Joseph Cranney , firstname.lastname@example.org; 239-213-60357:51 p.m. EDT October 3, 2016
The operator of the popular downtown Naples farmers market says she will discontinue the event during tourist season if the City Council votes to move the market off a public street.
Barbara Walker, president of Neapolitan Enterprises, said she will only hold the Third Street South farmers market in the summer if the council votes Wednesday to relocate the event from November through April.
“If the city denies that permit, we don’t believe there is any viable alternative for the market in the winter,” Walker said about the council’s consideration of permanently moving the market to one of the area’s private parking lots.
The market operates in the lot along Gordon Drive behind the Tommy Bahama’s restaurant from May to November, but with about half the vendors and a group of shoppers that is about four times smaller than the in-season crowds, Walker said.
She said the parking lot can’t support the event’s 60 vendors in season and the winter crowds of roughly 1,000 to 2,000 people.
“We’ve tried to lay it out in (other areas),” Walker said. “It doesn’t work. It makes it worse.”
Walker also said hosting the event on Third Street allows for more public parking.
“By locating the Farmers Market on Third Street in the winter season, there is more actual space for the vendors and customers and there are 106 more parking spaces available than if the Market were in the parking lot,” Walker wrote in an analysis to the council.
The council tabled its vote on the event’s permit in August after two merchants from Third Street’s shopping district complained the event hurts their business on Saturdays when the market is held from 7:30 a.m. until vendors take down their shops at noon.
“Move the market back onto private property where the city is no longer responsible for hurting my business, creating congestion and adding to driver’s confusion,” George Buonocore wrote the council in an August letter.
Buonocore, from the Paper Merchant stationery store near the intersection of Third Street and 13th Avenue South, organized an August petition with more than 30 signatures asking the council to permanently move the market to the nearby lot.
The Third Street Merchants Association, the farmers market sponsor, distributed a two-sided pamphlet urging residents to contact their council members and voice support for the market.
Mayor Bill Barnett said the roughly 1,800 emails sent to the city about the market are the most he can recall for a council vote.
“I don’t think we’ve had that many, ever,” he said.
Council members said they support the farmers market and only want to discuss if the city should continue to allow the event to close a public street.
“What council had initially said was, 'Can you explore other venues?' ” Barnett said. “That’s really what it was — not that we’re going to flat out get rid of the farmers market.”
Barnett said the benefits of keeping the market on Third Street outweigh the negatives.
“I can’t speak for the council, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s certainly enough support for it and let it stay where it is,” he said.
Councilman Doug Finlay said he is “leaning” toward voting to keep the market on Third Street.
“Council’s issue wasn’t anti-farmers market,” he said. “It was just whether it belongs on private property or public property.”
Walker said her proposal to keep the market on Third Street also has letters of support from the Old Naples Association, the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District and the “vast majority” of merchants on Third Street.
“We have found that the farmers market is the most effective advertising we do,” Walker said about the crowds that are drawn to businesses on Third Street. “It’s been a hugely successful marketing activity for us.”
The Third Street farmers market, which started in 1994, was long held in the area’s private parking lot. But the council approved the move to Third Street in 2009 after the event’s popularity grew.
As recently as 2013, the market was held on just two Saturdays per month during the winter. Now, there’s a market every Saturday from November through April. The event closes two blocks on Third Street between 13th Avenue and Broad Avenue South.