Athens City Looking To Secure Grants For Permanent Farmers Market Site

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Athens City Council has authorized Mayor Paul Wiehl to apply for grants on behalf of the Athens Farmers Market to find a permanent home for the thriving market.

Wiehl said that City Council has given him permission to seek grant funding from the Finance Fund of Ohio on the market’s behalf. If funded, the grant would help finance exploration of sites around the county.

The Finance Fund was created to connect underserved communities with public and private sources of capital. The fund focuses on revitalizing low-income communities in Ohio, according to the organization’s website.

Members of the Athens Farmers Market approached City Council in October asking for the city’s help in finding a permanent location for the market, which is currently housed in the parking lot of The Market on State. Several years ago, the city had planned to allow the market to use the parking lot of the Athens Community Center, however the market is now too large for that space.

With the recent construction of Texas Roadhouse in the parking lot of the mall on East State Street, the market was moved toward the eastern portion of the lot — reducing the number of parking spaces for the market. The market is a popular attraction, particularly on Saturdays. There is a waiting list for vendors to sell at the farmers market.

As the market continues to grow, the market’s board has been searching for a larger space that can be a permanent home — however, a clear, viable site hasn’t presented itself in the city yet.

During a Council meeting in November, Wiehl said he’s been discussing options with County Commissioner Chris Chmiel, who is also a market vendor.

“One of the things is that the city can become the project sponsor for different grants that are going on, which is basically what the farmers market needs because I don’t think they’re in a position to sit there and go after state dollars or regional dollars for that matter. So, it’s something that is being explored,” Wiehl said in November.

Wiehl said he also submitted a capital request for the state biennial budget to help fund a permanent space for the market.

“I put a petition in for acquiring some property, or getting some money to acquire property, if possible, for the farmers market. I look at this more like a jobs expansion/retention project, wearing both my hat as a mayor as well as president of the Economic Development Council. At the same time, it’s more of just a wish list at this point — a long shot,” he said.

Wiehl added that the land — wherever it may be — should be used for purposes other than the farmers market, which is only held on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

On Monday, Athens Farmers Market Board President Larry Cowdery said that discussions are ongoing with the city administration to secure grant funding. He said the current arrangement in the mall parking lot is working well, as the market is smaller in the winter months. Cowdery said the market will have to utilize parking behind the mall when attendance picks back up in the spring and summer.

While the Athens Farmers Market isn’t in immediate danger of losing its home, Wiehl said it’s time to get the ball rolling on a permanent site.

“I think we have some time before they have to spread their wings and fly away, but I don’t think it’s a good thing to let it crash and burn …,” Wiehl said.