Market Site Search Stalls

Hamilton Farmers' Market wants a new home but so far events have conspired to prevent it finding a permanent spot, Denise Irvine reports.

Wanted: New central city site for burgeoning Sunday morning Hamilton Farmers' Market, must have good access, space for 40 or more stalls in summer, potential for further growth, and car parking for 1000 or so customers. Some kind of shelter would be a bonus. Must appeal to regular customers, and attract new ones. All ideas appreciated.

It's a tall order, and market manager Kerryn Jensen will be relieved to see a solution. In the past few months the market trust has unsuccessfully lobbied Hamilton City Council for a site at Claudelands Events Centre; it has tried a mid-week summer market in Garden Place that has foundered through lack of customer parking; and it's had an enthusiastic approach from The Base which hasn't gone down well with some regulars who say they don't want to traipse out to Te Rapa for their fruit and veges.

So for the moment, the city's weekly "paddock to plate" event is sitting tight at the Wintec car park on the corner of Tristram and Collingwood Sts where it's been since it started just over three years. But the problem is, it's now a tad too tight at the Wintec site. Jensen says while the area is much appreciated, it has struggled to cope on peak summer days when there have been up to 46 stalls. "I look out at the car park and it's chocka. People are walking up from other car parks and nearby streets."

Jensen says the push for a new venue is also driven by the approach of winter and the exposed nature of the Wintec property: "We hoped we'd have some shelter for our customers by winter but that's not looking likely. We're open to ideas and offers, we're kind of stuck."

The market's favoured place is Claudelands Events Centre, where it had its eye on a disused wooden barn which trust chairman Jonathan Walker believes would work well. The rustic old barn in need of repair is near the Brooklyn Rd entrance and its faded sign states "Stud Sales Pavilion", a reminder of Claudelands' colourful history of hosting agricultural events.

While this seems a neat fit for Hamilton's Sunday stallholders, they've come up against Hamilton City Council's planned $68 million redevelopment of the park. In a joint memo on the barn's potential, council's general manager communication and marketing, Philip Burton, and general manager community service, Sue Duignan, say the building would need extensive renovation at considerable cost. It is not part of the long-term vision for the site and will eventually be demolished.

There would also be conflict between the market and events booked at Claudelands. Burton and Duignan's memo estimates such bookings would prevent the market running at least half the time. "To have the Farmers' Market operate on even a semi-regular basis would seem to be contrary to council's stated position of having Claudelands operate as an event venue, not for regular activities which may preclude larger one-off or annual events and have a negative impact on the business plan."

Market regular customer Fiona Sneyd continues to back the Claudelands barn: "It would provide the perfect position and ambience." While Sneyd understands the council's commitment to big events she says it risks alienating its locals. "We need to make life better for people who live in Hamilton and the market is a crucial part of this."

Sneyd is the customer representative on the market trust and has been shopping at the Sunday food stalls since they first opened. "It is an important part of the way I live." She would be unhappy about a move to The Base, concerned it would leave a vacancy in the heart of the city. "We should be nurturing our town centre."

Stallholders and customers got a taste of Claudelands last Sunday when the market moved there temporarily during the Hamilton 400 race. It was set up in the car park off Heaphy Tce and Jonathan Walker says there was excellent feedback from shoppers. "It's slap bang in the middle of our customer base. We really would like to work from there."

With the barn not available, Walker says they'd be happy to use the extensive car park or some other part of the grounds and the trust will try the council again on this.

The chances don't look good: Philip Burton points again to the council memo, and to issues such as the long period of construction scheduled for Claudelands, and future conflict with event bookings.

Burton likes the idea of closing a central city street for the market each Sunday, but local government legislation says it can only be done 21 times a year. The council may look further at this.

Burton says the council backed the market from the start and there is plenty of goodwill: "We'd love to find a better place for them. We're still trying as hard as we can, we're keen to see a flourishing Farmers' Market."

Walker wants to "get around the table" with the council. "We really want to work with them because they control the best sites. It is the only way forward and we want to keep it going."

Walker has been a stallholder from day one, selling his specialty Soggy Bottom Holding bacon and sausages. "The market has been a business incubator for us, turning a hobby into an almost fulltime business. It's a great social event as well."

Where do you think the Farmers' Market could go?