Former Mathews Bros. showroom eyed for indoor farmers market

By Ben Holbrook | Feb 22, 2016
Photo by: Ben Holbrook The former Mathews Brothers showroom on Spring Street could be the future home of an indoor farmers market.

Belfast — Belfast Planning Board members voiced support for a proposal to establish a year-round indoor farmers market in the former Mathews Brothers showroom on Spring Street.

Applicant Paul Naron said he will use about 24,000 square feet on the upper floor of the building at 18 Spring St. for the farmers market. He said the market will be open one or two days a week from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., but those hours could change.

Participating vendors would offer a variety of products, including prepared food and crafts.

“I'm trying to create something exciting for Belfast in a place that has essentially been unused,” Naron said.

He said he started talking about his idea for the farmers market with City Planner Wayne Marshall and different people in the community four or five years ago.

The former Mathews Brothers showroom has been targeted for development in the past when it was identified as a possible fit for a multi-use civic center. The city commissioned a feasibility study on the building but eventually balked at taking the lead on purchasing and renovating the property, which was estimated to cost about $2.4 million, according to VillageSoup archives.

Also, in 2013, Mathews Brothers submitted an application, which was approved, to use the building for manufacturing and as an educational facility for people looking at their windows, Marshall said.

The goal of the farmers market, as explained by Naron, is to create enough demand for the products that farmers and other vendors don't have to work additional markets during the week. Each vendor would pay rent and have access to a booth from which to sell goods.

“You might have some crafts people that might only take 4 feet or 8 feet,” Naron said. “And then you might have some big seafood guy that might take 20 feet.

While he doesn't anticipate the project will make money initially, he told Planning Board members the market must be economically viable to remain open.

Naron has not yet bought the building but he does have a purchase and sale agreement for the property, Marshall said, and expects to close on the deal by April 1.

While discussing the project, Planning Board member Margot Carpenter asked Naron if he has worked with the existing Belfast Farmers' Market. The Belfast Farmers' Market was established in 1980 and is held on the grounds in front of the Waterfall Arts building April through October, and then moves to a greenhouse at Aubuchon Hardware from November through March.

Naron said he has had conversations with the people involved in the Belfast Farmers' Market regarding his plans for the former Mathews Brothers building.

“I'd love them all to join,” he said.

Several people in attendance at the meeting voiced support for the project.

During review, Planning Board members considered how much parking should be required. Marshall said there are about 58 on-site parking spaces available and about 250 on-street and municipal lot spaces within 1,000 feet of the building.

An adjacent undeveloped lot at 17 Spring St. can be used for parking for up to 29 vehicles, said Bill Lane of Gartley & Dorsky Engineering and Surveying. He said some spaces can also be created near the entrance to the building.

After considerable discussion, the Planning Board agreed the 29-space parking lot and parking next to the building should be available when the farmers market opens, while a 12-space lot on Spring Street could be added in the future if it's needed.

Planning Board members also considered a request from Naron for flexibility regarding what he can do in the building without requiring additional board review.

Marshall suggested a few scenarios for the type of future development Naron could pursue, such as converting a portion of the 24,000-square-foot upper floor to small retail or professional office space.

While Planning Board members weren't averse to allowing some flexibility regarding future development in the building, they, and Naron, acknowledged it's difficult to predict what that development could be.

“This is a new experience for me, also, to try and figure out what I'm going to do,” Naron said. “The only reason I'm doing this project is to focus on having the best farmers market in the world. That's the goal.”

Marshall said the board could consider options for how much flexibility they are willing to give Naron during its next meeting.

Board members will continue discussing the project during their March 2 meeting.

 

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