Friday, April 2, 2004

Update of icon almost finished

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

Framed beneath a canopy north of the market, shoppers and construction workers leave Findlay Market on Thursday afternoon.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG

After 10 years of planning, more than two years of construction and $15 million, renovation of iconic Findlay Market is nearly complete - but not to universal raves.

While merchants are confident the overhaul of the 152-year-old market will increase business, some still wish they had been allowed a bit more input.

"One of the main reasons the job was undertaken was to widen the aisle - and it's probably a foot narrower," said Horace McDonell, owner of Krause's deli and president of the Findlay Market Association.

Michael Luken of Luken's Poultry, Fish and Seafood said the concept is good - "it's bright, wide open and bigger" - but the rehabbed market isn't as functional as it could be. For what the city has spent, Luken said, "it should be the Taj Mahal."

Findlay Market's renewal is seen as important for Over-the-Rhine's revival, pumping vitality to Cincinnati's most historic - and most troubled - neighborhood and spurring renovation of abandoned and dilapidated buildings in the surrounding blocks.

The oldest public market west of the Alleghenies houses merchants selling meat, fish, poultry, produce, flowers, cheese, deli and ethnic foods.

The renovation project started in February 2002 and is expected to be completed by the end of April.

The project more than doubled the amount of available space for lease and included renovating the main market house, building a farmer's market shed, purchasing and renovating four buildings called the North Addition, constructing a parking lot, and improving streetscapes and pedestrian walkways.

Cracks in the market house's support beams, bad weather, equipment that didn't fit and lead abatement slowed renovation. The original opening date was fall 2002.

Assistant city manager Rashad Young said the city recognizes there have been design challenges."It's an imperfect project," he said.

And, while it is crucial for the city to recognize the merchants' needs by working with them and soliciting their input, "input doesn't necessarily mean that we have to do exactly what they recommended," Young said.

On the issue of aisle width, for instance, Young said the city is already "a long way past the original design. We've tried to make space flexible to address their issues."

The nonprofit Findlay Market Corp., which will assume ownership of the market for the city when the project is complete, will lead this effort.

"Bringing in new tenants, promoting the market and supporting other development on the market square - this is all part of the plan," said Bob Pickford, the corporation's executive director.

Pickford said studies show public markets are generators of economic development.

One example is Pike Place Market in Seattle.

"It was slated to be torn down in the 1970s but was saved by a grass-roots citizens campaign," Pickford said. "Now it has hundreds of businesses, is a major tourist attraction and is one of the biggest money-generators for the city."

Efforts that will begin shortly after the Findlay Market renovation is completed will focus on further development, including:

• Expanding the market base to include more and different offerings.

• Adding restaurants and cafes.

• Increasing hours of operation.

The Findlay Market Business Fair, from noon until 3 p.m. April 16, is aimed at helping anyone considering running a business at the market.

Kristin Carlson of Northside and her 3-year-old son Joseph were at the market Wednesday. A longtime patron, Carlson said the market seems busier, and she likes the improvements.

"There are musicians on the weekends, and you see people getting meats and cheeses and breads and picnicking," Carlson said, pointing to Silverglade's, one of the more popular specialty food shops.

Second-generation owner Al Silverglade said the renovation, despite its setbacks, was worth it. "Anything worthwhile is worth waiting for," he said.


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