City ends Erie Street Market event schedulingWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
After decades of trial and error, the City of Toledo is — at least for now — forfeiting its foray into the embattled field of public market managing.
Food vendors moved out years ago. The Superior Antique Mall left after that. And now the brides and the business conventions and the fundraisers have to leave too, after the city sent letters to at least 10 clients to cancel their events scheduled in the building.
The Libbey Glass Outlet is the only business left in the century-old building. Its lease expires in September.
Between lease income totaling about $120,500 and other income from space rentals and sales adding up to $97,930, the market made about $218,430 in 2011. But utilities, contracting fees, security guards, supplies, cleaning services and other elements to keep event booking afloat cost about $466,890.
That’s more than a $248,400 deficit.
Jen Sorgenfrei, the mayor’s spokesperson, said a private business could probably run the place more efficiently.
“It’s kind of like talking at a eulogy,” said Kris Berger Long, who contracted with the city to book events at the site.
Connie Hoffmann, who managed the market for seven years, said she too has a personal attachment to the place. She now owns Uptown Art and Antiques on Adams Street.
“It was a blow to me when they called me in the morning that the letters went out, even though I’ve moved on,” she said. “I understand with my head why it has to be done, but it’s my heart that hates to see this.”
The building was constructed in the early 1900s to house a wholesale food market. The spot quickly gained popularity among city dwellers as world-renowned acts came to the stage at the auditorium. Virtuoso pianist Vladimir Horowitz played there. Orson Welles lectured there. Elvis Presley rocked the stage.
The market was home to everything from garden shows to high school proms, said Fred Folger, a local historian.
But in 1966, the city shut it down to use the space for vehicle and maintenance storage. The building sat that way for a few decades until the mid-1990s, when the city and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development pumped more than $4 million into renovations and marketing to facilitate a new market for unique local grabs. The market manager at the time said she wanted the Erie Street Market to be Toledoans’ grocery store, according to records at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library’s history department.
Some 40 vendors set up shop and accounts of this period show that the site was the hip place to shop and socialize. But even then — and this trend dates back to the 1930s — the endeavor leaked hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It would take somebody with deep pockets to keep that afloat,” Hoffmann said.
When the market was getting its legs in the ’20s and ’30s, the city was renting out spaces for free. Of 67 days rented in 1930, 10 were offered at no cost. In 1931, 27 events were rented out at no cost. This continued until 1936 when City Council passed a law mandating a minimum $45 fee to rent. And this was when the place was booming with shows and galas.
Officials familiar with the building have said that it is in need of repairs, such as improved roofing. In the early 1970s, news clippings revealed similar tensions. The canopy over the civic center had apparently started breaking apart in large chunks so the city spent $163,000 to make it look how it does today, according to records at the library.
By 1997, it was reported that the amount of money the city and HUD had allocated for the market left out some unbudgeted expenses, for to the tune of about $400,000 for replacing sewers and leaky roof spots.
Although these are brief glimpses into the long history of the Erie Street building, one debate has seemed to rage on throughout the decades.
“My general philosophy has been if you can find the business in the yellow pages, then the city shouldn’t be doing it,” said Councilman Tom Waniewski.
He spoke out against contracting to book events at the site last year. But after “rebranding” the spaces by renaming them, drawing in events without a marketing budget and revitalizing empty space, Berger Long says she achieved her goal.
The strength of the Erie Street Market lay within its flexibility regarding caterers, she said. Whereas most event venues will require a bride to use the catering service the venue provides, the bride could choose any caterer she wished to come to the Erie Street Market, Berger Long said.
But she struggled with getting the market advertised. She booked some 50 events essentially by word-of-mouth. But even then, she could barely break even on events.
“It has a lot of structural issues and the cost to keep it running far outweighed anything we could make at an event,” she said.
Berger Long began contracting with the city to book events to bring life to the empty bays, she said.
When Hoffmann started managing the market, it was still vibrant with vendors. She was responsible for bringing in the Black Keys and a number of other concerts. But she said a number of conflicting elements kept the place from succeeding. She said the city didn’t make solid contracts with most vendors — even though ten percent of the vendors’ sales would go to the city for overhead —so the venture was always in flux. In addition, the bar in the concert hall zapped money from the city.
Sorgenfrei said the recent decision to stop booking events is not a reflection of Berger Long’s quality of work. This is a matter of operating costs outweighing income, she said.
No one is positive what will happen next.
“They’ve tried several different formulas; different administrations’ leadership has taken different approaches,” Sorgenfrei said. “Nothing has quite fit.”