by Steven Hale
Earlier this month, word came that Metro officials would consider bringing in a private company to operate the downtown Nashville Farmer's Market. The facility has been operating with a deficit for years, and required consistent Metro subsidies, but looking ahead at a projected shortfall of $633,000 by the end of this fiscal year, city officials say they have to consider every option. Talk of privatization has caused alarm amongst some, who fear that privatizing the operation of the market could result in the loss of the market altogether. But Metro officials say the market will remain, in some form, for the foreseeable future.
Now Metro has released a request for proposals, outlining what they'll be looking for in a potential private operator for the market. The 59-page RFP and a shorter solicitation document are both available after the jump in PDF form, for your perusal.
A summary of the request briefly describes what Metro officials are looking for:
[Metro] seeks proposals from qualified parties interested in developing the venue known as the Nashville Farmer's Market and providing full-service strategic planning, marketing, leasing, and operation of the property. The successful proposal will identify an economically viable use scenario for the property and offer specific plans toward that end as well as the continued provision of a farmer's market and related activities at the site.
The RFP document includes a summary of the factors officials believe have contributed to the market's current financial predicament. They note that, unlike other markets in the region, the Nashville Farmer's Market is open 362 days a year, and the increasingly wide availability of items such as various ethnic goods and organic produce, which were once a major selling point for the market. They also note that nearby major chain grocery stores are able to sell produce — "albeit not locally grown" — for much lower prices, making it difficult for the market to compete on a daily basis.
"As a result of choice, convenience, and price, the NFM is simply no longer the only or even best 'game in town'," they write.
In a subsequent section, they further summarize the current situation.
The Farmers' Market Board recognizes that the NFM is the best it has been in years — with more restaurants, more variety inside and out, more special events, and the very exciting Grow Local Kitchen — yet, as currently conceived, configured, and operated, it cannot be a self-sustaining enterprise in the current dynamic food landscape of Nashville. Accordingly, the Farmers' Market Board has determined that it would like to move in a new direction.
Going on, the request outlines a number of requirements for prospective operators. Among them, with their emphasis, is that the contractor "will have the right to use, however will not sell, transfer, assign, dispose of, mortgage, grant a security interest in, or encumber in any manner whatsoever, existing facility equipment, furnishings, and fixtures and will not allow any lien to remain against the facility or Metro."
The requests leaves the details of a possible financial arrangement relatively open, asking for prospective contractors to include specifics in their individual proposals, including whether the remaining lease payments to the state will be left to Metro or the contractor, profit sharing arrangements, and Metro contributions for capital improvements.
The request says proposers must have at least three years experience with "planning, implementing, and managing mixed use development projects" and that "preference will be given to developers with direct, positive experience with public markets, festival marketplaces, specialty markets or farmers' markets in other urban areas."
Interested contractors must also "hold or have access to adequate cash reserves to operate the venue for a minimum of three years."
The request sets a Feb. 28 deadline for proposals. Both documents are available below:
Requests for Proposals: Request for Proposal Documentation Revised 01-17-13 [PDF]
Solicitation: Farmers Market Solicitation [PDF]