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Cost could deter idea of farmers' market

"Growing up, Tacoma native Jackie Peterson watched hundreds of people munch burritos and stir fry while they bought produce and perused vendors' crafts at the Tacoma Farmers' Market.So when the Federal Way Arts Commission, which she serves on, brainstormed ways to attract people to this city's downtown, she was thrilled by the suggestion of a public market.It'd bring the community together, she said. The city owns the ideal site for a public market - Celebration Park, according to Arts Commission members and city staff. And thousands of potential customers for a weekday market work in office buildings surrounding the 83.5-acre park.But community members would have to commit their time and money to such a project before it could happen, says Mary Faber, the city's recreation manager and the staff liaison to the Arts Commission. Although the city remains interested in such a project if businesses, community members or the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce step forward to help offset expenses and run a market, the city can't afford the staff time and the estimated $50,000 cost of starting a market, Faber said.The start-up budget is way more than we would ever have the ability to do, Faber said. We realized it's not a good match for us.Arts Commission president Allan Smith agrees.As soon as we realized it would cost money, it kind of fell off the table, he said. (The cost) is the only barrier I know of. It's so early in the process, the cost scared us off.Even after paying the initial costs, markets typically struggle to balance costs and profits, Faber said.They're basically just trying to make their costs back, Faber said. They're not trying to make a profit.Since Celebration Park opened in May 1999, Parks and Recreation staff members have discussed ways to attract more than sports fans to the park, said Jennifer Schroder, the city's parks director. At the time, former City Councilman Jack Dovey, who ended his stint on the council last year, even suggested a public market there. As a staff we've always been interested in this concept, Schroder said. Looking at what the costs are and looking at our resources, knowing we're in a budget year, it just seems premature to put more time into that right now. During the recent discussion, Arts Commission members talked about operating a market during the week. It would cater primarily to artisans as opposed to the small-scale farmers some markets consider their primary vendor base.In the middle of the week, it becomes something for the working community. It blends in well, Schroder said. Our weekends are so busy at the park. During the week, we would use the space that is usually pretty idle.Faber studied the Tacoma Farmers' Market and the Kent Public Market and talked to their managers. Tacoma's market recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Kent has been in operation for more than 25 years.Those managers recommended a start-up budget of $50,000, primarily for marketing, and reminded Faber of the need for ongoing maintenance to set up, take down and clean the market site.Our maintenance folks and maintenance staff are pretty much very busy right now with the current work program we have right now, she said. Our ability to logistically support an event is another problem."

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