Wichita Falls Farmers Market Association in standstill over new lease with city

Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 7:02 PM CDT
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - The downtown Wichita Falls Farmers Market Association is doing everything it can to remain in downtown after declining the new lease proposal from the city and Downtown Development.

The association has been presented with its final offer, but that doesn’t mean discussions aren’t still happening. All three parties are working to find some middle ground, but as of right now the association is prepared for the worst, which would mean leaving the city.

“Last week on Thursday, we got a final offer from them,” Scott Poenitzsch, Farmers Market Association president, said. “It was the same thing, $1,350 and half the profits. Or if we wanted a straight fee, which was what we were looking for, that fee was $3,450.”

The City of Wichita Falls, Downtown Development and the Farmers Market Association are in a standstill for a new lease agreement. Downtown Development is wanting to raise its fee from $750 to $950 to cover all of the farmers market utility expenses.

“When we looked at our expenses over the last 12 months, it came out to about $950 a month,” Becky Raeke, Interim President of Downtown Wichita Falls Development, said. “We have been subsidizing a couple hundred dollars a month for the farmers market and we had raised our part up to basically break even.”

The City has been using taxpayer dollars to make big repairs or upgrades to the farmers market facility over the years, but now, City officials are wanting to charge the association a separate monthly fee on top of the $950 so if they need to invest more money into the building, there is a growing fund.

“We have put about $150,000 in those facilities in the past 10 years,” Stephen Santellana, Mayor of Wichita Falls, said. “We have put a significant investment and we will continue to invest that money. The money that we do charge and that we will be receiving is not going to be used anywhere else. It is going to be used right directly into those facilities so we can continue to do business there.”

“Right now, all of that kind of comes from general fund money,” Raeke said. “There is not any money that is accepted from the City to help maintain that building, so we respect that they are trying to be responsible with the taxpayers money.”

“We are kind of frustrated with that because although we understand an increase, we expected it, we didn’t expect a 74% increase that is $750 to $1,350,” Poenitzsch said. “Nowhere did we expect half of the net profits.”

Poenitzsch said they have been in contact with the City and Downtown Development on how to come to a compromise. He is okay with paying $1,350 or even a little more than that, but taking half of their profits is off the table for multiple reasons - one being he would have to raise the stall or booth fee.

“A lot of these are mom and pop people that make money, but they can not absorb a three or four time booth fee every Saturday,” Poenitzsch said. “Those booth fees would probably raise to about $60-70 or $80 just to cover the cost to the $3,400.”

However, the ordinance that was approved by city council would prohibit the association from raising that fee.

“We did the vendor protection in the sense that we put in our contract with Downtown Development that those fees will be $20 and $25 respectively and they can not move those fees,” Mayor Santellana said. “That protects those vendors and those farmers.”

Although all three parties do not currently see eye to eye, they want to work out a deal that is best for everyone, but the Farmers Market Association is prepared to leave if they can’t.

“We want to help as much as we can,” Raeke said. “We want the farmers market to stay there as it is.”

“We are going to give it the week and see if we can get some of those negotiations going back again with Downtown Development and the farmers market to see if we can come to a consensus, do something that is best for the whole community, as well as those farmers and vendors down there trying to make money,” Mayor Santellana said.

“As a contingency plan, the membership voted to have the board seek out an alternative venue if in fact we couldn’t resolve anything,” Poenitzsch said. “We sincerely hope we can resolve this. We expect to pay more, we want to pay more, but the principle of taking half our profits or raising the rates to $3,400 is just something that we can not do.”

Conversations between all three parties will continue throughout the week in hopes to find something they can agree on, but there is no set date on when they expect to have a decision.

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