Optimism is high in the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, as plans for a new Farmer’s Market in the downtown core take shape. The City has agreed to lease Mill Market Inc. a vacant Municipal Fish Hatchery Building at 35 Canal Drive for the next five years with the expectation that the owners are responsible for remediating the building, paying property tax, and demolishing the structure, when the lease is up in March of 2019.
Ideally situated adjacent to Mill Square and less than two blocks away from one from one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the country, the future Mill Market is bound to be a success. The first part of the two phase project will see the fish hatchery building, which has laid empty for the last five years, repurposed into a year round farmers’ market, healthy food hub, and artisan fair. In the second phase the Market will expand and relocate to the Board Mill building on the Mill Square site. The incremental development will allow people in the City to get familiar with market culture and even more with shopping downtown. Giving residents easy access to locally grown food in the area will be a welcome change, but one, that for some, may take a little getting used to.
Attendance at the seasonal Algoma farmers’ market in 2012 was around 1,000 visitors on Saturday mornings and 700 on Wednesday afternoons. With extended opening times, a year round schedule, space for more vendors and a central location, project planners expect that attendance at the Market will increase exponentially and relocating into a more permanent facility in the Board Mill building will likely be necessary.
The Mill Market is the latest in a dynamic multi-dimensional plan to redevelop the historic St. Mary’s Paper Mill into a mixed used space that welcomes pedestrians, invites visitors to connect with nature —especially the St. Mary’s River waterfront, engage in arts and culture activities and discover the rich historical character of the area’s built heritage. In 2012 Blueforest Ventures, formerly referred to as Riversedge Development Inc., purchased the former paper mill and have been actively working and collaborating with the community and some key visionaries and design experts in the City to see this and a number of other exciting new developments materialize. One of the biggest successes to date was the sale of the administration building to the Algoma Conservatory of Music, who takes possession in September 2014.
Blueforest Ventures and the work they are doing at Mill Square is really at the heart of a much larger design plan in which the entire Canal District that reaches from the waterfront all the way up to the end of Gore Street is being transformed from a highly dispersed, car centered, and uninspiring landscape, into a vibrant and livable neighbourhood. These are exactly the kinds of shifts in the way the Sault thinks about its downtown that need to be happening. Derelict store fronts, empty sidewalks and under landscaped streets are a common misfortune in the Northern Ontario City.
We can be optimistic that the Mill Market is a big step in the right direction. In fact when we stop thinking about Markets strictly as consumer outlets and start thinking about them as holistic organisms, then the value of these places in any community really becomes apparent. Research done by a Project for Public Spaces has shown that farmers’ and public markets connect communities—rural and urban, engage people — vendors and consumers, provide economic opportunity for small business owners, bring diverse people together, improve community health, create active public space and through this process eventually renew and revitalize downtowns.
Excitement soars as construction at Mill Market shifts into high gear. These next few months will be an exciting time as planners establish everything from who the vendors are to what the most advantageous design for human interaction and community building will be. The Market is set to open in the summer of 2014.