Caruso changes market's day

CITY HALL — A potential battle with Caruso Affiliated over a proposed farmers market at the Americana at Brand has been averted, with city officials reporting that they intend to sign off on a compromise application from the developer to hold the weekly event on Saturdays.

Developer Rick Caruso initially proposed his “European-style” farmers market at the Americana for Sunday, but that riled the organizers of the Montrose Harvest Market, which already operates each Sunday.

Despite Caruso’s contention that the markets would only help each other thrive through his promises of cross-promotion, supporters and organizers for the Montrose market on Honolulu Avenue were undeterred in their opposition.

They argued that a competing event on the same day, in the same city, would siphon valuable business away from vendors already struggling to turn a profit amid the economic downturn, and quickly mobilized to inject the issue into the ongoing citywide election campaign.

That, in turn, brought it front and center at City Hall, and within days, city officials were working to appease both sides. Caruso’s application is slated for at least preliminary approval today while various departments finish up the event’s revised environmental review, City Manager Jim Starbird said.

With the application headed for approval Thursday, both sides had struck more conciliatory tones.

Caruso said he altered his proposal to Saturday “in an effort to avoid confrontation on this issue, which is something we always try to do.”

And Mayor John Drayman, who along with other elected officials last week expressed strong reservations over competing markets, praised the developer for “being sensitive to the concerns of the Montrose Shopping Park . . . and the needs of the city, ultimately.”

The compromise also effectively neutralized what had been shaping up to be a thorny campaign issue, with supporters of the Harvest Market calling on all 12 City Council candidates to stake a position on the Caruso application.

A Saturday market at the Americana, they said, was a more than acceptable alternative.

“We’re not trying to stop the event, we’re trying to not get squashed under the event,” said Dale Dawson, president of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn., which sponsors the Harvest Market.

Gigi’s Farmer’s Market is scheduled to debut April 18 along Caruso Avenue between the park and Brand Boulevard and feature gourmet-oriented vendors selling their products under “charming and cheerful” red and white stalls, according to Caruso Affiliated.

Several of the Americana’s restaurants, such as Frida’s Mexican Cuisine and Crumbs Bake Shop, will have their own stalls among a group of 30 vendors. Live music, cooking demonstrations and fresh produce are also planned for the weekly market, which is scheduled to operate between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“It’s more like a Parisian market, or something you’d find in Spain,” Caruso Affiliated Vice President Jennifer Gordon said.

It will take months of tracking to know whether Gigi’s pulls customers from the Harvest Market, but there were already indications Thursday that the feud last week had at least created marketing buzz.

Maro Yacoubian, co-president of the College Hills Homeowners Assn. just south of Glendale Community College, said her members had been asking about the Caruso proposal for days.

The association has been trying to encourage its members to make more use of the Beeline bus system to go to Montrose or downtown. The Americana market would certainly assist in that endeavor, Yacoubian said.

“We’ll definitely put it in our newsletter; I think it’ll get more people out,” she said.

The City Attorney’s Office is also scheduled to bring alternatives to the City Council next month for establishing a set process for evaluating future public events applications.

Currently, evaluations are based on established practice, not a codified process. Some of the alternatives to be included in the report are provisions for appeals hearings and greater involvement from established business groups that would be affected by a proposed event, city officials said.


 JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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