It’s been said that success occurs when preparation and opportunity meet, and for years, Benton Mayor David Mattingly has dreamed of a day when the community would once again have a place to congregate in downtown Benton.
Connecting the community and revitalizing the historic downtown region has been the focus for a new kind of project. Three years ago, the Mayor, Director of Marketing for the City Tina Coston, Director of Economic Development Brad Jordan, and Chief Financial Officer Mandy Spicer formed a committee and created an action plan for a community Farmers Market. This plan has come to fruition as of March 1, 2018.
“Our goal is to increase traffic in downtown Benton,” says Mayor Mattingly. “Over the last couple of years, our team has been working closely with members of the downtown merchants association to begin an effective revitalization project regarding our downtown historic area.”
But with any new idea comes a challenge: How do you pay for a new space to host the Farmers Market?
The City Council agreed that the cost of the market would come from the general fund instead of the parks and recreation fund, and further decided to establish a goal to minimize the use of taxpayer funds for this project. With this in mind, the planning team rolled up its collective sleeves and began fundraising.
First came the search for a place to house the market. They decided to pursue 125 West Ashley, adjacent to the historic Bell Building in the heart of downtown. Once used as a storage facility and a doll factory in the 1940s, the space now holds a vibrant mural created by artists Dianne Roberts and Mark Davey in 2014 depicting historic moments in Benton’s history. The team decided this location would serve as a beautiful backdrop for the new market.
“John Young, the owner of the property, was on board from the beginning,” says Brad Jordan. “He provided the City of Benton with a 10-year lease for one dollar a year. Without John and his daughter Robin Bray’s compassion and generosity, we wouldn’t have a place to host the Farmers Market.”
The next step was to secure funding needed to get the project off the ground, which led to a public/private partnership. Over eight months, the planning team approached individuals, businesses, civic groups and organizations in the area, asking for their support.
More than 70 of those contacted became donors to the campaign, supplying $519,000 for the City of Benton Farmers Market. Those who contributed to the campaign will be recognized on a 16’x16’ sign on the exterior of the Bell Building. The Angel donors for this campaign include Big Red, Everett and the City of Benton. These donors will receive recognition with an additional, personalized sign.
The Farmers Market will consist of three nine-week seasons beginning in May, and will last until early November. Every Tuesday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. the market will be open to customers. Farmers and artisans will sell fresh produce as well as handmade goods. The space is also available for rent for special events such as weddings, family reunions and birthdays. “The Farmers Market will be a unique experience,” says Brad Jordan. “Anything to bring people to downtown to enjoy and support a small business.”
The hope for the market is that it will become a gathering place for the citizens of Benton to share and experience their community. According to Marketing Director Coston, several special events are in the planning stages, including the Halloween-themed coffin and zombie races, which are scheduled to take place in the fall. “People will come to Benton to buy gas, eat at our restaurants, and spend money with our local businesses, thereby connecting with our downtown historic district.”
To support the continued maintenance of the market, engraved pavers are available for purchase. For a $100 donation, you can leave a lasting legacy on the historic downtown area. Your paver will be on display in the entrance of the Farmers Market walkway.
Mayor Mattingly said, “This project is a deeply personal thing for my wife and me, as we committed to get as many people, businesses, and organizations as possible involved in this partnership. Additionally, during my last year as Mayor of Benton, and as I leave office, I feel very comfortable that this project is in good hands, and feel strongly that this project will go a long way in energizing the revitalization plan for our downtown community.
“The Farmers Market will be a strategic ingredient in that revitalization plan, and will help build a strong desire in our community to utilize the downtown area for multiple activities. We will see an interest and desire that bring people here as a result of this project. We are working on a motivational message about coming to Benton. The impact of the Farmers Market will be a strategic piece of this message,” Mattingly explains.