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Farmers' market awaits its rainmakers

The Seaport Farmers' Market passed an important fundraising milestone, but still must navigate a tangle of governmental details.

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Citizens have plopped down almost three-quarters of a million dollars of their retirement money to invest in a new harbour-side home for the Halifax Farmers' Market, bringing the structure one step closer to realization. But while organizers are optimistic, some of the government funds needed to move forward with the project remain unsecured and each delay sees staggering increases in construction costs.

By moving from its present cramped Keith's Brewery locale to Pier 20, the market hopes to gain some much-needed breathing room, pull in a few dollars from cruise-ship tourists and give farmers the opportunity to hawk their goods throughout the week. The design of the proposed Seaport Farmers' Market is cutting edge on the energy efficiency front, incorporates wind and solar power, a green roof and on-site composting.

Financing for the project is just as innovative as the building design. The market cooperative, which runs the weekly market and is controlled by farmers, established a separate Farmers' Market Investment Cooperative to own the new building and lease it to the farmers. That way the farmers can attract outside investors and funders for the new building without giving up control of the day-to-day operations.

The Farmers' Market Investment Cooperative was certified as a community economic development investment fund, which provides provincial tax breaks to those investing their RRSPs, on the condition that the market raise at least $500,000 from 50 investors by this week. The market passed that mark, with an estimated 175 investors providing about $740,000. On top of that, about $16,000 has been invested by casual investors who get no tax breaks.

"As long as we put the other funding packages together, we have a project thatcan go forward" with the $10 million Seaport project, says market manager Fred Kilcup.

That other funding includes $2.25 million committed by the provincial government and $1.1 million promised by the Port of Halifax, which owns Pier 20. Additionally, Kilcup hopes HRM will pony up $1 million, and the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will provide $2 million. That leaves a balance of slightly less than $3 million, which Kilcup says the farmers' organization will borrow. But neither HRM nor the ACOA parts of the package are confirmed. The Halifax council didn't allocate the money in its most recent budget and is presently on its summer break. Kilcup thinks the council may commit the money available in August or September, but the matter hasn't been put on an agenda. He says the market has recently submitted an application for ACOA funding, but, contacted Friday, David Harrigan, spokesperson for ACOA, was not yet aware of that submission.

"My understanding is they've had a lot of problems with HRM, only because---and that's the problem we have, too---because they're going to be located on a federal government property , it makes it more difficult for us to fund as well," says Harrigan. "A lot of government organizations tend not to want to fund organizations located on government-owned facilities."

Still, Harrigan is upbeat about the market's federal prospects, even if funding ultimately doesn't come through ACOA. "I assume there are all kinds of federal agencies out there, from Industry Canada to Agriculture Canada that seem to be a fit."

Kilcup says getting all the funding pieces together by September, putting tenders out in October and beginning construction in December is "doable." But the market is already a year behind its rosiest projections and each delay increases the cost of construction. Statistics Canada reports that non-residential construction costs increased 5.2 percent from the first quarter of last year to the same period this year, before the recent acceleration in fuel costs. And developers are fearing 30 and even 40 percent increases in costs this year.

"I've heard rumours to that effect as well," says Kilcup. "But we won't know the actual price until we go to tender. We've done calculations on price escalation, and we've also done calculations on how we could reduce costs depending on how all those numbers come together. There's a whole host of possibilities there. We'll find a way to control the costs."

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