MLB Capital Partners has revealed new details of its stunning plan to transform the Houston Farmers Market into a dining and shopping destination for food-obsessed Houstonians and tourists.
Better known as the Canino’s Market after its primary tenant, Canino Produce Co, the almost 18-acre tract on Airline near 610 will be transformed into a facility that provides a “ into a destination retail experience offering more diversified products, renovated facilities and community programming with the goal of creating value for its vendors and guests,” according to a press release. Construction will add more climate-controlled areas, shaded markets, and additional seating areas. Groundbreaking on the project will take place this spring, with the aim of being fully operational by 2019.
The new animation shows some of the additions MLB aims to make to the market, including a fish monger, dedicated children's play area, a restaurant, and better separation for vehicles and pedestrians. MLB is working with consultants, including Underbelly partners Chris Shepherd and Kevin Floyd, who have been tasked with recruiting tenants for the new spaces. Other participants in the project include landscape architecture firm Clark Condon Associates, Studio RED Architects, Houston-based consulting firm Gunda Corporation, and Arch-Con Construction.
While the proposed changes are undoubtedly exciting — the project has the potential to become Houston's version of a facility like Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market or the Pike Place Market in Seattle — some have expressed concerns that the changes will sacrifice the market's shabby charm and drive away its current customers. "Based on this animated short, it will be great for a handful of silent, mainly white people," freelance food writer David Leftwich tweeted Tuesday.
Speaking to CultureMap last summer, MLB founding partner Todd Mason said he understood the concerns about losing key tenants, but his primary goal is to the facility's overall comfort and usability.
"When you really start talking to people about what they like, what they like is there’s a lot of different cultures and there are things you can get and see there that you can’t get anywhere else," Mason said. "We’ll keep those tenants. I don’t think we’ll have to charge them much if any more rent. We’ll still have an open air market with vendors selling directly to you. All of that experience will still be there, but it will be a cleaner, safer environment."
As the project moves forward, expect more details on which operators are bringing what concepts to the area. With multiple food halls slated to open downtown over the next year or so, the Houston Farmers Market will have to balance preserving its heritage with a mix that will justify MLB's investment.