Plans for a future downtown could get a boost from an unexpected source: the John Rex Endowment.
The fund is offering to pay up to $210,000 over three years to Wake County towns that create programs aimed at encouraging active lifestyles and increasing access to healthy foods. The towns would match the Wake County Healthy Community Grant money.
For the past few months, Morrisville has been working with the Western Wake Farmers’ Market to relocate the market from its leased tent site in Cary to a permanent pavilion in the future Town Center off Jeremiah Street.
The Rex Endowment grant is the perfect chance to help the market and promote the downtown, said Planning Director Ben Hitchings.
The project could link the Town Center’s Main Street, the greenway system and the farmers market to create a place that encourages physical activity, access to healthy foods and community interaction, Hitchings said.
Morrisville was already in talks to find a space on the 22-acre Town Center site for the farmers market within the next two years. But the town currently owns only about half the land in the downtown plan, which covers several blocks between Town Hall Drive and Church Street.
The grant money would help Morrisville buy some of the remaining land to use for the farmers market and link it to some of the other amenities such as a future recreation center and county library.
This is the first time the grant has been offered, and proposals from up to five municipalities will be funded. The program puts special emphasis on serving children who are at greater risk for disparities in health due to race or ethnicity, income, disability or other factors.
More than 400 of the 9,000 residents who live within a mile of the planned site are low-income, according to the town.
Over the past decade, Morrisville has developed a greenway system along Town Hall Drive. The Indian Creek and Shiloh greenways run from Morrisville-Carpenter Road to N.C. 540.
The town has plans to build another major greenway system between Lake Crabtree Park at Evans Road and the Morrisville Community Park at Davis Drive.
The Town Council is expected to vote April 8 on whether to pass a resolution in support of the grant application.
Council members said they were interested in the proposal but wanted more details on the source of matching funds and what a partnership with the Western Wake Farmers’ market would entail.
“It’s a great idea to have something that promotes physical activity,” said Councilman Steve Rao. “What is the business model? What will the partnership be like? I want to make sure that if we decide to move forward and then we get the grant and then find out there are a lot more expenses to run it.”
Mayor Mark Stohlman said more information is needed about the partnership with the market.
“I’d be interested what is the farmers market contributing as far as investment,” Stohlman said.
The Western Wake Farmers’ Market sees an average of about 600 to 700 visitors every Saturday, according to market president Jim Pellegrini.
When it comes to a public-private partnership for the market, Pellegrini said, “It’s an open question.”
“We haven’t gotten down to the brass tacks,” he said. “We’re a nonprofit. What we envision is the town runs the maintenance and the infrastructure and we’re responsible for operating the market.”
Pellegrini said placing the farmers market in the future downtown is a win-win for both groups.
“We are all creatures of habit,” he said. “The more convenient you can make it, then the more ingrained it is in people’s minds. If you put it in a place that is highly visible people will see it, use it and remember it. It becomes part of their routine.”
In the meantime, the Western Wake Farmers’ Market will remain at the Carpenter Village neighborhood location at 1225 Morrisville-Carpenter Road. The market’s season will kick off Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.