SOUTH PORTLAND — Starting this week, the weekly South Portland Farmers Market will do business on Hinckley Drive, next to Mill Creek Park.
City Councilors voted 5-2 Monday to move the public market from Thomas Knight Park, where it spent its inaugural season last year. Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis and Mayor Patti Smith opposed the move.
On Tuesday, the Planning Board granted a special exception for the market, to close Hinckley Drive every Thursday from 2-8 p.m. through Oct. 31.
The Farmers Market Association, managed by Alewive’s Brook Farm operator and Cape Elizabeth Town Councilor Caitlin Jordan, has lobbied for Hinckley Drive since plans for a farmers market began in 2010.
The more central location and park ambiance should help attract customers, Jordan said.
Business at last year’s market, at the tip of the Knightville peninsula, was slower than expected. Jordan has said that while a slew of rainy Thursdays didn’t help, turnout was low because the market was too far out of the way. The move to Hinckley Drive, she said, is vital to the market’s survival.
“It’s kind of a make-it-or-bust year for the farmers market, to be as frank as possible,” she told the Planning Board on Tuesday. “If the vendors don’t have a good year this year, nobody’s going to come back and the market will cease to exist.”
The Mill Creek Transit Hub, a major stop for South Portland buses, will move to Thomas Street during the hours the market is open. Public parking during the market is available on nearby streets and at City Hall.
Last week, Hannaford Bros. offered to let the Farmers Market operate in its supermarket parking lot on Cottage Road. The farmers said that would be OK, but city ordinance requires the market to operate on public land.
“The Hannaford site, unfortunately, did not get enough time to really have a good, thorough discussion,” City Manager Jim Gailey said. “The offer was very generous, but unfortunately it was kind of late in the game.”
Jordan submitted the paperwork for the market on Monday, May 7, and the market had planned to open for the season on Thursday, May 10. But the opening was postponed for one week because the city needed more time to process the paperwork filed be each vendor.
The decision to move the market was fraught with political maneuvering and hurt feelings.
After a proposal earlier this year to build a large sign directing people to the market at Thomas Knight Park failed to gain councilors’ support, Councilor Jerry Jalbert, who opposed the sign, asked Jordan why the farmers didn’t simply move to Hinckley Drive.
Jordan told him it was because an advisory committee created by the city to consult with farmers on the market wouldn’t allow it. De Angelis, who spearheads the committee, said Jordan never even asked about Hinckley Drive.
At this point, tension between the market and the advisory committee was already high and communication had broken down. A frustrated Jordan used an expletive in an email to vendors that said she was “… sick of the advisory committee.”
Either way, the committee was not consulted about the proposal to close Hinckley Drive and move the vendors. Being passed over left De Angelis feeling the process was not respected.
“It feels like a very nontransparent process. Things were done kind of behind the scenes, and that’s upsetting to me,” she said Wednesday.
Smith, who said she voted against the move because she supported the Hannaford plan that wouldn’t result in a street closure, said that while the advisory committee should have been consulted, what’s done is done.
“Sometimes it’s messy and sometimes it’s clean,” she said Wednesday. “This time around, obviously, it wasn’t very clean. But we came through the other side.”
The Farmers Market will be open at Hinckley Drive Thursdays from 3 p.m.-7 p.m.
Hinckley Drive, which runs along the north side of Mill Creek Park between Ocean Street and Cottage Road, will be closed every Thursday evening this summer to make room for the South Portland Farmers Market. The bus stop will be moved each week to Thomas Street when Hinckley Drive is closed.
Last year, the South Portland Farmers Market operated out of Thomas Knight Park at the tip of the Knightville peninsula. Farmers Market Association Manager Caitlin Jordan said the location was too far removed to attract customers.