Dallas Farmers Market vendors ask where the money has gone

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on September 20, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 20 at 10:23 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS — In 2006, Dallas citizens told city officials they were willing to spend $6 million on repairs to the Dallas Farmers Market.

Five years later, no real improvements to the market have been made, and vendors and other stakeholders say a valuable asset is going to waste.

While the bounty of fruits and vegetables never seems to lose its luster, the structures and facilities at the Dallas Farmers Market are starting to rot.

The vendors have running water at each of their stands, but because of a broken storm water system, they can't use it.

Leslie Ingendorf, a third generation property owner at the Farmers Market, says a 2003 bond issue paid for the installation of windows and air conditioning at Shed No. 2, but the plan to attract more patrons never worked.

"On most days, there's nobody in here," Ingendorf said. "It's a ghost town."

Unimpressed with the upgrades and inspired by farmers markets around the country, Dallas residents voted in 2006 to spend $6 million on improvements to the downtown facility.

In 2007, the City of Dallas sold $3 million of those bonds and paid $200,000 for a comprehensive engineering study and plan, a template for changes that were about to be made.

The 2008 Strategic Plan developed for the City by Campos Engineering was the result of 17 meetings among stakeholders and experts.

Case studies were made in four states. Fifteen design concepts were narrowed to two.

What's more, the plan laid out existing flaws which prevent the Farmers Market from reaching its potential.

According to the study:

  • the market has visibility issues
  • a nearby homeless shelter is having an undesirable impact
  • signage is misleading
  • Shed No. 3 needs to be replaced

"They sold the public on they are going to make this a beautiful area; it's going to be a destination place; it's going to improve the area; it's going to help the vendors that are already here," Ingendorf said. "I’ve seen none of that come to fruition." Vendors we talked to say they are not sure how much longer they can hold on. Kurry King and its owner Jyothie Rikhilal have been selling spices at the Farmers Market for 18 years.

"There's nothing really happening here," Rikhilal said. "It makes me feel mad; I feel angry because I see nothing changing, really."

Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm offers her sympathy, but has little explanation as to why the improvements have been delayed.

Those storm water drainage problems keeping vendors from maintaining clean spaces was supposed to be repaired last month. Suhm said the city is asking for more time from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

As News 8 has previously reported, the city is also looking to get out of the Farmers Market business altogether. It is seeking a private management firm to run the operation.

Suhm said no further money will be spent on the Dallas Farmers Market at least until next year.

Meanwhile, the city pays interest on Farmers Market improvement bonds sitting in a bank account, and vendors at the market bide their time hoping to survive.

"I've watched it over the years, and it's nothing like it used to be," Ingendorf said. "The promise of renewing and revitalizing just hasn't come, and so the people are just not coming, either."

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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