Quick Take:

With the library/affordable housing project set to displace the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market from its longtime home on Lot 4, director Nesh Dhillon is targeting year’s end to select its permanent site and aims to choose an interim spot for the market during construction by this summer.

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An update on the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market

A parade of new products, from the appearance of fresh first-of-the-season produce to inspired seasonal products from local vendors, marks each visit to the farmers market in downtown Santa Cruz. But the pace of selecting a permanent home for the Wednesday market is moving much more slowly.

Nesh Dhillon, executive director of Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets, hopes to have a new downtown site selected by the end of the year and to establish the market at its permanent home by the end of 2025. He anticipates that the market will remain on Lot 4, its home of more than 20 years and future site of the downtown library and affordable housing project, until at least spring of 2024 and possibly even longer. In the interim, it will be held at another temporary location downtown while its permanent home is constructed.

Between now and then, much needs to be determined, from which downtown location best suits the market’s infrastructure needs to the location of the temporary site.

During the November election, proponents of Measure O sought to block the proposed library project set to be built on Lot 4, a parking lot that lies along Cedar Street between Cathcart and Lincoln streets. Measure O was struck down by voters, ensuring that the downtown library project will move forward, and the market will need to establish itself somewhere else once construction starts.

Currently, Dhillon says the market is considering two sites for a permanent location. One is Lot 7, located a block and a half away from the current market site along Front Street between Cathcart Street and Soquel Avenue. It was identified as a possible site in October, when the farmers market signed a memorandum of understanding with the City of Santa Cruz. The MOU would establish a permanent home for the market and provide $1.75 million in city funds. The other possible location is the site of the current downtown library, which lies near other major municipal buildings including Santa Cruz City Hall and the Civic Auditorium.

Dhillon says the market doesn’t have enough information yet to decide which spot is best, but he hopes to be able to make a decision by the end of the year. He’s open to considering other locations as well, and plans to do a full review of all spots in the downtown area. “The reality is there are very few spots that could work,” he said. “Lot 7 and the old library footprint are the most ideal locations since they are bigger workable footprints.”

A sketch outlines a possibility for the current downtown Santa Cruz library site.
A sketch outlines a possibility for the current downtown Santa Cruz library site. Credit: Via City of Santa Cruz

No matter where the market moves, it will have a temporary home downtown until construction of the new site is complete. Dhillon says the market is looking for a site away from major construction projects, such as the Front Street/Riverfront Project, which is set to ramp up this year across the street from Lot 7.

“We want to find a spot in downtown that is immune to any of the scheduled projects slated to break ground soon,” he said. “Right now, we are looking at an option that would include closing multiple streets next to city hall and utilizing the area around the Civic.”

Dhillon thinks he’ll know where the temporary site will be by this summer and expects the market to move there for one to two years while the permanent site is finished.

When will the market move to the temporary site? Right now it’s hard to say — the affordable housing/downtown library project has not set a date to break ground, but Dhillon believes the market will move sometime next year, as early as spring 2024 or during the winter offseason in late 2024/early 2025. “We wouldn’t want to move during high season,” he said. “It’s much better and easier to move when we have a smaller footprint.”

Now more than five years into negotiations, Dhillon is excited about what a permanent home for the farmers market could look like and how it could serve the Santa Cruz community. He says that vision is starting to morph into something bigger that he hopes will be more of a public marketplace rather than just a site for the farmers market to set up for a few hours once a week.

“This needs to be an exciting, dynamic community space that not only functions as a farmers market but also provides space for daily and weekly activities,” said Dhillon. “I see the space having many faces to it, all of which are geared towards supporting our local economy, our community and being a part of the continuing evolution of downtown.”

Lily Belli is the food and drink correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Over the past 15 years since she made Santa Cruz her home, Lily has fallen deeply in love with its rich food culture, vibrant agriculture...