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January 08. 2013 11:44PM

Plan to move Manchester farmers market draws skepticism

MANCHESTER - The leader of the downtown farmers market association is skeptical of plans to move the market from near Victory Park to a closed section of Hanover Street in the heart of downtown.

Mayor Ted Gatsas has proposed the move as a way to boost downtown vitality and foot-traffic for the market. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday voted to send the proposal to the Committee on Administration/Information Systems.

Gatsas' proposal calls for shutting down Hanover Street from the Citizens Bank parking garage to Elm Street, opposite City Hall, on Thursdays. It would precede the closure on Friday and Saturday evenings of the adjacent block of Hanover for open-street entertainment and dining, which the city tried as a pilot program last summer.

"I certainly think the location will enhance their sales," Gatsas said of the farmers. "I've spoken to two or three people about what they thought, and they mentioned the success we had last summer with the street closing."

Gatsas added that he's looking forward to having discussions with all parties about the idea.

However, Charlie Reid, the president of the Manchester Downtown Farmers Market association, said the current location of the farmers market, several blocks east of downtown on Concord Street, across from Victory Park and near the city library, has many advantages.

"It seems the location we've been at for 15 years has been serving the public well. There's plenty of room, and you've got to think about bathrooms, parking and visibility. The church lets us have business meetings there, the Arts Institute let's us use their bathrooms. The vehicle traffic goes both ways," said Reid, who had not heard about the proposal for moving the market.

Reid, who runs Stone Wall Farm in Nottingham, added the farmers group was considering expanding at the Concord Street location, and he was concerned about space constraints at the Hanover Street spot.

The proposal comes after a brief but bitter dispute within the farmers association last year. One faction of disaffected members was considering starting its own market in the Millyard. The group settled its differences only after the intervention of Gatsas and Alderman Pat Long, whose ward includes downtown.

Milltown Market, a store that sought to get downtown workers and residents to buy products from local farmers and artisans, closed its Elm Street location last year, after opening in late 2011. The market's proprietor did not return a call for comment.

Alderman Long, for his part, said that he's open to the idea of moving the farmers market to Hanover Street, but that there were several issues that would have to be addressed.

"I think bringing the market closer to Elm street may make sense," he said. "But the good thing about Concord Street is there is parking on one side, and free parking on the other. I do see a lot of people walking to the market, but the availability of parking may still be an issue."

Long added: "Maybe we could do both locations."

The next meeting of the Administration Committee has not yet been scheduled.

tsiefer@unionleader.com

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