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Official farmers market in the works

Council, parks and rec discuss public, private locations
Solon City Council and Parks and Recreation Commission members pose after an April 4 joint meeting. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– A new city-sponsored farmers market is in the works.
Details surrounding the program were discussed during a joint session of the Solon City Council and the Solon Parks and Recreation Commission April 4, although a location for the market is still up in the air.
The city previously allowed private vendors to set up in a portion of Mushroom Park seasonally, but has not provided direct supervision.
Developing rules and regulations for an official marketplace was an idea revived by members of the parks and recreation commission, which proposed Tuesday evenings for a weekly market to be located on private property in the parking lot shared by Dairy Queen and E’s Florals on Highway 1.
However concerns about parking and a desire to see the market downtown prompted comments from council members and Solon Public Works Director Scott Kleppe, who suggested an alternate plan to utilize city park space.
Recreation Coordinator Mike Reeve said during the meeting the commission had considered two open spaces– the empty lot beside Solon City Hall and the former Brosh parking lot, but both were eliminated because of location.
“There was a lot of importance placed on finding a site that was on Highway 1,” Reeve said.
The Dairy Queen parking lot was the group’s second choice, he said.
“What about blocking off a couple blocks of city street right downtown to show off our beautiful new buildings?” asked council member Shawn Mercer. The market could draw more people from outside Solon to the downtown area, he added, where the city’s future vision includes a downtown pedestrian mall.
Mercer noted Cedar Rapids closes off busy city streets for its downtown market.
The Cedar Rapids market is on weekends, while the Solon market is looking to be open 3-6 p.m. on Tuesdays in season, commission chair Brian Fitzpatrick pointed out.
“That’s a difficult time to be closing off streets when you have people trying to come home from work,” he said.
Many of the potential vendors for Solon are already participating in markets in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, he added.
As things progress with a new fire station or the ped mall, Fitzpatrick said, the city can look at other options.
“Well, since we have many heads here,” Kleppe said, “Why don’t we look at Mushroom Park? What if we try and close that off? That is an ideal location because it’s central– you’ve got Main Street, you’ve got Highway 1.”
Water and electricity are both available at Mushroom Park, but the biggest problem might be enforcement, he noted.
Fitzpatrick agreed, noting one advantage to moving the market from Mushroom Park was to break with the tradition of people being able to just show and set up without any rules or fees.
“That was the original idea, to move it away from there because of the parking, but if you think that’ll work, it’s kind of the best of both worlds,” Reeve said. “It’s public and it’s right on Highway 1.”
The idea found some traction with the group, although concerns were raised about three potential Saturday dates and Beef Days.
Commission member Kelsey Bumsted suggested the market might move on those dates to a downtown street, as Mercer had proposed, similar to what is done for the fire department’s pancake breakfast.
“Parking will still be an issue,” she said of Mushroom Park. “But it’s going to be an issue down at Dairy Queen, too, especially if we can’t park on the grass.”
That concern was one raised by City Attorney Kevin Olson during his review of the proposed regulations.
The city’s zoning code does not allow parking on the grass, he noted.
“It would be better if it was in a parking lot, so we’re not sponsoring an event that breaks our own rules,” Olson said.
He also questioned a required $1 million insurance policy for each vendor.
Reeve said the insurance, as well as other proposed rules, were suggested by the people who will be serving as the market’s masters. Commission members and city staff adapted rules provided by the managers, who are currently in charge of the Ely Farmers Market and experienced with both Cedar Rapids and Iowa City markets, he stated.
Reeve said the insurance was not very expensive and is already carried by many vendors.
The market masters indicated four or five pretty good-sized vendors are already committed to Solon, he added.
No alcohol will be sold and no pets will be allowed, and vendors will be required to have 75 percent of their merchandise created personally or grown, it was noted during the meeting.
Some of the rules and regulations were questioned by council members.
Council member Lauren Whitehead said students and other local organizations might be interested in participating in the market, suggesting reduced vendor rates or waivers for non-profits or youth projects.
Fitzpatrick said any tweaks to the rules will likely need to be made relatively quickly as vendors were being required to submit applications 30 days in advance of the first market.
The commission was hoping to host its first market near the end of May, Reeve said.
No formal action was taken on the location for the market, and City Administrator Cami Rasmussen indicated the rules would be placed on city council’s April 18 meeting.