Thursday, May 20, 2010

City Market Board Dabbles in Insanity; Follows Up $2.5 Million Renovation Project with $2.7 Million Renovation Project

Albert Einstein once said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." City Market leaders apparently think insanity is the right approach to fixing problems with the City Market.

In 2007, City Market underwent a $2.5 million renovation which ran about 6 months longer than anticipated and ended up with many vendors being relocated and half of the businesses leaving. After the renovation, City Market promised a new mix of vendors trying to get the destination to return to its glory days as an open air marketplace with fresh produce and meats. They also promised to stay open in the evenings and on the weekends.

Now, the board that runs the City Market has a new plan. They'll invest $2.7 million on renovations and try to get a new mix of vendors that will return the market to its glory days. They are again promising to be in the evenings and on the weekends.

Francesca Jarosz of the Indianapolis Star reports:
The long-struggling City Market looks particularly drab these days.

Several vendor booths sit empty in the historic Downtown Indianapolis building. Visitors are underwhelmed by the dull gray of the floors and support beams. And by 3 p.m., workers at the market are packing to go home after serving a mostly lunchtime crowd.

But by next spring, city leaders say, all of that will be different.

Wednesday, the market's board presented plans for a $2.7 million renovation that would revamp its design with new colors, vendor stands and lighting. It also would demolish the market's west wing and make the main building self-sufficient by adding restrooms, a new heating and cooling system and elevators.

The renovation, funded by property tax revenues captured from a Downtown development district, is the first major step in the city's latest effort to revive a venue that has struggled for decades to attract customers and become financially self-sufficient.

It comes after a tumultuous year in which the market evicted its former anchor tenant and had to seek city help to get its bank accounts unfrozen.

"We hit an all-time low," said Wayne Schmidt, president of the market's board. "We're rebuilding from that point."

As part of the rebirth, market leaders also will add daily live music and entertainment, extend hours into the evening and launch a new brewery serving beer by the glass and for carry-out.

Moving current tenants from the building's wings and attracting new ones also will help fill the main building and add options for customers.

A bakery moved in this month, and a pretzel vendor is expected in June, while talks with several other potential tenants, including a soup shop and a produce stand, continue.

"I need this to be a destination point," Mayor Greg Ballard said Wednesday. "You have to have the sorts of amenities that people want to gather around."

To read the rest of the article click here.

I remember when Moody's Meats opened a stand in the City Market after the 2007 renovation. What did they expect - people who work in the City-County Building were going to buy an uncooked slab of meat to take back to their home and then haul home to cook later that evening? Obviously that didn't happen and Moody's failed to catch on at the City Market.

I remember in business classes being told the importance of doing market research before opening up a business. Why is it that we have a government body, the City Market Board that thinks it can best gauge what business model will succeed in the building? I like history more than just about anyone, but it is time to give up on the idea that the City Market will ever go back to being an open air marketplace where people will shop from fresh meat and produce. The model doesn't work. Let's find a business model that will work for the building and stop pining for the past.


varangianguard said...

Field of Dreams.

Same as the Mass Transit folks.

Same result.

Very difficult problem to "solve", if a solution is even required. It is an unnecessary (and unsuccessful) intervention in the market system. And from Republicans! The Socialists.

Anything the City does creates a negative economic impact upon similiar businesses who reside outside of the City Market.

Best idea would be to park any plans to spend money (including closing the Market), and instead concentrate on encouraging the development of the very near east side (to the highway).

Surely, they haven't given the entire store away already in that regards? Plenty of swag left available for politically connected "developers", yes?

Downtown Indy said...

The one useful component to this project would seem to be the bicycle parking/lockers but that's a terrible under-utilization of the space.

Had Enough Indy? said...

The City Market really is a gem. With the increased residential uses to the east, one can hope there is a viable solution for it.

Maybe instead of relying on a Board composed of politically connected appointees, the Mayor's office should have a neighborhood meeting and find out what amenities would draw the neighborhood folks to the City Market from their homes in the evening.

M Theory said...

If they would turn it into a market like the one in Seattle or the one in Boston, it would work. They don't need to change the infrastructure to do that, they need to change the culture of who is calling the shots.

Mostly, I think the City Market should have longer hours and bill itself as a downtown cultural destination like the zoo or state museum.

I think it should find a way to offer local produce to residents 7 days a week. Trust me, people who like to eat local will eventually think of it as their grocer.

Paul K. Ogden said...

HEI and HFFT, until we stop trying to create something the free market won't support, the CIty Market won't be successful.

Instead of having government officials trying to guess what will work, we need to let marketing experts do a study to see what customers of the city market will support. Then we need to pick among those options.

The nostalgic idea of the City Market being an open air market with produce and other goods is a romantic ideal, but it's not realistic. They've been trying to do that for years and it doesn't work. Maybe 10 years from now when there's more people living downtown it will. But for now it's not a financially feasible option. Right now the chief clientele are those workers in the City-County Building and surrounding area.

And the notion of staying open longer hours as drawing people to the City Market is putting the cart before the horse. If you're selling something the public wants
then the hours will take care of themselves.

Cato said...

City markets thrive in, apologies, "better" towns.

Indy is pretty dull. Until Indy is completely overrun with Chicago/D.C./New York transplants, this city won't support the nifty and vibrant things that more upbeat cities have.

Sorry for being blunt.

Cato said...

Destroying the west wing is a huge mistake.

I suspect some scumball wants the land, and they're hiding the transfer behind a "renovation."

Paul K. Ogden said...


Why so pessimistic? You don't trust city leaders to look out for the interest of the public? Say it ain't so, Cato.

Had Enough Indy? said...

The location leaves much to be desired for tourism. Too far from other stuff - plus expensive parking.

But, it is a gem that needs to be kept going somehow.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Don't get me wrong, HEI, I do not want to tear down that beautiful building. I just want to find a use for it that works.

People don't realize that the first use wasn't as a produce was a convention hall. I think the Democrats 1900 convention was held there. (I might have the date wrong.)

Melyssa said...

First they need to sell local only produce and local crafts like pottery.

That vegetable stand that is gone sold produce from South America. I can get that at Kroger for LESS!

If I'm going to pay premium prices, I want to talk to the grower.

If they did weekend and evening hours and did a local only theme including beers and wines, cheese, local crafts, plants, flowers, honey, would become a desitination.

It doesn't work cause we can get everything they have there for less somewhere else. It isn't special enough.

For instance, a couple weeks ago I drove 30 miles to Cox's Nursery to get heirloom tomatoe plants because I knew they had variety! It was a DESTINATION!

Cato said...

Melyssa, that's a nice vision, but they won't do that as long as Simon has a mall that can't stand competition.

Paul K. Ogden said...


I'm afraid those things don't appeal to the masses enough to make it a profitable least not in the prime real estate location where it is now.

varangianguard said...

Apparently, the real reason is to fund another venue for SuperBowl activities, convenient to the City-County building.

Afterwards, well......back to where it was - neglected.

Melyssa said...

Paul, you are wrong. Evidently, you have not visited a REAL farmers market.

I also would venture to guess that you do not cook, you would not know a basil plant from lemon verbena, and you have zero knowledge of just how many people are into the culinary arts these days.

Hint: There is a reason there are now 24/7 cooking channels. The problem is that few places that are doing the retail support for these lifestyle choices anywhere.

I know this particular subject well. I also know what is offered already to fill that need in this town, and I know it is not enough, nor is being done well by anyone.

Melyssa said...

I had left over heirloom plants I drove 30 miles to Cox's Nursery to get last week.

I took my leftover plants to the office to give away.

It was a feeding frenzy to get those plants.

LOADS of people are into local produce, gardening, and a local sustainability lifestyle. There just aren't any complete models for it here yet in Indy. It's ripe to be done.

I think the City Market needs to bring in someone like me to talk with about what can be done and how to do it without spending millions to appease construction company political donors.

We need to spend no money and instead court vendors to whom we give good contracts that allow both the local growers and craftpersons to profit as well as the taxpayers who own the City Market facility.

It can be done. It could be done if the place were a dump.

Sean Shepard said...

Sell it and let private investors decide what to do with it based on the demands of the free market.

Government trying to force something there that maybe a lot of people want but that makes no economic sense means that the property is not being used to maximize its economic value. We also know that historically, governments can't make money selling booze and women so they shouldn't be running or meddling in what ought be private ventures.

Sell it. And sell the old MSA property as well. Quit trying to "partner" ... businesses and private entities partner ... when governments do it ... well, don't they have a word made part of the common vernacular during World War II for that?

If agents of the government want to be real estate developers or property managers they should go do it in the private sector. Of course, then you have to be good at because you'll lose your own ass instead of all of ours'. ;-)

Paul K. Ogden said...


Well I grew up on a farm, so we had our own farmer's market. And, yes, I do cook. I love good Farmer's Markets. But people working in office buildings aren't going to regularly buy produce and haul it back to their office the rest of the day. It's just not going to happen. We've proved that time and time again.

You're betraying your libertarian principles, Melyssa. Instead of gov't trying to figure out what would work, how about letting the market determine? Any way you slice it, you have to have a use that will appeal to workers who work in that hour 8-5, M-F. When more people move downtown maybe that will change.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I agree with SS's philosophy, altbeit his approach is off a bit. It's an historical building that is vitally important to the city. I don't simply want to turn it over to the private sector and let them do whatever.

Government can play a role in finding a use that can fit the building. My point is that they need to be looking at what business approach will work in there instead of trying to repeatedly shoehorn an approach based on nostalgia for the days of old, an approach that is not working.

While I don't agree with SS's approach of simply selling the building, he is 100% correct that we need to figure out who the clients are and find something that will appeal to them.

Cato said...

This weekend, I visited the Findlay Market in Cincinnati. It was lovely and vibrant, full of people and wares, and, in all respects, a functioning and valuable market.

I'm sorry to offend, but Indy just isn't a "real city" in the way that the bigger, more established, towns are. Indy doesn't have "city people" who do "city things," so I doubt whether a market would be successful in this town of milquetoasts.