The city of Sumner and its residents share a desire to revitalize the city’s downtown core.
For some, that means restoring a vacant city asset, the Red Apple Market building. For others, it’s working to sell and redevelop the property from the ground up.
The grocery store closed in 2006 and sits unoccupied on Alder Avenue next to City Hall. Officials use it for storage and staff parking.
Now a group of citizens wants to reclaim the building so local farmers and business owners can sell organic produce and artisan items. The group is researching a farmers community co-op, which would operate seven days a week. A business plan hasn’t been completed yet, but public money has been cited as a possible funding source.
City officials, however, fear the effort would require costly renovation of an unsafe building and ultimately leave taxpayers on the hook. The city would like to sell the property to a private developer.
The citizens group is researching the co-op idea.
There’s a need in the community for locally sourced items, said Melony Pederson, a spokeswoman for the co-op’s steering committee.
The co-op would serve as a small grocery store where residents could buy locally grown organic produce and handcrafted items. It would support business owners, farmers and the city’s economy, said Pederson, who has degrees in architecture and urban studies.
“Who wouldn’t want to live next to a seven-day-a-week farmers market?” she said.
This effort to make use of the Red Apple site is not the first. The city bought the property in 1999 for about $700,000 and originally planned to use it for City Hall expansion before opting to expand elsewhere.
In 2006, the city explored a mixed-use development that mirrored the charm of older downtown buildings. The conceptual plan included ground-level storefronts facing the street and upper-level condominiums. Mayor Dave Enslow said the vision was meant to enhance downtown and allow the city to recoup its investment in the property.
The economic downturn in 2008 stalled the project, though developers have started making casual inquiries again, city spokeswoman Carmen Palmer said.
In early planning, the Red Apple stood out to some as an ideal spot for a co-op. But city officials disagree, contending the building’s condition complicates use of the property.
The 15,500-square-foot building is unsafe and would be costly to repair, said Paul Rogerson, Sumner’s community development director. It has cracked structural beams, a leaky roof and would need new heating and electrical systems, as well as likely asbestos removal, among other fixes.
The extent of the damage and the cost to complete improvements are unknown, said Rogerson, who estimated repairing the beams alone could cost about $10,000. The city is working to get an independent assessment of the building’s condition and cost for repairs.
Pederson said her committee has taken steps to review the building’s condition. An engineer and a grocery representative familiar with remodeling stores like the Red Apple have said the building is salvageable, she said.
“Given that it’s been sitting for seven years, it is really in good shape,” she said. “That was encouraging.”
Enslow said he’d prefer to sell the property and avoid the city’s involvement in a costly project.
Instead, he said, a mixed-use development could revitalize Sumner’s economy, and potentially could provide space for a farmers market paid for by a developer should the city sell the property.
“It’s the cornerstone of downtown,” Enslow said. “Redeveloping it that way is something I’d like to see happen.”
Councilman Mike LeMaster said the council is not opposed to the co-op idea, but is concerned taxpayers would pay for it.
“We haven’t seen a lot of ink on paper,” LeMaster said. “At this point, it has not been made clear to me whether or not the city will be expected to pay for this.”
Palmer said the City Council requested a business plan, since public funds might be a funding source.
The steering committee is still doing research, Peterson said, and is considering all funding options, public and private. She acknowledged more information is needed to move forward.
“The steering committee has really taken a step back to make sure this does make sense for (the Red Apple),” she said.
Pederson said the group hopes to present the council with a business plan in the next few weeks.
“To have this model be successful it needs to be beneficial to everyone,” she said. “We don’t want this to become a drain on the city.”Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 email@example.com Twitter: @KariPlog