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Future of Farmers' Market in Flux

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The 17th Street Farmers' Market is in a state of uncertainty as the city prepares to begin utility improvements in Shockoe Bottom.

The market's most recent manager, Stacey Moulds, was forced to resign Oct. 4, and sources say that city officials have been considering a plan to enclose the market and allow a developer to build offices and condominiums on top.

Developer H. Louis Salomonsky first floated the idea to Moulds in June but hasn't presented any formal building plans to the city, according to those sources.

Sally Brown, chairman of the Farmers' Market Advisory Council, says she found out about the plan recently and is preparing market vendors for the possibility that they may be relocated during construction.

"I don't know what to do," Brown says. "If this happens, we're going to propose some contingencies."

Brown says she learned of Salomonsky's plan from a city official and recently sent a letter to Councilwoman Ellen Robertson requesting that the city establish "satellite locations" for vendors should they be displaced.

Salomonsky, who completed 14 months of a prison term in July 2005 for his role in a City Council bribery scandal, denies any involvement in such a development. "I'm not working with the city on anything," he says, adding that having his name attached to the farmers' market/condo project "sounds very flattering."

City spokesman Linwood Norman says a plan to enclose the market and build offices and condos there "is not before us."

Still, some restaurant owners operating adjacent to the market support the idea. Michael Ripp, owner of Havana '59, says enclosing the market and building condos and offices above it would likely generate much-needed foot traffic.

"I think it would add more energy and vibrancy down here," Ripp says. "Everybody says we need more people."

Tommy Goulding, owner of Rosie Connolly's Pub, also approves of the idea. "I would go for anything that would lift it from what it's doing now," he says. "It's just there for history. Well, the history's gone."

The city is scheduled to begin drainage improvements in Shockoe Bottom this month. In August, Mayor L. Douglas Wilder announced that the city would be spending $20 million to improve drainage in the Bottom. Sources say the plan to tear down the existing market, built in the 1980s, and replace it with a new, enclosed market, could take place after the utility work is completed.

Everything is up the in the air, however. Moulds says she heard talk of enclosing the market from city officials, but couldn't confirm a time schedule. She says she quit out of frustration because her supervisors at City Hall made it difficult for her to do her job. At one point, she says, she wasn't even allowed to place advertisements in local newspapers, including Style Weekly.

"I was forced to quit," she says. "I wasn't given the authority to make any decisions."

Norman says the city couldn't discuss "personnel matters," but did confirm Moulds' resignation. S

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