City Commission Preserves Market-Only Hours During Bike Time… For 2014, At Least

Andrew Trzaska | August 13, 2013

The conflict over Muskegon’s new downtown farmers market space between the market and Muskegon Bike Time took a slight turn at Monday’s commission work session.

A motion from vice mayor Larry Spataro and approved unanimously by commissioners would in effect prohibit Bike Time from using stalls during market hours, but would allow Bike Time to negotiate use of the space in off-hours, including Thursday and Saturday evenings, as well as Fridays of Bike Time weekend.

At the start of the segment of the work session concerning the matter, Muskegon mayor Steve Gawron read a statement at stating the city commission would not allow Muskegon Bike Time to use stalls at the Muskegon Farmers Market during market hours on the Thursday and Saturday where the two events would not conflict.

Among his reasons, Gawron said that the credibility of the commission and its word were on the line, and reiterated a promise made to put the market first when it moved downtown.

Commission Eric Hood, who was involved in the meetings with Bike Time first and the Farmers Market later, claimed the decision was tough. Even with the decision he put forward with Gawron, he spoke in support of Bike Time:

“It’s one of the few events we have downtown that brings everyone together. We need that.”

Clyde Whitehouse, co-owner of Hot Rod Harley-Davidson and a leading organizer of the bike festival, spoke to Gawron’s statement at the meeting. He stated up front Monday that Bike Time would not go away because of what the commission would eventually decide.

What ensued after his initial statements was a series of back-and-forth discussions between Whitehouse and several commissions, especially vice mayor Larry Spataro.

Many commissioners came out in support of the decision, but when some started to speak to the economic benefits of Bike Time, vice mayor Larry Spataro attempted to nail down the decision the commission would make.

Spataro proposed the council pass a motion saying the commission would uphold the Muskegon Farmers Market’s policies during traditional market hours, including allowing events like Bike Time or the Lakeshore Art Festival to sublet stalls or use them for free. On the flip side, he added to the motion that the City of Muskegon would not attempt to hold programming during Muskegon Bike Time or other existing festivals as to not compete with the events.

After much debate between Whitehouse and Spataro, they both concluded that Spataro’s motion would still allow Bike Time to negotiate use of the stalls in non-traditional market hours, meaning virtually any daytime or evening hour except Thursdays and Saturdays from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m.

It’s unclear at this time if the motion passed will continue beyond 2014. Commissioners Sue Wierengo and Lea Markowski both spoke in support of re-evaluating Bike Time’s hopes for the market site in one or two years. They reasoned that the market could get established first, then the city would be better able to judge if allowing Bike Time to use the facility would be fair to the farmers.

“Next year will be a new ballgame. Let’s take this first year of the market and let it stand on its own,” said Markowski.

Spataro agreed.

“I think we will know a lot more after the first year, and then we can tweak,” agreed Spataro. “That’s why I’m proposing the policy. Policies can be amended.”

As it stands, Bike Time will not use the new farmers market in 2014. However, one loose end remains.  Clyde Whitehouse left a proposal with commissioners that, among other things, asked the commission to re-evaluate the perceptions of the market vendors. He claimed that he heard different opinions from the vendors than Gawron and Hood did.

Among details of his initial statement, Gawron said the market vendors and market master he met with either said “no way” or were “irritated” by the idea of sharing with Muskegon Bike Time. Whitehouse contested that statement, saying he received a different perception from the vendors he spoke to.

Whitehouse suggested some vendors he spoke to though the market would have been closed the whole week of Bike Time, including Tuesday, when Bike Time doesn’t operate. When he corrected that information, he claimed they were open to the idea.

Whitehouse suggested Monday that Bike Time and the City of Muskegon determine the market vendors’ true opinion through a private survey, so they would keep market vendors from feeling like they had to “play the crowd”.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst