Controversy is brewing in the City of Lindsay, as the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce are in a disagreement.
It was announced at a Council meeting earlier this year that the prospect of relocating the Friday Night Market was of great interest to the Council, due to reports of vandalism and noise complaints from residents living in the apartments located on Sweetbriar Avenue.
However, at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting, an uproar took place at the opening of public comment.
Eric Gonzales, the executive director for Urbanist, had originally gone to the meeting to discuss the future projects his company was preparing for Lindsay, but once he noticed the item on the agenda to open an application period to become the operator of the Friday Night Market, he felt obligated to speak up.
“The Lindsay market was a big factor when we made the decision to move here. We have been invited by many many communities in Hanford, Tulare, Orosi, Kingsburg,” said Gonzales. “We decided to come to Lindsay and share space with the Veritas Art Center because of the night market and the traffic that it allows for some of our projects. I was really sad to hear that there was some talk about maybe moving that, because that is really going to affect our entire plans. We had no idea that there were plans to move the market. If we are going to continue forward and reach for the best, I hope that something happens and the market can remain there.”
Gonzales wasn’t alone in his concerns about the possible change of operation.
Maria Gutierrez, a flower shop owner and Lindsay Chamber of Commerce board member presented the Council with results from a survey conducted with businesses around the market area. Only seven of the surveyed businesses disagreed with the current location of the market, while the remaining 47 businesses agreed it should stay.
“It’s about keeping our businesses open,” said Gutierrez. “And that’s our main purpose here for the Chamber.”
She explained that the market provides a number of benefits to businesses around town. The Friday Night Market provides great foot traffic, brings customers to locally owned businesses, gives store owners exposure, businesses earn more during market season, the market helps to keep businesses open, and a lot of downtown businesses depend on the market.
Virginia Loya, Chamber Director and former Friday Night Market Director, added her input about the market situation.
“When there is anything that needs to be taken care of, things are brought up to me, and I take care of them as soon as possible,” said Loya.
Loya also presented the Council with information that she went to the Lindsay Police Department to ask about reports of vandalism, and found that no reports had been filed during the last market season.
The Council revealed that the Chamber owes them nearly $20,000 for usage fees for the market. They also explained that they set a “doable” rate of $2,000 per market session, an arrangement that was agreed upon between the Council and the Chamber.
Robin Perna, the president of the Lindsay Chamber of Commerce, reasoned with the Council for reconsideration.
“We do not have the means to pay it. $8,000 was a carry over from the year prior because we did not have the income to pay that either,” said Perna. “We have conducted a study looking at other chambers that are of our size, and of even greater size. We compared cost that they incurred for extra activities. They have all worked together as partners with their City Councils, and none have charges as exuberant as ours. Our chamber is funded solely by Chamber dues, Friday Night Market and income earned off of a plethora of events that we support and also put on. Our Chamber is here to support local businesses, and the market was set up to finance the Chamber in 2004. Our Chamber would like to meet with your Friday Night Market ad-hoc committee to see what can be worked out in a partnership to keep the Friday Night Market as a local support to businesses, the City and the Chamber.”
After public comment was closed, the Council began discussion about opening an application period for those who wished to apply as operator of the market.
Council member Lara Cortes explained what was discussed at the ad-hoc committee meeting. The committee decided it was best for the City to open and begin accepting applications from the public. Cortes explained that the Chamber had entered a contract with the City for the market, and near its end the Chamber breached the contract and were unable to resolve the issue. According to Cortes, the Chamber “appeared to be headed into a worse financial situation in 2019.” She said that the City realizes that the market has a positive impact on the community and its residents, but ultimately the
ad hoc committee concluded that there was a need to make a motion to accept applications for a new market operator.
“We don’t have a plan of action yet,” said Cortes. “A lot of it is based off the current contract with the Chamber has expired.”
No contracts have been submitted yet for 2019.
Council member Yolanda Flores seemed to be in disbelief that the City would charge the Chamber for the Friday Night Market.
“[The Chamber] is a non-profit organization. When we are charging them $2,000 every Friday, that seems a little extreme, because that is $8,000 a month,” said Flores. “Realistically, I just don’t see that type of cost on the city side of having to charge that much. Another thing that doesn’t seem right is requesting their profit and loss statements. Do you do that to every non-profit that is here in Lindsay to see if you can charge them money?”
City Manager Bill Zigler countered Flores with a valid point.
“What we were requesting was very doable,” said Zigler. “So it comes down to would you rather have the general fund funding things that I think are important to you like fixing streets, water, public safety and so forth? Or do you want to fund a weekly party? Because you’re paying for it and your citizens are going to pay for it.”
Although some of the Council members expressed concern about taking money from the Chamber for the Friday Night Market, the Council ultimately approved the opening of applications to find a new market operator for the Friday Night Market with a vote of 5-0.
As of now, there is no one who is operating the market, resulting in the suspension of the Friday Night Market until further notice.