Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Future of the City Market

As it is right across the street from my law office, the City Market is sometimes a lunch destination for me. I use the word "sometimes" instead of "often" because the food at the City Market is almost always overpriced and bland.

Instead, if I have time, I prefer to drive for 10-15 minutes to dine at one of the many fine ethnic restaurants that have sprung up on or near Lafayette Road on the northwest side of the city. Nothing beats the $5.95 lunch special at the Saigon Restaurant, which is located at 3103 Lafayette Road. The Saigon is not the only ethnic restaurant in the Lafayette Road strip. There are also restaurants featuring Mexican, Egyptian, Guatemalan, another Vietnamese, Pakistani, Indian, Liberian, and Salvadoran cuisine. In that Lafayette Square area you also have Ethiopian, Chinese, Japanese, Peruvian and Cuban restaurants.

Of course those restaurants, which generally offer authentic cuisine served by recent immigrants from their respective countries, could never afford the steep rent at the City Market or anywhere downtown for that matter. Apparently neither can Constantino's which is on its way to being evicted for unpaid rent. Constantino's, by providing fresh fruits and vegetables at reasonable price, was the epitome of the type of vendor those at the City Market has been trying to attract. According to its website, the City Market Foundation declares:

Established in the 1800’s as a market that the community relied upon for their daily staples of fresh meats, cheese, produce, and breads, City Market will once again offer this shopping experience to its customers.

I like history as well as anyone. But sometimes nostalgia for the past obscures reality. Like Moody Meats which earlier this year left the City Market, Constantino's sells products not well suited for those who come to the building. The fact is most patrons of the City Market are, and will be for the foreseeable future, downtown employees who primarily work 8-5, Monday through Friday. They never were going to go grocery shopping on their lunch hour and take their groceries back to their offices for the remaining four to five hours of work. The City and the Foundation that runs the City Market needs to stop romanticizing the past and be realistic about its future. When, instead of the free market, government tries to determine economic winners and losers, we taxpayers end up subsidizing failure. That's what has happened with the City Market.

There are business formats that would undoubtedly work at the City Market. A health club probably would do very well with thousands of city employees right across the street. A day care might also succeed. Likewise, certain chain restaurants would probably flourish. But trying to turn it back into what it was in the past, an open market where people can purchase "fresh meats, cheese, produce and breads," is simply a recipe for continued failure.


Citizen Kane said...

The city needs to stop owning property and just set the rules of endeavor. If preserving the building is important, then that is what they should do, but otherwise but the building on the market and let someone develop their vision. If the city can not get the results it wants with all of the existing rules it has, then that just means that they need better (many times less) rules to govern how the city develops. But the main thing is they need to stop owning and subsidizing (therefore distorting) the "marketplace."

Paul K. Ogden said...

CK, Amen.

varangianguard said...

Well, considering the types of employees to be concentrated in the area, I would suggest the City Market be changed into a casino or strip bar (or some kind of hybrid of those two). Maybe a brothel (all gender, all preference - of course).

Seems to me that would be a valid "historical" use for the place, considering what has traditionally been clustered around large numbers of politicians, bureaucrats in this country.

Blog Admin said...

I've seen mention in news stories that Mass Ave, not too far from the City Market, has been great for business. There are coffee shops, cafes, and pubs for lunch, various bars and pricey dining for the evening, niche shops, and just a general fun atmosphere. Parking on Mass Ave sucks, but you can easily park on one of the side streets. At most you'll be walking a few blocks, if that.

Compare that to the City Market. Even if it stayed open that late, I still see city vehicles/Sheriff/IMPD vehicles occupying those spots even when it's closed. The lots are overpriced, and there isn't enough public parking during the day for anyone else to get there. I parked at a family member's business on College Ave once when I had business in the county building to attend to because I didn't have any change.

They could put the most awesome businesses there, and it'll fail because it's so hard to get to, unless you work in the market or city county building.

Melyssa said...

I wish they would turn it into a venue for everything from tamales to pad thai. I'd eat there everyday if they did.

I tried to eat lunch there the other day at the place where they sell Mac-n-cheese and meatloaf. The guy at the counter was rude, so I left.

varangianguard said...

No soup for you!

varangianguard said...

Actually, one of my daughter's and I lunched at the City Market when we went to vote on the Wishard referendum.

Less busy than a decade ago, some light maintenance issues, and populated with more deputies than I thought the Sheriff had under his purview. They were there to provide security for the Turner trial (IIRC). I had mistakenly assumed that the Sheriff had lowered his personnel limits after the "un-merger" with the IPD (now IMPD). Wrong.

Still, we had a nice time, the food was decent and the service brisk and efficient. I forget the name of the cafe, but it resided in the northwest corner of the main building.