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State commission designates operator for downtown public market

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  March 19, 2012 05:27 PM

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boston public market greenway side.JPG

(Boston Public Market Association)

An image from the Boston Public Market Association shows how the market could look as seen from the corner Hanover Street and the John F. Fitzgerald Surface Road.

A state commission voted Monday to designate the Boston Public Market Association as operator for a new, year-round market in downtown Boston that will sell produce, meats, fish, and dairy products grown, raised, caught, or made in Massachusetts.

"We're excited," said Mimi Hall, operations manager for the association, moments after the vote. "We're ready to move on to the next state of the process and start the lease negotiations."

Barring any major conflicts in those negotiations, the association will move on to develop and operate the market, expected to open in about two years.

The nonprofit market association was the only organization that answered the state's call for proposals to develop the market site on the first floor of a building at the corner Hanover Street and the John F. Fitzgerald Surface Road, adjacent to the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

The nonprofit group currently operates two seasonal farmers' markets at Government Center and Dewey Square and has lobbied for a decade to see a permanent, year-round market installed in downtown Boston.

In a 40-minute meeting Monday afternoon, members of the Public Market Commission reviewed the association's proposal, which was presented for the first time at a meeting last week.

At that meeting, Donald Wiest, chairman of the association, said it will need to raise $11 million to retrofit the building, built during the construction of the Big Dig to serve in part as a vent for the Central Artery Tunnel. That sum is on top of $4 million promised by the state. But Wiest said he anticipates no borrowing and no other fundraising will be necessary.

For commission member Bill Tuttle, deputy director for real estate and asset development for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the lack of financing was an area of concern. Tuttle said ordinarily the state can look to the construction lender on such a project as a fallback in case the developer has funding issues.

Tuttle also had concerns about high estimates for some design elements in the budget, for consulting services planned, and for contingencies. Working with an existing building whose properties are well known to the developer, he said, little should be needed for unforeseen complications in the build-out.

In designing the market, the association is working with Chris Coios, an architect at CBT Architects who was the original project manager for this building.

Tuttle agreed with other members of the commission, including Nancy Brennan, executive director of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, and Scott Soares, commissioner of the state Department of Agricultural Resources and chairman of the committee, that an important part of lease negotiations would be the establishment of milestones on fundraising and construction to ensure that the project proceeds on schedule.

The association expects the market to be able to open in time for summer 2014, though Soares asked at last week's meeting that they do whatever possible to push that date up.

Brennan said that in her experience raising funds for nonprofits, it was often the case that a few major donors or a challenge grant with matching funds could make a huge difference in raising substantial amounts quickly.

Several commissioners agreed with Nancy Caruso, a North End resident appointed to the commission by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, that it would be crucial that the market association work closely with its future neighbors, the Haymarket Pushcart Association, to ensure that the public market was complementary to rather than competitive with the historic weekly outdoor market.

All commissioners commended the association on the thoughtfulness and detail of its proposal and its presentation.

Speaking after the vote, Hall, the organization's operations manager, and Megan Gibbons, its seasonal market manager, said they were looking forward to being able to sell the kind of items they can't sell at the outdoor markets, such as local seafood, beer, and wine.

"It's a good move for everyone to have an indoor location," Gibbons said.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
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