City Commission discusses farmers market’s purpose

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published November 4, 2015

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ROYAL OAK — The growth and requests to use the city’s farmers market prompted officials at their regular commission meeting last month to discuss the purpose of the destination.

The topic was listed as a discussion item during the commission’s Oct. 26 meeting, following the commission’s Aug. 17 denial to host an Octoberfest event in the market’s parking lot.

The denial called into question what types and how many events should take place in the downtown market — east of Main Street on 11 Mile Road — as some happenings ask a lot of nearby residents and possibly require police and DPW resources.

The commission requested a report Aug. 17 outlining special event permits requests with a focus on private, for-profit happenings that include alcohol on city property.

Farmers market events that take place outside of the market and the west parking lot, serve alcohol outside the building or feature live music outside the building require a special event permit. City Commission approval is needed only if the event requires city resources or if the police chief feels that the commission would be interested in weighing in on the event.

Those interested in looking deeper into the market’s purpose also wanted to make sure the city building benefits the community.

“I think where all of this discussion came forward and what it is rooted in, is in particular looking at community assets, whether it’s a park or whether it’s a farmers market, and more distinctly, when those assets are being used by for-profit organizations that are using it as — whether it be as a park in the future or the example that was brought to us, a farmers market — using it on a regular basis for commercial activity,” said City Commissioner Michael Fournier. “And what does that mean for us? How do we feel about that? Is that something that is the highest and best use of that asset?”

Market Manager Shelly Mazur said that when a public event requests a liquor license through the state, liquor proceeds must be allocated to charitable organizations. Mazur said the charities chosen are local or they benefit cause, such as cancer research, that help local residents.

“There is not an event that doesn’t benefit the community. Almost all the promoters will also bring in other local charities to help as volunteers, and they also benefit in that way,” she said. “I know that a couple of our promoters have also made donations to the animal shelter from profits.”

Mazur said promoters are required to reimburse Royal Oak for any city services used during a promoted public event.

The farmers market hosts private events, most popularly weddings, bat mitzvahs and bar mitzvahs. The market also hosts other family and events for those age 21 and older.

According to Mazur’s data, the farmers market booked nearly 40 weddings, bat mitzvahs and bar mitzvahs in 2015. It costs anywhere between $1,500 and $4,000 to rent all or a portion of the market for a private weekend event.

“I was hired to utilize the building in ways that it has not been utilized before, so that’s been our concentration, and I feel that we have been very successful at that,” Mazur said.

City Commissioner Sharlan Douglas and Mayor Jim Ellison said the farmers market is an enterprise fund, meaning it must be self-sustaining and does not draw dollars from the city’s general and or operating funds. The market is a city asset — like the city’s ice arena — and an enterprise fund must cover all of its own operating and capital costs.

“All the money that is generated from these events goes back into the farmers market enterprise fund,” Ellison said.

He said that all 21-and-older events end at 11 p.m.

Ellison said he agreed that the market is a city asset and he would like to see as many charitable orga
nizations benefit as possible in a way similar to what happens with Ford Arts, Beats & Eats.

“I’m looking at what we’ve got, and to me it’s not broken. I think it’s working just fine,” Ellison said. “It’s gene
rating revenue to support itself; it’s generating revenue to improve itself; it’s generating revenue to cover the costs.

“Bottom line is, every Saturday morning, it’s still a farmers market, and then come Sunday, it’s a flea market, which is what it has been for decades, and so none of those issues are impacted by what we do with the building at night.”

Ellison said he believed the market’s use falls in line with the city’s original intent of using the market as an event space.

City Manager Don Johnson said Mazur is running the market successfully given the charge she was issued by the City, which was simply, “Maximize revenue from the farmers market.”

“She’s doing exactly what we asked her to do,” he said.

Johnson said the city wouldn’t be able to house the morning farmers market or stay open for that matter without the other occasion rentals.

City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said he still wants to make sure the underlying purpose of the market is to serve the community, and Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton said he wants to make sure events including outdoor bands aren’t so frequent that they become intrusive to abutting residential neighborhoods.

Poulton said that when looking at approving the indoor-outdoor, three-day Octoberfest event in August, he felt it was too close on the heels of the Woodward Dream Cruise and Ford Arts, Beats & Eats, and that was asking too much of residents and city employees.

“And my concern was that I know the market is into making money, but at what cost is it to the residents?” he said, adding that he didn’t mind the one-day events, but he was concerned about what type of impact a three-day event would have on residents.

DuBuc said he wanted to make sure that for-profit events that serve food and alcohol at the market didn’t take away from downtown brick-and-mortar businesses.

“What you have is, essentially, someone operating a business in competition with other businesses in the city without having the expenses of being a brick-and-mortar entity in the city, and actually being able to parachute in on Friday, Saturday night, when there is a maximum number of people … and parachute out,” he said.

Mazur said she has received positive feedback from business owners who have said that when these events close at 11 p.m., attendees, not wanting to go home yet, patronize the city’s businesses.

The discussion ended with the commission taking no action.

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