Norm Bruce, president of the Waukesha Downtown Business Association, wanted to have applications sent out to vendors for the Waukesha Farmers' Market by now.

In fact, some vendors have already asked the WDBA about applications so they can begin planning for spring and summer.

But with members of the common council looking to change ownership of the popular six-month event to the city's parks, recreation and forestry department, that process is now on hold.

It's a development that is leaving Bruce, whose organization of volunteers have run the market since late 2012, frustrated.

"The vendors need to know the market is taking place, so I'm concerned we'll lose some (vendors)," Bruce said. "They want stability."

This is the second straight year that ownership of the market has been questioned. The WDBA retained ownership of the market after Mayor Shawn Reilly broke a tie vote in late 2014 when the council pondered whether other organizations should run the event.

Reiland has support

Fifteen months later, Alderman Andy Reiland is looking to put the parks, recreation and forestry department (WPRF) in charge of the market for 2016 and beyond.

Reiland said he already has the support of aldermen Eric Payne, Aaron Perry, Daniel Manion and Erik Helgestad, all of whom co-sponsored the proposal. Reiland and his fellow aldermen are expected to vote on the issue Thursday, Feb. 18, at city hall, 201 Delafield St. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.

"This action isn't to diminish the importance of the event and isn't a reflection on how the WDBA ran it," Reiland said. "But the park and rec taking over will provide good stability and consistency to the event. This is about the long-term vision for the market."

Bruce said the WDBA, a private organization of downtown business owners that puts on events such as Friday Night Live and the Silver Bells holiday events, has already shown it can successfully operate the market, located along the Fox River in the Riverfront Plaza.

He said the market has grown under the WDBA's leadership, averaging close to 150 vendors each year. Bruce added that the WDBA has also created a defined structure for the market, including creating a Facebook page and website.

"I think we've already proven we can run it," Bruce said. "I don't understand why a change is needed. We're not in a crisis, and there's not a problem. I think certain individuals would just like to see the WDBA go away."

Rec department has 'stability'

But Reiland, the council president, said he has received a lot of feedback on why the WDBA runs the farmers market. He said some have wondered why other organizations can't bid on the event.

Reiland doesn't prefer this approach, but instead said the WPRF has "a proven track record" of putting on successful large events such as the Waukesha JanBoree, among others.

"Everyone I talk to, all believe the farmers market is key for downtown," Reiland said. "It's a key event for the summer, so I don't want this to jeopardize the event this year or next year."

Helgestad, who represents the area in which the market is held, said the WDBA did a "good job" in moving the market forward after the downtown Business Improvement District, an organization that previously ran the market, dissolved in late 2012. But he added the WPRF is "best equipped to take it forward" based on its large volunteer base.

"It's a natural fit," Helgestad said.

Reiland added that he thinks if the council changes ownership, there will still be enough time for the WPRF to put on a successful event this year.

City Administrator Kevin Lahner said Monday the WPRF would run the event if directed by the council.

"We believe we are equipped to run a successful event," Lahner said of the city. "However, one of our primary goals is to facilitate others in the execution of programs that benefit the city. Our preference is to assist an outside organization to help the farmers market be successful."

Money stays in downtown

Reiland said those involved in the ownership change agree that the money made from the market should be earmarked to stay in downtown.

Bruce said the money made from the market currently supports WDBA-sponsored events and marketing, which helps the downtown economy.

According to documents provided by Bruce, the WDBA made $17,031.64 from the 2015 market. The WDBA brought in $35,130 from vendors, but also spent $18,098.36 on advertising, printing, miscellaneous and for the on-site market manager. The WDBA also put in close to 700 volunteer hours in 2015, according to WDBA documents.

Lahner said if the council chooses to assign the market to the WPRF, a budget amendment on the department's 2016 budget would have to be prepared and adopted.

Helgestad said the most important thing in this situation is that the market takes place the first Saturday in May.

"It's an important event, not just for the downtown, but for the entire city as people from inside and outside our community are coming into our downtown," Helgestad said.

Read or Share this story: