Farmers Market seeks spot for 2015 season


By Kevin Spradlin

ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond County Farmers Market is looking for a new place to call home.

Vendors spent each Wednesday and Saturday during the 2014 season in the parking lot of the former R.W. Goodman Company building, with the city of Rockingham picking up the $300 monthly parking lot lease. That was a short-term arrangement, however, and Susan Kelly said Tuesday vendors need increased exposure in order to make the market successful.

RDCKelly spoke Tuesday afternoon during the monthly meeting of the Rockingham Downtown Corporation, of which she is president, and mentioned she was looking for a group consensus on whether the market should stay in downtown proper or relocate to Broad Avenue — a much more enviable location, at least in so far as a higher volume of traffic. The market opens in May and lasts through October.

Nearly a dozen RDC members attended the meeting.

“There’s no reason to come downtown,” said Lori Wright, new owner of Rocking Trends Consignment and Boutique on East Washington Street. “It’s a pretty town. If you can pull more people down town, everybody will benefit.”

The problem, Kelly said, is that the city has placed Harrington Square — where the market operated on Saturday mornings during the 2013 season — off limits on Wednesday afternoons due to the number of vehicles.

RDC member Neal Cadieu said he owns the parking lot situated in the 200 block of East Washington Street between Helms Jewelers and Rocking Trends.

“I would volunteer that space if you could use it,” Cadieu said.

But there are potential drawbacks.

“Would that be too hidden,” Kelly asked. ”

Cadieu responded: “That’s the question.”

Kelly said she’s looking at the issue from two perspectives — from those downtown stakeholders who want seasonal events like the market to remain there, and from the eyes of the vendors.

“They need to sell,” Kelly said, and noted that the increased traffic on Highway Business 74 would inevitably lead to an increase in customers.

Cadieu also suggested the vacant lot located at the corner of Green and Randolph streets, owned by First Baptist Church, might be available.

“The lot itself is probably not quite large enough,” Cadieu said, especially for the Saturday market crowd, “but with the extra parking that Food King has, it would be plenty large. I’m sure Food King would love to have the exposure.”

Cadieu said the church has considered selling the lot and has no plans to use it.

Kelly, who heads the Farmers Market Association through her role as director of the Richmond County Cooperative Extension Office, said the association will decide the fate of the Farmers Market.

“Stay tuned,” she said.

Phase I assessment

The Pee Dee Post first reported in October that some members of the RDC had considered the former First Scotland Bank by ArtsRichmond as a possible permanent location for the Richmond County Farmers Market.

Among other roadblocks, though, is the fact that the building is owned by Tri-City Inc. Owner Neil Robinette told the Post he’d be open to possible uses for the building. The first step, said Kelly, was a Phase I assessment of the building. The preliminary assessment was funded by a $2,000 grant from the Cole Foundation.

The good news, Cadieu said, is that there were “no problems of any serious nature” to the extent the assessment considered.

The study did not looking the structural integrity of the building.

“That comes next,” Cadieu said.

It’s known that asbestos tiles are in the building and that, too, would have to be addressed.

“That’s going to be an interesting one,” Kelly said of the next step, which also could be at least partially funded by the Cole Foundation. “There have been comments about the end piece (of the former bank) not being structurally sound.”

Regardless, this project is at least a long-term one and makes finding a location for the 2015 season a priority.

Field trip to Hartsville

Five RDC members traveled to the city of Hartsville, S.C., on Jan. 29 as part of a trip sponsored by the Richmond County Foundation and the Cole Foundation. Katie Rohleder, Neal Cadieu, Sue Roth, J.A. Bolton and Laura Daskal represented the RDC.

Hartsville, in Darlington County, is a city of roughly 7,700 people and is the home of Coker College.

“The first thing that struck me was how many people were there to greet us,” Rohleder said of the city manager, assistant city manager, representatives of two college foundations and others.

She said she was pleased to learn how each organization “have a common goal, working together.”

Rohleder acknowledged Hartsville’s differences — Coker College, for one, plus Sunoco — but then the similarities appeared.

“Besides that, they’re still a small town,” Rohleder said. “They have a lot of older and young people who are all committing to promoting their town. I would say they have more young people involved than we do in Rockingham. We need to find a way to get young people with families … and people who are really interested din making a life here more involved in leadership roles in Rockingham and Richmond County.”

Rohleder noted, however that the city of Hartsville had its fair share of problems — like any other area. She said she was told members of the City Council there often are split on key issues.

Martie Butler, Richmond County government’s economic development specialist, said having a university downtown “definitely helps.”

“We obviously can’t duplicate that,” Butler said.

But she spoke of the city’s innovation center that could be converted from concept to reality here, perhaps with a tie-in with Richmond Community College and “some type of four-year university.”

“That helps spearhead business plus it achieves the goal of bringing something downtown,” Butler said.




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