If Measure O is defeated and the library/mixed-use project goes forward on Lot 4, then the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market’s permanent home could be part of a larger plaza project on the old library block. It’s not a new idea, but one some might have missed amid all the questions of downtown development.
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Here’s a twist you might not have expected in the continuing conversation about the future home of the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market: In one scenario, the library could end up where the farmers market is today — and the farmers market could end up at the current library site.
As voters consider Measure O on the Nov. 8 ballot, the visions of what downtown Santa Cruz could be and should be clearly extend beyond the question of what should happen on Lot 4, the current home of the downtown farmers market. Though O’s proposition is now before Santa Cruz voters, the city council, city planners, farmers market leaders and others have been sketching out a range of possibilities for a permanent home for the farmers market for years, as part of what many perceive as the greatest change in the downtown landscape since the aftermath of the 1989 earthquake.
There’s one vision that’s been in discussion for more than a year, and one that is useful for voters to know about as they go to the polls. That idea: transform the 59,000-square-foot site of the current downtown library lot at Cedar and Church streets into an outdoor community gathering space that’s part plaza, part park. The farmers market would use this space — and perhaps expand to twice a week — in addition to it becoming a site for community gatherings like the Church Street Fair and Greek Festival. There is also the possibility of building affordable housing on the site.
“Its location adjacent to the civic center makes it an ideal location,” said Bonnie Lipscomb, the city’s economic development director. The idea emerged from a library site revision process conducted in spring 2021, during which time more than 700 community members weighed in with their thoughts and desires for the space.
Of course, that possibility is on hold until we see the results of Measure O. In fact, the up or down vote on O could have significant impact on multiple sites and projects downtown.
All the additions and add-ons that the city and the downtown farmers market have agreed to in a recent memorandum of understanding, backed by $1.77 million in city funding, would apply to that site, should it move forward. Those include hookups for food trucks, which could serve the area on market and non-market days, protective covering for sun and rain, restrooms and cold storage for the farmers and vendors.
“It’s one more spot to look at since the reuse vision study showed strong support for a public plaza and market location. How the design could work has not been looked at but there is a lot of very interesting aspects to that zone which could include City Hall, the Civic and the adjacent streets,” said Nesh Dhillon, executive director of Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets, which operates the downtown Santa Cruz market.
To be clear, this isn’t a brand-new vision created in the wake of the Measure O initiative, but it’s one that hasn’t received much attention. It was openly discussed at the city council and through the community process at the time, says Lipscomb, but since the approval of the report last June it’s gotten lost in the shuffle.
“The reactivation of the current library site is some time down the road,” Lipscomb said, “and with the controversy around Lot 4 and the active opposition to the proposed affordable housing library project, focusing on what the current library site could become hasn’t felt as timely to some.”
The study was led by city staff and outside consultants, including Group 4 Architecture Research & Planning and Project for Public Spaces. Lipscomb managed the project with Principal Management Analyst Amanda Rotella and Rachel Kaufman, the recreation superintendent at the Parks & Recreation Department, with input from city staff from the Civic Auditorium, the fire department, the planning department and public works. More than a dozen community and neighborhood stakeholders included the Downtown Santa Cruz Association and Ecology Action. The study was completed and presented to the city council in June 2021.
The Measure O vote now hangs in the balance.
If passed, Measure O would mandate that the library stay in its current location, meaning the current library site wouldn’t be open for redevelopment as a plaza/market.
If voters turn down O, the new library — part of the multiuse (library, housing, parking) project planned for the farmer’s market’s current home — would continue to move forward. That would open up the option for the plaza/market idea at Church and Cedar.
Dhillon has resisted taking sides on the Measure O debate, but acknowledges that if the measure passes, multiple options that the market is currently considering with the city would be off the table. “My understanding is O would designate Lot 4 for a commons and market site. The other public lots would not be available,” Dhillon said. “Through the MOU, we have an insurance policy that secures a permanent location and the funding necessary to make it happen regardless of how the vote goes. If the public votes yes on O, we would work with Lot 4 since the other locations would be designated for different uses. If O does not pass, we continue to work on more site locations. Either way, we still need to establish a temporary or alternative location to go to if and when needed. We are currently working on that.”
It’s essential to understand that none of these market plans will be completed overnight; all would take several years to complete. In fact, if Lot 7 becomes the chosen site, the market could move to a temporary site while nearby construction projects on Front Street are underway.
“The market experience is pretty sublime and having major construction next door will be challenging,” Dhillon said. If Measure O passes and the market stays on Lot 4, it will also have to move temporarily when the site is developed into a downtown commons. “If we end up staying at our current spot, we would also incur disruption when the space was repurposed.” The new alternate location would be located in an area of downtown that was immune to construction and development, most likely a street closure.