CLEVELAND — As a slew of repairs, upgrades and updates amounting to $2.1 million are expected to begin at the West Side Market in the coming months, an international market expert has reached the half way point of his extensive review of the market's operations. While his review is not yet complete, consultant David O'Neil said Friday that the infrastructure upgrades and a more concerted effort on improving the market's social experience could prime the revered city icon for even greater success in the future.
On Monday, the City Council approved a $30 million capital improvement measure, which allocated $2.1 million in repairs and upgrades to West Side Market. The funding will cover the costs of replacing exterior doors at the market's arcade as well as much-needed electrical system improvements.
Additionally, the public investment will help fund masonry repairs and a lighting system upgrade to the market's tower as well as improvements to the meat prep areas and enhanced vendor booths.
Felicia Hall, the manager of the West Side Market, said the list of repairs and upgrades stems from a review conducted by the city in 2018 and 2019, which assessed both the needs of the building as well as its systems. One of the key upgrades is to the electrical system, which has long been a source of frustration for some of the market's vendors.
In addition to making necessary repairs, Hall said the drive behind the investment is to help prepare the market for the future.
"We looked at what we've done, where we were at and where we need to go with this facility to make sure that it is accessible, safe, and it's engaging," Hall said. "It provides everything it needs to do for the vendors and customers and even start to build on the 'socializing' of the facility."
The lighting upgrades to the market's tower will allow officials to illuminate the iconic structure in a color that represents certain causes like pink for breast cancer awareness month.
O'Neil, a renowned expert on public markets that was hired by the city in February, will review the West Side Market's operations and make recommendations on organizational and operational changes. O'Neil has consulted on more than 200 new or historical markets.
He said the West Side Market has beauty, history and a core group of vendors that shoppers love.
"It is one heck of a beautiful building. It's really extraordinary," O'Neil said. "It's one of the most spectacular market buildings in the world. It's a real gem."
O'Neil said some of the West Side Market's systems are old and complex, which places a significant burden on the market's management. These complex systems, which frequently require time, attention and repairs, prevent management from being able to to develop new revenue streams or bring in new customers or vendors.
"There are a lot of demands on the management and the management capacity should be increased," O'Neil said. "Not only because the building is a complicated building but to expand the mission and goals of the market."
City officials said a full list of O'Neil's recommendations will be made available after his review is complete. In the near future, however, O'Neil said the West Side Market needs to be more than a place to buy and sell meat and produce. Although that is certainly a core component of the West Side Market, O'Neil said other public markets have successfully shifted to a community hub-style model, providing the community a place to learn about health, other cuisines and cultures.
O’Neil said it is imperative that the goals and missions of the market extend beyond the building’s walls. It should be a place that brings people together, he said.
"The social experience of the market is very important. That is a new thing that markets are doing now. That's another area of investment that the city could make in terms of making the market that great social public gathering place for everybody in the city,” O’Neil said. “Part of the future of the market needs to become more social. The public spaces need to be part of the capital program as well to enhance that gathering power of the West Side Market. There are also some opportunities to expand the merchandising, bring in more prepared foods. People have asked for flowers and organics.”
Hall, the market’s manager, said the working relationship that she has formed with O’Neil has brought tremendous value.
“The market has many responsibilities that we're not doing. We know we have a lot of work to do and that's why David is here to make sure we get it all done,” Hall said. “No one should come to the city of Cleveland and not come to the West Side Market. We have to leverage it more to really pull out its potential which would reward us with more value."