OLYMPIA - The Olympia City Council is studying an idea from downtown business owner Mathias Eichler for a recurring downtown market that would occupy a city parking lot.
Eichler, who owns a European product store called einmaleins at 121 State Ave. N.E., said the market would bring commerce to downtown and provide an opportunity for vendors who can’t get into the Olympia Farmers Market. He said it would focus on craft peddlers and food vendors but also could have produce, like the farmers market at the Port of Olympia.
“I want another regular weekly market because I think the city is creative enough,” Eichler said.
Councilman Steve Langer brought the idea to Tuesday’s City Council meeting, and the council referred the topic to its general-government committee.
Eichler said he’s most interested in an event that would close down a street for a day. He has organized several events that have closed Washington Street from Fourth and State avenues, putting together a holiday market and a market during Arts Walk. He also has secured permission to shut the street for the past two years for A Table for Olympia, a sort of block party and potluck in the middle of downtown.
“The community loves just being in the middle of the street,” said Eichler, who promotes permanently closing a downtown street to encourage pedestrian traffic and festivals.
But Olympia’s code allows a street to be shut down only for seven individual events, said Cathie Butler, communications manager for the city. So Eichler is pursuing the idea of holding the market in a city parking lot.
He said he asked Diamond Parking of Seattle if one of its private lots downtown could be used and was told no.
“It has to be a partnership with the city,” he said.
Langer said there are two parking lots proposed – the State Street lot near radio station Mixx 96 and a lot on Fourth Avenue containing an artesian well that the city recently acquired.
But the council will have to study the idea, because the city has no rules for parking lots other than as a place for parking, Butler said.
She said the council already has a festival event ordinance that allows a nonprofit to hold a street festival for a $50 community-event business license and a $50 street-closure fee.
For a for-profit group, the city would have to negotiate a lease, she said.
Some council members were skeptical of the proposal.
Councilwoman Rhenda Strub said she’s concerned it would affect the farmers market.
Langer said he didn’t want the market “to be something that takes away from the success of the farmers market.”
In an interview, Eichler said the farmers market doesn’t help downtown businesses because people drive there and then drive away without wandering downtown. He said he could easily provide enough vendors to fill a market. It would start as perhaps a monthly event, then grow.
Councilman Craig Ottavelli insisted the matter be handled by the general-government committee, which he chairs, and that the movement for a market come from a private group, not the council’s initiative.
Langer had said the matter should be referred to the council’s Land Use and Environment Committee, which he chairs. He said it doesn’t matter to him where the issue is handled, as long as it can be expedited.
Eichler said Councilman Stephen Buxbaum has been supportive of the proposal.
“I’m in favor of the referral” of the issue to committee, Buxbaum said at the council meeting. “I would encourage a deliberate approach.”
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org