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Ideastream

Who Should Run West Side Market? Vendors Say Not Cleveland

 

The debate over the city owned and operated West Side Market continued Tuesday night with the Sound of Ideas Community Tour, and many in the audience of nearly 200 favored Cleveland giving up management of the 107-year-old facility.

The vacancy rate for the entire market is currently 30 percent, with 50 percent vacancy in the produce section.

“I think pretty much everyone in the room is in agreeance that the city is not capable of running this place anymore and the only people who probably disagree are the people who work for the city,” said Amanda Czuchraj of Czuchraj Meats, a vendor in the market, to cheers from the crowd.

Cleveland Chief Operating Officer Darnell Brown told the audience that the best model is for the city to own and operate the facility, to which many in the crowd shouted “No!” or booed. Toward the end of the forum, Brown said that the feedback was valuable, and he would have a pointed conversation with Mayor Frank Jackson about the future of the market.

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The Sound of Ideas Host Mike McIntyre moderated the discussion and fielded questions from the packed house at Market Garden Brewery with panelists Darnell Brown, chief operating officer for the City of Cleveland; Don Whitaker, owner of DW Whitaker Meats and president of the United West Side Market Tenants Association; and Amanda Dempsey, currently the community engagement and events director at Mitchell's Ice Cream and formerly the manager of the West Side Market. [Pat Miller / ideastream]

Several vendors who have left voiced their frustrations with city management on social media, saying electrical work had not been completed and the city was ignoring infrastructure problems.

“If the city of Cleveland comes into Farenheit on a Saturday night to give me a health inspection, I better not have any electric cords running into my coolers,” said chef and restaurateur Rocco Whalen. “If I do, I’m done. Why does the market make it acceptable for that to be the behavior?”

Whalen tweeted last month that all he wanted for 2020 was for the city of Cleveland to let him run the market.

“I’m here to merge new folks with old folks, generations of customers,” Whalen said. “Moreover though, I think that you need to let creators be creative, and I want to work in unison with the city to make the market great for the next 100 years.”

Last month, the city came out with its list of goals for the market in 2020 and noted Cleveland has made more than $5.4 million in capital repairs over the laat six years, with another phase of the project set for the first quarter of this year.

Some audience members including Don Whitaker, owner of DW Whitaker Meats and president of the market’s tenant association, favored management by the Cleveland Metroparks.

“They have proven leadership,” Whitaker said. “So many assets in this town, they’ve taken it. The city would have to give it to them, they would have to accept. I’m totally for that. The tenants are for it.”

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About 200 people packed Market Garden Brewery for The Sound of Ideas Community Tour discussion on the future of Cleveland's West Side Market. Down the street, Nano Brew Cleveland opened its doors to the overflow crowd and showed a live stream of the discussion on its televisions. [Pat Miller / ideastream]

Ward 3 Councilmember Kerry McCormack, who represents downtown and the Ohio City area where the market is located, favors the city keeping ownership but creating a nonprofit especially for the market. He called the Metroparks “the greatest thing since sliced bread,” but believed they had enough assets to handle without the market.

Many panelists and audience members strongly agreed the market needed someone or a group whose sole purpose is to develop the market rather than putting it under the city operations department. Brown believes market manager Felicia Hall already fulfills that role.

In terms of concrete plans, Brown said he works 60-hour weeks and he’s available, but “my phone hasn’t rung. I haven’t seen a piece of paper.”

Brown also told the audience the city’s 6 to 8 month marketing plan is currently being actualized.

Jeff Craig moved to Cleveland three months ago and said the Findlay Market in Cincinnati is a great place.

“As Mr. Whitaker said, this isn’t rocket science,” Craig said. “I think what I’m seeing is it seems like the city is in a little bit of analysis paralysis. You’re doing all this planning, you’re putting all these things together, just get it done. You’ve got to move forward.”  

An earlier version of this story identified Darnell Brown as Cleveland's Chief Operations Manager. His title is Chief Operating Officer.

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