Hot Talk But No Decision on French Market
After more than two hours of discussion Monday night, the village board voted to delay a decision on the fate of the French Market so residents could weigh in. Here's what made the talk so hot.
After a two-and-half-hour, hotly argued Mokena Village Board meeting, board members voted to hold off on the contract with the Mokena French Market for two weeks so the community can weigh in.
The two-week delay, approved 5-1 with Trustee George Metanias the sole vote against, will give residents a chance to weigh in at the March 19 board work session at village hall on whether to extend the contract for five years
The board will vote on the issue March 26.
This means Mokena might not make it on the application farmers, grocers and other vendors will use to plan their 2012 season, Assistant Village Administrator Kirk Zoellner said.
"(Market management company Bensidoun Inc.) wanted me to call them after the meeting to let them know because they're going to send (the applications) out tomorrow," Zoellner said last night.
Here are some of the issues that made the French Market such a hot topic.
What's in the Contract?
Bensidoun's current 10-year contract expires this spring. It includes a three-year non-compete clause. That means if the village goes with another market than the French one, they can't hold the market at the downtown Metra lot until 2015.
The contract extension up for a vote will keep Bensidoun running the market for five years. It has a one-year non-compete clause.
The extension will move Mokena to a different price tier, cutting the rates vendors would pay to sell their goods at Mokena's French Market.
The Sticking Points
Some residents and board members had harsh words for the non-compete clauses in both the old contract and current extension plan.
Trustee Don Labriola said a non-compete would only serve to give Bensidoun "leverage" in five years.
"If they want to be here for six years, why don't we just give them a six-year contract?" he said.
Mayor Joe Werner said negotiations whittled down, but did not eliminate, Bensidoun's standard three-year non-compete.
"The answer was, 'We would prefer not to eliminate it completely because that sets a precedent we're not comfortable with,'" Werner said.
Resident Jim Giglio questioned why the village entered into a non-compete for the market when they wouldn't for construction work or any other village contract.
"Did we enter into any other contract with any other company that holds us to a non-compete?" he said.
Zoellner said staff was never directed to submit request for proposal or request for qualifications documents to look for other companies or individuals to run a market.
Trustee Joseph Siwinski, who voted for the first contract 10 years ago, said the village looked at other options with the first search.
"I know we looked initially," he said.
Vendor Celine Narel, who has sold Avon products at the Mokena market for 10 years, said vendors are going other, cheaper farmers markets than the French Market.
"Nowadays, if you go, it's a very short list," she said.
Zoellner said the market started with 28 vendors a week, dropping to an average of 20 over the last six years.
Under the extension, the price to sell at Mokena would move to the same—and cheaper—price tier as Bensidoun-run markets in New Lenox and Homewood.
Narel said that price is still too high for many vendors. Werner said the village can't change Bensidoun's prices.
"I can't solve that problem because that's their business and their model," Werner said.
Others were concerned the village should not contract with a market that gives public space to an out-of-town company and out-of-town vendors.
Trustee John Mazzorana said he has never heard those local businesses or others complain that the market takes away customers.
"My opinion is they don't give a hoot about the French Market," he said.
Metanias said the temporary market does not compete with permanent local businesses.
"It's open for six months of the year for six hours of the week," he said. "That's it."
Siwinski said if the village continues to have a market, they should find a Mokena resident to run it.
Labriola said he had not seen any evidence the village looked for other companies or people, local or not, to run a market.
"I have not seen one alternative proposal or anything," he said.