Farmers’ market awaits its rainmakers

| Business, Community |

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 [the port land], 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."