Our View: Market reprieve is the right choice

Public testimony apparently swayed the Anchorage Community Development Authority to give another year to the Anchorage Market and Festival at Third Avenue and E Street.

That's good news, because the authority seemed to be short on answers about why it intended to boot the market before the meeting.

On Thursday, we got some semblance of an answer when authority board member Ted Carlson said the property may be needed in the near future for parking, always at a premium downtown. And he said that if Ship Creek area development plans work out, the market should move there.

The board's original refusal to say why it wanted to kick the market out of the parking lot where it has operated since the 1990s didn't wash. The board is a public agency with stewardship for public properties. Any decision to move -- and potentially kill or curtail -- a summer institution that draws thousands of people every weekend needs public vetting, not decisions first and explanations later.

That policy naturally led people to wonder who was waiting in the wings to use the Third Avenue property. Board members said there was no one. OK, then why the rush to kick the market out? A year's grace makes much more sense than the authority's previous intent to terminate the market's lease in September.

We've been down this road before. In 1998 and 1999, then-mayor Rick Mystrom had a vision to move the market from Third Avenue up the hill to Fourth. Vendors resisted, gathered signatures, confronted the mayor and even put an issue on the ballot (part of which was struck down by the courts). Those citizens forced an open, democratic process and negotiations that saved the Third Avenue market and led to an experimental expansion to Fourth.

Two lessons we draw from market controversies past and current:

• The market is a popular, thriving attraction. Downtown businesses always have had a problem with its claim on parking and its pull on consumers -- and vendors always have suspected efforts to move them have sprung from downtown merchants' desire to kill the competition. The market both brings people downtown and keeps them down the hill from the main downtown streets. The solution clearly is not to drive the market out, but to figure out ways for brick-and-mortar merchants to better tap into that traffic.

If in the future there's a better home for the market in a lively Ship Creek venue, fine. Until then, it's unlikely people in Anchorage prefer a parking lot over a bustling summer market.

• Give plenty of notice and opportunities for public participation for any changes in mind -- and the reasons for them. A popular attraction has a constituency, and the public agency with power over that attraction needs to keep that public informed. Mayor Mystrom found that out in the late '90s.

Chris Schutte of the Downtown Partnership said he's heard from the community that people here would prefer a market of local farmers and artisans. It's in the nature of such markets to be bazaars. You'll find genuine Alaska-made goods along with trinkets tooled overseas and stamped with eight stars of gold, no more Alaskan than fuzzy dice. We say go Alaskan, but it's the buyer's choice.

BOTTOM LINE: Don't move the market without good reason -- and plenty of notice.