SOUTH PORTLAND — A final decision won’t be made until May, but indications at a City Council workshop Monday were that the farmers market will operate this year on Hinckley Drive.
Last year, farmers who participated in the market reported losing money, they believe, because the market was in Thomas Knight Park at the end of Waterman Drive and Ocean Street.
This year, the South Portland Farmers Market Association proposed moving the market to Hinckley Drive, along Mill Creek Park, an area members feel will provide more visibility and foot traffic.
One proposal has 24 farmers and their stands occupying about half the street, from Ocean Street to the first curb cut in front of Town and Country Federal Credit Union. The second would close all of Hinckley Drive and allow 41 farmers to sell their wares.
While the move to Hinckley Drive is not ideal for some local businesses, four of the six city councilors spoke in favor of the move.
Mayor Patti Smith said that while she will support the market wherever it is held, she is not sure where it will be most successful.
“I’m concerned about the parking,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a learning curve like it was last year.”
The major concern with either Hinckley proposal has to do with parking and traffic problems associated with cutting off a major access road to the Hannaford supermarket on Ocean Street.
Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis, who has been an advocate for the market, said people tolerate Hinckley Drive being closed one day a year for Art in the Park. But she doesn’t believe they will be receptive to the weekly closure on Thursdays from 2-7 p.m.
De Angelis reiterated her desire for a large sign directing traffic to the market, wherever it ends up. That discussion was tabled at a meeting in early March.
But Caitlin Jordan, head of the South Portland Farmers Market Association, said the association does not want a large sign. It prefers A-frame signs at both ends of Hinckley Drive, which have already been approved.
Jordan also said the farmers are anxious to get started, citing last year’s July start as another reason they were not successful.
“If we don’t get going soon, there won’t be farmers at the market,” she said.
Nineteen farmers have told Jordan they are interested in participating in the farmers market, but only five have filled out the necessary paperwork. According to Jordan, the farmers are “half in,” waiting to fully commit until a location, date and time are determined.
“Eventually we will find the right answer; the right location and the right time,” Councilor Tom Blake said. “No matter where we have it, we’re not going to have 100 percent of our citizen’s support.”
Overall, councilors and business owners who spoke supported closing Hinckley Drive to traffic, because the move would eliminate the possibility of traffic cutting through private parking lots to avoid the market.
The council will conduct a first reading of the proposal at its meeting on May 7 and, if approved, it will go before the Planning Board on May 8.
Although a second reading is not scheduled to take place until May 21, City Manager Jim Gailey said the market may be able to open as soon as May 10, if the city’s attorney says that’s OK.
Councilor Alan Livingston disagreed with that approach. He said if the market is approved, there should be a special council meeting for final approval before the market is allowed to open for the season.