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Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb aims to find West Side Market operator while pushing short-term improvements

West Side Market in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Customers walk through the West Side Market. Mayor Justin Bibb is proposing a suite of changes aimed at attracting and retaining vendors.

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb still intends to find a nonprofit operator for the West Side Market while proposing short-term improvements now, his senior strategist on the market said Monday.

City Council on Monday night approved a suite of changes at the historic Ohio City market proposed by the mayor to attract and retain vendors. The new mayor is asking Cleveland City Council to allow alcohol sales at the market, cap vendor rent increases to 3% per year and allow for longer-term leases.

Senior strategist Jessica Trivisonno told a council committee that the administration is still aiming to find a nonprofit to run the market. But, she said, that could take a couple of years to accomplish.

“We are highly aware that it’s going to take some time to get another operator up to speed and get, kind of, our house in order to turn over our operations of the West Side Market,” she said.

The West Side Market runs an annual budget of about $1.7 million, but required a subsidy of $493,000 from the city general fund in order to cover costs last year. This year, Bibb is budgeting a general fund subsidy to the market of about $720,000.

The new mayor’s goal is to transition to a new operator by the end of 2024. In the meantime, Trivisonno said she would recommend policies to “stabilize” the market. The overall vacancy rate at the market stands at 32 percent, including vacancies in the produce arcade, she said.

Vendors have not had leases with the city since 2020 and would face steep rent hikes without the proposed legislative changes, Trivisonno said. In addition to capping rent increases, the legislation would set vendor rents this year at 2020 levels.

Ward 8 Councilman Michael Polensek asked for quarterly reports from the administration on their progress at the market.

Although the legislation opens the door to alcohol sales at the market, the city still needs to iron out liquor license details, Trivisonno said. One possibility is for the operator of the market to hold the license and use it as a revenue source, she said.

“To the, maybe, disappointment of a lot of fans of the West Side Market, I don’t think we’re going to have liquor in the West Side Market any time soon,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of details that we’d have to work out before we start bringing liquor into the market.”

The legislation allows short-term leases for pop-up events and food trucks, while also permitting leases of up to three years. Currently, leases are for one year. Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack, in whose ward the market sits, said the certainty conveyed by longer leases could help vendors secure bank loans for their businesses.

“There is a sense of optimism in the market that I haven’t felt in a long time,” McCormack said.

Nick Castele is a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media.