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Napa Farmers Market wins one-year deal to operate at Expo fairground
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Napa Farmers Market wins one-year deal to operate at Expo fairground

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Napa Farmers Market

Onions from Big Ranch Farms of Napa were offered at the opening day of the Napa Farmers Market's 2016 season at the South Napa Century Center. On Tuesday, the Napa Valley Expo board approved an 11-month deal to host the produce market at its downtown fairground from February to December 2020.

The Napa Farmers Market will move close to the heart of the city for its 2020 season, and possibly beyond.

Board members for the Napa Valley Expo on Tuesday approved a deal with the nonprofit fresh-food emporium to operate from the 33-acre downtown fairground on Third Street, giving the market a new base to replace the South Napa Century Center it is vacating in March. The contract allows the market to open at its new location as early as Feb. 8 and continue operating at the state-owned Expo at least through year’s end.

Directors of the farmers market and Expo described the partnership as a near-perfect match of goals, with the county’s most visible seller of fresh produce reopening shop at Napa’s showcase to agriculture – and providing a place for Napans of all classes to get together as well as enjoy healthy foods.

“The fact this has broad community benefits is one of the things that excites me,” the Expo’s board president John Dunbar said before the unanimous approval vote. “This makes sense for the Expo, it makes sense for the market and it makes sense for the community – all of that comes together. It’s equitable and diverse, and it’s everything I want to see at the Expo.”

A produce market at the fairground also will bring fresh food within easier reach of Napa’s lower-income residents because of the Expo’s nearness to the Napa Valley Transportation Authority’s Burnell Street bus station, said Jeri Hansen, vice president of the Expo board.

The agreement provides the Farmers Market a location closer to Napa’s core than the Century Center on Gasser Drive, where it moved in May 2016 after previously doing business outside the Oxbow Public Market on First Street. With an influx of businesses and restaurants filling the Century Center and increasing the demand on parking spaces, the Gasser Foundation in June requested the produce fair vacate the complex by March 2020.

Discussions between the agencies about moving the market to the fairground began in late August, market spokesperson Tia Butts told the Register in September. Earlier, market directors announced they would search for a venue of at least 36,000 square feet with room for at least 125 merchant stalls, 200 parking spaces, storage, electricity and access to public transportation.

The market’s board president, David Layland, predicted the Expo’s space and parking capacity will finally give sellers a place that potentially can become a “world-class operation,” and a food showcase on par with farmers markets in Davis and San Francisco.

“We need a new home and, hopefully, a permanent home,” he told the fair board. “In 33 years, the market has moved six times and frankly, we don’t benefit much from that.”

At the Expo, most produce vendors will operate in the former Grandstand area, which hosted the Town & Country Fair’s Destruction Derby each summer until it was dismantled along with several buildings damaged by the 2014 earthquake. The site is next to Zinfandel Hall and currently hosts Napa on Ice, a seasonal skating rink that opens from November to January.

The farmers market also will use the Expo’s Bingo Emporium, which will provide public restrooms as well as indoor space for some sellers of specialty foods and crafts. Shoppers will use the bingo hall’s parking lot and enter the fairground on its east border from the Silverado Trail – an agreement the Expo’s chief executive Joe Anderson said is workable because the hall does not open for its game nights Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until 4 p.m. (The market will continue to open year-round on Saturday mornings, as well as on Tuesdays from April to September.)

The future of Napa on Ice at the Expo after the food market’s arrival remained unclear Tuesday afternoon. Peter Mott, owner of the skating program, said he has been approached by the owners of various venues in Napa city and county about possibly moving the rink for the 2020-21 season, but that the decision likely will come down to which sites can deliver the 400 amps of electricity needed for icemaking.

“We have decisions to make in the off-season, but at the moment I don’t know where that will take us,” he said of Napa on Ice, whose current season runs through Jan. 12. Disassembly would then take two weeks, he predicted, potentially leaving just under a two-week gap before the farmers market moves in.

The produce emporium’s stay at the Expo will include one sizable gap – the month of May, when the BottleRock music festival will draw tens of thousands of fans into a fairground stuffed with stages, eateries and other facilities that will require weeks of setup and disassembly.

From the start of May through June 2, the farmers market will move to an alternate location that directors are pursuing with help from the city parks and Economic Development departments, according to Cara Mae Wooledge, the market’s manager. The market expects to find its temporary BottleRock location early next year, Layland said in a news release.

Market and Expo directors also are exploring a possible partnership between the market and the Town & Country Fair, although Anderson said those details remain to be worked out. The fair operates for five days every August, Wednesday to Sunday.

Some 160 local farmers and other businesses offer their wares at the Napa Farmers Market, serving about 1,800 customers on Saturdays, and 400 on Tuesdays, according to officials.

You can reach Howard Yune at 707-256-2214 or hyune@napanews.com

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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