© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Business & Economy

North Market vendors try to weather construction woes as city prepares for new high rise

 North Market patrons bustle past vendors and wait in line in Columbus, Ohio.
George Shillcock
The North Market in Columbus, Ohio houses dozens of food vendors and store stalls. A proposed 32-story high rise next door is hurting some of the businesses as construction takes up its old parking lot.

The North Market was bustling with customers waiting in line at its dozens of stalls for food, coffee, flowers and fresh produce on Tuesday.

The indoor market's familiar lunch rush crowd is a staple in its nearly 150 year history, but the outside of the market is now facing a monumental change. There's the 32-story Merchant Building high rise under construction behind the market where its parking lot once was located and could be for the next several years.

The massive development will not only add a new feature to Columbus' skyline, but will expand the historic business incubator that currently houses more than 30 businesses.

Columbus City Council on Monday narrowly voted 4-3 to allocate an additional $31 million in taxpayer funds to the project. The project not only includes the new high rise, but also $10.5 million for a 19,000-square-foot expansion of the market, including a new public atrium, patio and plaza; $8.4 million for a 350-space parking garage for the market visitors and public; $4.7 million for underground utilities and $1 million to fund streetscape work.

Council member Nicholas Bankston addressed the split vote and concerns over the price of this project to taxpayers at Monday's city council meeting and said Columbus will be able to foot the bill.

"I understand the sticker shock that my colleagues and members of the community may be experiencing. This is a significant public investment," said Bankston.

The project will also help relocate human remains found on site from a centuries-old graveyard to Green Lawn Cemetery.

As construction continues outside, some vendors inside say they are struggling to adjust to the impacts of construction, especially as they struggle to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on small businesses.

Brenda Evans is a general manager for Sarefino's Pizzeria and Italian Deli, which has served up handmade pasta and New York Style pizza for the past 18 years. Evans said the construction is hurting her business and other family-owned North Market vendors in the building.

Evans said the construction has impacted traffic coming in and out of the market and many would-be customers are left confused about where to park and some are questioning if the market is even open.

Colo Market and Oyster Bar General Manager Dylan Holmes said he thinks the expansion project is great, but he also thinks construction has had a negative impact on business. He said since his business relies more on sales to businesses outside of the market, they aren't impacted as much as smaller vendors.

"The expansion project with the merchant building is phenomenal news for us," Holmes said. "You know we get some negativity walking through the door and people go 'Ah there's nowhere to park I hate this,' but, I know if I have a negative attitude about this, it's going to take three times as long."

While council members differed on the larger funding allocation, it did approve an amendment unanimously allocating between $475,000 and $950,000 to support the market and merchants who are impacted by construction work.

Evans said she is skeptical of this funding.

"It's not going to bring customers in. If we're not getting the customers, then it's just a one time help. It just depends on what we're going to be able to use that money for," Evans said.

Evans said she is hopeful the funding helps some of the small business owners or the small business people who just came into the market who are going to be more greatly affected by construction.

As for Sarefino's, Evans said she is confident the business can weather the construction woes. "We are going to fight to the death of us. We are not going down without a fight," she said.

Construction could take until 2026 to be completed, if not longer.

The $300 million, 32-story Merchant Building tower is going to include 174 residences, a 162-room boutique hotel, 65,000 square feet of offices, 44 additional guest rooms, a restaurant with an upper deck patio and bar, event space, café and retail space.

The city expects the North Market project to generate more than 500,000 new annual visits over the two million it currently gets.

The city committed that 30% of construction-related spending will also go to women and minority-owned businesses in the deal. The city said about 60% of current market vendors are women and minority-owned businesses.

The developers are also required to build 50 new units of affordable housing both on-site and off-site.

Holmes called the market's benefits to small businesses "unmatched" and said once construction is done, it will help the North Market stick around for another 150 years.

"Having that sustainability is unmatched. I mean what better way to spend the hour before your dinner reservation than to walk through the market and have a drink and have some oysters," he said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.