After 73 years under city rule, the Dallas Farmers Market became a privately owned venture in June when the 12-acre facility was purchased for $3.2 million by a group called DF Market Holdings.
At one time the hub of wholesale food distribution for the entire region, the Farmers Market has been stagnant for years. The group has ambitious plans to redevelop the market, but there are details to be worked out, and construction won’t start until later this year.
The sale has farmers, wholesalers and restaurateurs at the market asking the same question: Where will my business be in a year?
"I hope they make room for us all," says L.D. Stubblefield, a wholesaler and vendor who has been making his living at the market since 1957.
"We want local farmers at the Farmers Market," says developer Brian Bergersen.
Two sheds down
Stubblefield and his family have been at the market since the 1940s. The tractor resting at the corner of Harwood and Marilla streets belonged to his wife's family. He has seen the evolution of the market through the decades, but he knows this redevelopment will be the most drastic change to date.
"We want local farmers at the Farmers Market," says developer Brian Bergersen. “The redesigned Shed 1 will accommodate a retail market rather than wholesale."
With a renewed focus on local farmers rather than wholesalers, there will be ample space in Shed 1 for the current vendors to sell to the public, according to Bergersen. As for the wholesale market, which takes place Mondays and Thursdays through the middle of the night, plans are being discussed to relocate this commerce to a lot south of I-30.
The street traffic and parking that currently runs through the center of the Shed 1 will be eliminated to provide space for vendors, creating a more pedestrian-friendly market. The remaining outdoor Sheds 3 and 4 will be demolished to make way for apartments and parking to serve the area. Also slated for the wrecking ball are La Marketa Cafe and the adjacent warehouse.
The developers are meeting with the vendors and farmers in an effort to make the redeveloped farmers market work for all parties. The group of investors includes a mix of real estate and food industry veterans: Bergersen of Spectrum Properties, the real estate developer behind various downtown lofts; restaurateurs Blair Black and Janet Cobb; and wholesale food industrialists Ruthie Pack and Lucian LaBarba.
A major issue being discussed is where the vendors will store their goods. According to the plans put forth, vendors will no longer be allowed to park their refrigerated trucks behind their stalls. One option is a common refrigerated space, where the vendors could store their produce until they are ready to sell it at the booths.
"I already sold my 48-foot refrigerated trailer, because they say we won’t be able to park the trailers next to our booth like before," Stubblefield says.
Mayors from three surrounding cities have approached Pecan Lodge owners Diane and Justin Fourton, hoping to lure away the barbecue hot spot.
The redeveloped Shed 1 is the only part of the market to remain under city management. The air-conditioned Shed 2, home to the acclaimed Pecan Lodge, will be redeveloped with restaurants and specialty retailers.
The uncertain future of barbecue restaurant Pecan Lodge has received a lot of media attention. Owner Justin Fourton has stated they hope to stay, but they are exploring their options. Mayors from three surrounding cities have approached Fourton, hoping to lure away Pecan Lodge. Fourton will not name these cities, but he says Dallas has remained silent. Thus far, the proposed plans have been insufficient for Fourton to commit to the Farmers Market.
Pecan Lodge is a local favorite that has received national attention as a result of its appearance on Diners Drive-ins & Dives. People line up for the barbecue for hours every weekend morning, a fact not lost on the developers who have stated Pecan Lodge is their No. 1 tenant to keep at the market.
What will the neighbors say?
The tenants of the sheds are not the only people keeping a close eye on the looming changes. Across from the market on Harwood Street is the warehouse of Thomas Mushroom and Specialty Produce, a wholesale distributor that has occupied the corner since 1993.
"It's a few years away, but when the price is right, this entire block will sell out and be redeveloped," says owner Steward Thomas, pointing to the low-rise condos being built a block away. Though their land was not part of the deal made with the city, Thomas foresees that their block will be in play in the coming years.
The Bridge homeless shelter, one block southwest of the market, is another neighbor affected by the redevelopment. Constructed in 2008, The Bridge serves approximately 1,200 people each day, many of whom line up on Park Avenue to enter the shelter.
Concerns about crime associated with the homeless population has prompted a planned reorientation of the entrance to the southwest side of the building. This will traffic the homeless into The Bridge through the other side of the building and out of sight from the planned apartment development.
Jay Dunn, president of The Bridge, confirmed the plan for a recessed entrance on the other side of the building, preventing people from lining up along Park Avenue, as is the case now. But Dunn is optimistic about the changes coming to the area. He sees The Bridge growing with the Farmers Market as it redefines itself in the coming years, with a benefit to the shelter in the long term.
"The continued development is very exciting," he says. "Crime is significantly down, and there's a lot of investment in the area. We’re in a great neighborhood, and it’s getting better."
According to city officials, major construction will not happen until the sewer line running beneath several of the sheds is removed; that could be a few years away. If all goes to plan, the people who have made their living at the market for generations won't get lost in the construction dust.