Traffic and polar bears will dislodge the largest of seven city-run farmer's markets in 2007, but supporters of the Highland Park Farmer's Market worry that the city's Citiparks division will also make them move to a temporary spot for summer 2006, confusing (and ultimately losing) both farmers and customers.
In 2007, PennDOT will take over Pittsburgh Zoo parking lot No. 3, the space now occupied by the Highland Park Farmer's Market, as a staging area for construction on the nearby Highland Park Bridge. The market currently draws the largest share -- about a quarter -- of farmer's market customers in the city, says Farmers Market Friends, a citizens group made up of East End residents. It usually draws over 50 vendors and customers from the city and suburbs.
On Feb. 11, the Friends group organized to keep the market at the zoo for at least one more year, giving them time to plan for a permanent new site, and to make sure customers and farmers know where it will be. If it is forced to move to a temporary site for the 2006 season (the weekend after Mother's Day to the week before Thanksgiving), Friends members fear for its future.
"You're going to lose the farmers if we move twice," especially if customer visits also fall off, says Rob Pfaffman, an architect who has studied the logistics of possible moves for the market.
The city has two nearby alternate sites in mind -- Reservoir Drive near Highland Avenue or on the connecting road between the Highland Park Pool and the upper Reservoir Drive. The alternate sites, while large enough for farmers' vehicles and farmers market business, say Friends members, don't have the visibility of the zoo lot. They have not proposed a third alternative, preferring to stay where they are as long as possible.
CitiParks Supervisor Eric Van says the city has about a 50-50 chance of recommending that the market remain at the zoo for 2006. Currently, both zoo and market patrons use the same exits, causing massive traffic snarls and long waits at lights. The zoo's new polar bear exhibit is expected to be a big draw, meaning even worse traffic issues.
CitiParks will make its recommendation to the mayor's office concerning the market's 2006 season after a Feb. 22 meeting.