by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, December 2016) In a November 17th letter to Cleveland City Council, West Side Market Tenants Association President Vince Bertonaschi requested a 25% rent reduction for tenants at the West Side Market and a two-year moratorium on any additional rent increases. In the letter, Bertonaschi notes the considerable loss of business suffered by tenants due to the sudden unannounced closing of the parking lot behind the West Side Market on April 3, 2016. The letter was accompanied by a petition signed by ninety West Side Market merchants who included their stand numbers along with their signatures. In the letter, Bertonaschi asked that the information be filed in the City Record and read to Cleveland City Council members.
In addition to the petition, Bertonaschi collected sales figures from suppliers to West Side Market tenants showing substantial losses in sales. One supplier, Sherwood Foods, indicated that sales to market merchants were down by $297,168 for the first ten months of 2016 when compared to the same time period in 2015.
In requesting the rent reduction and two-year moratorium on rent increases, the letter notes the difficulty in regaining customers once they are lost saying, “Once peoples’ habits are changed, it takes time to get them back.”
Already reeling from losses due to the employees and customers of large area businesses competing for parking spaces with West Side Market customers, the losses of customers during the city’s refurbishing of the parking area compounded the crisis being experienced by the West Side Market tenants. The West Side Market tenants are fighting for their survival as a working market, says Bertonaschi. He reports staff layoffs by merchants, as well as merchants considering changing the type of food they sell as traditional food shopping customers are being crowded out by tourists and people waiting for tables at nearby restaurants and bars.
At a public meeting in October, the City of Cleveland offered an update on its plans for the public parking lots – the lot behind the West Side Market and the lot on the former Hicks School property. Plans, while not finalized, called for one hour of free parking and a $1 per hour fee after that up to 6 p.m. and a $2 per hour fee after 6 p.m.
The city’s refurbishing of the parking area added another 128 spaces. City officials believe charging for parking will increase turnover in the lots, allowing more West Side Market shoppers to find parking spaces.
Both West Side Market merchants and neighborhood merchants sought some solution to relieve the cost of parking for employees. Mayor’s Chief of Staff Ken Silliman said increasing the number of discounted employee spaces for area businesses would defeat the purpose of the parking lot plan by reducing the number of spaces available for West Side Market shoppers. Silliman promised the City of Cleveland would have a parking system at the West Side Market that is easy to use. At the October meeting he said, “Simplicity is absolutely where we are at. We are not going to invest in a dysfunctional system.”
No date has been announced as to when the new parking charges at the West Side Market will begin. At the City Council Meeting on Monday November 21st, Cleveland City Council gave authorization to the City of Cleveland administration to hire a contractor to manage the parking area behind the market for the next three years.