CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland City Council is expected to approve Mayor Justin Bibb’s first batch of reforms to the West Side Market on Monday that would allow liquor sales and pop-up stalls and change the types of leases offered to vendors.
The changes are intended to help the more than 70 vendors in the market operate their businesses and plan for the future, while reducing the vacancy rate, according to Bibb’s contact for the market, senior strategist Jessica Trivisonno. About a third of available stalls are currently vacant, she told a board committee.
Councilman Kerry McCormack, whose Ward 3 includes the 110-year-old Cleveland landmark, welcomed the reforms Monday, saying they provide a cleaned-up lease structure that sellers have wanted for years.
Trivisonno and McCormack said the reforms also laid the groundwork for future improvements.
Here is what the law does:
sale of alcohol
The legislation repeals a 1924 ordinance that prohibited the sale of alcohol in the market.
But that doesn’t give sellers the green light to start selling beer or other alcoholic beverages “anytime soon,” according to Trivisonno.
Under the new rules, according to Trivisonno, the city would have to approve leases that allow vendor-by-vendor alcohol sales. Sellers should go through the normal steps required to obtain a state liquor license. And before all that, the city still needs to figure out its market-wide approach to alcohol sales.
“What I don’t foresee is the market turning into a beer hall with nothing but vendors selling alcohol at every stall,” Trivisonno said.
The options employed in other markets – and those that may be considered by Cleveland – are to allow a few bars to operate in the market (but not necessarily to encourage visitors to carry drinks while shopping) or to allow the sale of alcohol at special events.
The legislation allows both short-term contracts leases and leases up to three years (with additional options to renew leases longer).
Currently, municipal regulations only allow one-year leases.
This practice has largely prevented seasonal vendors, pop-up stalls, stalls and food trucks from operating in the market at short notice. And one-year leases also make it difficult for long-term sellers to get financing from banks, which often won’t lend money for business improvements without longer leases, Trivisonno said.
The legislation also limits rental costs for vendors who offer prepared foods. Currently, they have to pay 60% more for their space than traditional vendors, such as those selling meat or vegetables.
The change is intended to encourage more prepared food offerings for market goers, Trivisonno said.
Finally, the legislation allows the city to cap rent increases at 3% per year, providing an alternative to the “rigid” rules that currently govern rent increases, Trivisonno said.
The current rules essentially require all sellers to collectively foot the bill for the total market operating costs. This is problematic with increasing vacancy rates, as it would mean that each vendor’s slice of the pie would have to increase to compensate for empty stalls.
Former mayor Frank Jackson has given sellers a reprieve from rent increases during the pandemic. And the city’s current rent increase rules haven’t been enforced since at least 2018, Trivisonno said.
But if those rules were to be used in 2022, sellers would see their rents go up between 30% and 80%, which Trivisonno said would likely lead to an exodus of sellers.
Since rents have failed to cover the full cost of operating the market in recent years, the city’s general fund has had to step in to cover the costs. Last year, that grant was about $422,000, Trivisonno said. She noted that the city expects this year’s grant to be approximately $870,000. According to Trivisonno’s estimates, the reforms approved on Monday would peak that subsidy by about $76,000 in 2022.
The board is considering — but has yet to approve — other Bibb-proposed legislation that would allow nonprofit Ohio City Inc. to raise money for the market, as it did at the time. of the centenary celebration of the market ten years ago.
But Trivisonno said allowing the nonprofit organization to conduct such fundraising is not the main purpose of the proposal, although it may be possible in the future.
Instead, Trivisonno told a board committee that the legislation was primarily intended to allow the nonprofit to spend about $86,000 that was still in its bank account 10 years ago. Previous legislation that would have allowed that money to be spent in the market expired in 2016, before all the funds were used, she said.
Council amended that legislation, and the piece it will likely approve on Monday, to require city administrators to periodically report to council members on progress in improving the market.
The changes expected to be approved on Monday fall short of Bibb’s desire to find an outside entity to run the market on behalf of the city, which he supported during the mayoral campaign.
Trivisonno told the board that Bibb still operates on the principle that the market should be given to a nonprofit organization or some other form of outside management, while still being owned by the city.
But she said such transitions in other markets had taken two or three years and that legislation being considered by the board on Monday was intended to “stabilize” market operations in the meantime.