Months after 17th St. Farmer’s Market grand opening, project unfinished and out of money

17th St. Farmer's Market still not done

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Months after the new 17th Street Farmer’s Markets grand opening in Shockoe Bottom, the project is still not completely finished, according to city officials.

Restaurant owners along the stretch continue to be weary of delays and are also concerned with having to compete with the non-profit hired by the city to manage the market.

The newly renovated market debuted in November, after planning delays dating back to 2012 and 16 months of construction.

"We knew it wasn't quite finished at the time, but all the businesses were willing to roll with it," said Shamus O’Connor, general manager for Havana 59 restaurant.

O’Connor, along with multiple other business owners bordering the market, pointed out the unfinished roadway along Franklin Street towards the back of the plaza.

"The actual market itself just cuts off over here... just turns to gravel," said O’Connor.

"I wouldn't be able to put (a patio) there because they haven't finished their part of it yet," said Paul Keevil, owner of Lulu’s Restaurant.

Wooden sheds holding electrical equipment also remain unfinished. Newly planted trees have no surrounding grass or fencing, and promised benches, fire pits and security cameras are nowhere to be found.

"What was promised, hasn't been delivered,” said O’Connor. “We were promised the moon, and now we're basically kicking rocks."

George Bolos, a city official who oversees the 17th Street Farmer’s Market, says the Franklin Street renovation is an entirely separate project that won’t be finished until the fall. Bolos said restaurant owners were made aware of the separate projects.

As for unfinished landscaping and planned benches, security cameras and fire pits, Bolos says the city ran into unexpected costs during construction. Now, funding for the $3.5 million project has run out.

The city must look to pull money from elsewhere in the budget to afford the features originally laid out in the plan, including $80,000 for ironwork involving fencing around the trees. Bolos says that process is underway, but it’s still uncertain when that money will become available.

“Throw a handful of grass seed in there. Do something,” said David Napier, owner of Old City Bar and president of the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association. “Let’s be done with it.”

Bolos said the utility sheds had changed in design, and had to be re-approved by the city. They should be complete within the next couple of months.

Another concern among restaurants is the Enrichmond Foundation, the non-profit paid by the city to manage the newly renovated market, aiming to bring in outside alcohol vendors multiple times a month to the market to coincide with live bands.

Restaurant owners fear this will cut into their business, after they’ve already suffered huge losses.

“(Enrichmond) wants to do more programming… and profit off the beer and food that will be sold out here, which directly competes with about nine different restaurants within a stone throw of where we are standing right now (in the middle of the market),” said O’Connor.

Restaurant owners say they’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars in revenue during the construction, including dozens of parking spaces for customers. O’Connor says three businesses bordering the 17th Street Farmer’s Market also closed because of the project.

Bolos said the city brought in outside alcohol vendors once before in 2011 and 2012, during a ‘Red, White and Brew’ event on Friday evenings. Bolos said the event ultimately brought in more people altogether, which restaurants benefited from as well.

Businesses have also been long awaiting the opening of a new city parking lot on the other side of the Main Street Station, which is next door to the 17th Street Farmer’s Market. Once opened, over 500 paid public spaces will become available. Bolos says asphalt should be poured within two months, opening the lot soon after. Eventually, a pedestrian tunnel is planned to connect the new parking lot to the farmer’s market.

But restaurant owners fear it’s just more empty promises from the city.

“There’s always some excuse. There’s been some excuse all the way down the line for almost two years now,” said Keevil. “All these businesses here have suffered, and a lot of people have put money in instead of making money... to survive.”

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