Douglas County commissioners at their Monday morning meeting directed staff members to schedule a joint study session with Lawrence city commissioners to discuss a plan to move the Farmers Market from a 64-space parking lot in the 1000 block of Vermont Street to a 120-space lot in the 800 block of Vermont Street.
In addition to seeking permission to use the city-owned parking lot, which is directly north of the Kansas Public Service building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, market organizers would like government funding for several improvements, including canopies for 32 stalls to make the market more weather-proof, electrical hook-ups to serve several vendors and a permanent rest room facility.
Those improvements are estimated to cost $350,000, and group leaders are asking both the city and county commission to contribute $158,000 each to the project, with the balance funded by market vendors.
"I'm happy to have a study session, but don't get your hopes up too much," County Commissioner Charles Jones told the group. "I think we all have concerns about the money, but I think the county could justify being involved because a lot of the vendors are from the rural parts of the county."
County Commissioner Bob Johnson said market organizers should be looking for additional financing options to supplement any possible government investment.
"I'm not sure how we could ever justify being an equal player with the city on this, and I don't know how downtown Lawrence can't be involved with the financing of it in some way because they seem to be the biggest benefactor," Johnson said.
Market organizers told commissioners that the project was worthy of public funding because studies have shown that farmers markets are good incubators for small agricultural businesses and that the market had become an important gathering place for the community.
"The Farmers Market is really a place where all of Lawrence and all of Douglas County meet," said Lori Hanson, a market vendor.
"You see people of every age, every ethnic background, every socio-economic background, and in these times of division and with everything that is going on now, I think every community needs a place like that."
- Staff writer Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-6362.