicant per fiscal year to help pay for city related expenses, according to city documents. Pistillo said she used up those funds during the first four months of the market.
A request to extend the funds for the market beyond the $1,500 max was on the agenda for Feb. 4, but Pistillo said she was told it was removed given the pending research of other markets in the area.
Parks, Arts and Recreation Director Joan Bryne said she had requested the information from other cities and was waiting to hear back. Information about the larger market in St. Petersburg was the hardest to come by.
“I’m hoping to have something by the end of the week,” she said.
The results will be reported in a weekly city manager’s report, she explained.
Pistillo said she plans on gathering supporters to speak in favor of the market during the next commission meeting, whether the issue is on the agenda or not.
“I’m going to be pulling as many people as I can here Feb. 4 to voice their thoughts (and) feelings about how important it is for them,” she said.
The next Ulmer Park Market – featuring live music, food trucks, arts and crafts and local vendors – will be held Saturday, Feb. 8, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at 301 W. Bay Drive. For more information or to rent a vendor booth, call Tanya Pistillo at 465-8558.