Owners want improved Airline Drive farmers market to remain ‘bit messy’
Over the next three years, the new owners of the farmers market on Airline Drive plan to transform the property into a “destination retail experience,” one where fishmongers, dairy makers and bakers operate in air-conditioned buildings alongside an open-air pavilion where merchants will sell fresh produce.
The space surrounding the buildings – now a jumbled mess of pockmarked parking areas and heavy truck traffic – will be reorganized and made a safer place for pedestrians. Dozens of trees will be added, and a central lawn could host community events like chef demonstrations and wine tastings.
The company that bought the farmers market earlier this year is beginning to execute its vision. The group on Thursday will formally unveil its plans, created with the help of a large team of architects, engineers and consultants, including Houston chef and James Beard award-winner Chris Shepherd.
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The new owners and their consultants say the intent is not to strip the market of its authenticity or ignore its long history in the community, but to improve its offerings and make it a better, safer place for people to visit.
“We still want it to be a bit messy,” landscape architect Sheila Condon said. “The goal is not to homogenize it, but make it flow a little better and have a diversity of offerings.”
In May, MLB Capital Partners purchased the nearly 18-acre property at 2520 Airline in the northeastern part of the Heights from the Farmers’ Marketing Association of Houston, which had owned and operated the market since it started in 1942.
The group’s plans include creating shaded open-air market areas, new restrooms and common seating areas. New merchants and culinary concepts would lease space in air-conditioned buildings. About 60,000 square feet of additional space is planned.
MLB’s Todd Mason said the group wants to maintain the cultural aspects of the market, while enhancing the experience for the vendors and customers.
“We’re proud to have that history,” Mason said.
Mason said the market was purchased at a price that will allow many of the longtime vendors, like Canino Produce, North Side Banana and smaller sellers, to stay.
“We’re not going to have to increase their rent by much,” Mason said. “Maybe in the 5 to 10 percent range.”
The planned redevelopment of the farmers market is the latest – and largest – example of the changes that have taken place in recent years as the Heights became a neighborhood sought after by affluent Houstonians.