Construction is set to begin this week on a long-planned transformation of the 17th Street Farmers’ Market in Shockoe Bottom into an open-air pedestrian plaza, with work expected to wrap up next spring, city officials said.
“The first thing that goes are the market sheds,” said Jeannie Welliver, a project manager for the city.
In their place, trees will be planted and a splash-pad-style fountain will be installed. Movable, café-style seating will be scattered around the square.
The $3.5 million project stretches back to 2012 and was initially expected to be completed as early as September 2015. It was delayed again in 2016 when construction bids for the project came in higher than expected.
Welliver said the market structure closest to Main Street will remain until construction is finished to allow the three vendors who sell produce and baked goods at the market to remain until they can be relocated to their new spots in the plaza.
“They’ll continue to sell throughout construction,” she said.
In recent years, the market, one of the country’s oldest, saw little use as a venue for produce sales. Instead, the vast majority of the plaza was given over to parking for nearby businesses.
Designers say the new layout will make the space more flexible for day-to-day use and special festivals and market days. The new design also will allow restaurants around the square to offer outdoor seating.
On Monday morning, 17th Street was closed to vehicular traffic, and fencing had been delivered to cordon off the construction area.
Nearby business owners expressed enthusiasm that the project is finally advancing.
“It’s going to be difficult for the businesses for a while, but it’s going to be great in the long run,” said David Napier, president of the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association and owner of Old City Bar, which abuts the market. “Sometimes, you have to have a little pain to get the gain.”
Brian White of Historic Housing, which owns a significant amount of real estate in the area, said he was thrilled.
“I think when it’s done it has the potential to be transformational,” he said.