Stuart City Commission debates future of popular downtown Sunday market
STUART – The City Commission noted the growing pains of the city’s Downtown Green Market July 22 upon approving its yearly non-exclusive license to operate in the parking lots surrounding City Hall.
City staff originally scheduled the approval as part of the Commission’s non-discussion Consent Agenda, but commissioners decided to remove it for discussion after long-time Stuart resident and community activist Helen McBride asked to address the issue. Ms. McBride read from the licensing agreement, which described a market offering “fresh products, baked goods, plants, assorted food and green products and service,” expressing frustration at the types and number of vendors now occupying most of the City Hall parking lot.
“This Sunday the vendors were wind chimes, jewelry (four of those), housewares (two), people selling pictures, (four), shirts (two vendors), pocketbooks (two vendors) and dresses (two vendors),” she said. “You can get a massage downtown at the Green Market. I don’t know what’s green about it: There were two vendors selling dog products, you could buy hats, cosmetics, and you now have a vendor selling hamburgers. I can’t understand why a hamburger stand would be at the Green Market when right next door you’ve got Mulligan’s that has a great hamburger and the Pelican Café. I don’t think we should be cutting the throats of our downtown business-people.”
Ms. McBride particularly objected to the fact the Green Market had now spilled out of the parking lot and occupied the cul-de-sac terminating at the Riverwalk Stage, occasionally causing a bottleneck of foot traffic.
“That is not the parking lot, and that’s what it says here, she said holding up a copy of the lease agreement. “Also, they’re only going to pay us $2,000 [annually], so that comes out to $38.50 on a Sunday. We the taxpayers bought these parking spaces, and there’s only one license or permit for all the vendors. We’re losing money instead of making money with what we own.”
Mayor Becky Bruner admitted she could identify with many of the activist’s complaints.
“I read all through that today, and a lot of what you said I thought,” she said. “But I also realize in the produce business, it’s too hot right now in the summertime. Florida’s a wintertime [market], and we grow a lot of produce in the wintertime, but for the last several years it’s been a mixture or a flea market.”
Mayor Bruner insisted, however, that The Green Market – which is classified as a 501C not-profit entity – brings the city benefits in addition to the nominal financial contribution of its licensing agreement.
“I don’t know if it’s so much about the money as it is what it does bring in downtown,” she added. “It has really grown, so it might be the time for us to move it to a bigger, better place if we have it.”
Commissioner Mike Meier agreed, admitting he had spoken with Ms. McBride previously on the issue.
“For full disclosure, I also have sold at the Green Market – that’s how I got my little business started years and years ago,” he said. “I think Green Markets are a public service, and I like that we offer a Green Market. I believe it’s something that we should promote and protect, but I agree that it’s getting bigger and maybe we should look at the location. The fact that we’re sacrificing so many spaces for a public service in the Green Market is something that we have to think about.”
Ms. McBride still insisted the market needed more oversight.
“In terms of truth in government, I’d like some names of who this Green Market is,” she said. “There’s no management, they’re doing whatever they want and walking all over the city, and I don’t like it. We need the Green Market to come here and let us know who they are and who we’re dealing with.”
After Commissioner Meier reminded his fellow Board members that the lease could be canceled with a 60-day notice by either party, the Commission voted unanimously to approve the agreement. Unbeknownst to Ms. McBride, the manager of the Green Market, Hobe Sound resident Kevin Osburn, was sitting in the audience and came to the podium to address the Board during the public comment period that followed the discussion.
“I feel like we have to defend ourselves somewhat,” he said. “Some of the things she mentioned with regards to the Green Market are true, but most of them are not.”
Mr. Osburn told the Commission that he and his wife had run the market for the last 11 years, which he said has seen growth as a result of an influx of new people to the area.
“Naturally it’s grown because a thousand people move to Florida each day, and a lot of them come to Martin County,” he said. “We have two markets in one, and I don’t know if everybody is aware of this. We have basically a full day and a half day. The half day at the market is in the parking lot behind you guys. The 9-4 market is in the parking lot along the east side with what I call the cul-de-sac.”
As far as the types of vendors that participate in the Stuart Green Market, Ms. Osburn insisted he utilizes a strict screening process to ensure the participants are from the Treasure Coast area and for the most part create their products by hand. A very few otherwise, such as the dress vendors, have been grandfathered in, and he admits the green name may no longer be quite appropriate.
“If we ran a market with just purely produce, this Sunday there would be two vendors,” he said. “Having a Green Market – I think the word might be incorrect – but it is all as much as we can get locally created. It is a very strict application when people come in, we screen them to make sure that they are realistic, and as much that we can, prove that they’re making it.”
Mr. Osburn said his primary focus now is to have vendors who please the attendees of the Rock’n Riverwalk, the organization that works in conjunction with the Green Market.
“So, we have a very intense screening process and in addition, we’re trying to maintain a core group of vendors that can satisfy the Rock’n Riverwalk music and their customers,” he said.