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Mayor Justin Bibb proposes new nonprofit to manage West Side Market

Customers walk through the West Side Market. Mayor Justin Bibb is proposing a suite of changes aimed at attracting and retaining vendors.
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Customers walk through the West Side Market. Mayor Justin Bibb is proposing to create a nonprofit to run the market.

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb announced plans Thursday to turn management of the West Side Market over to a nonprofit.

The city would retain permanent ownership of the 110-year-old Ohio City location and form a new nonprofit to run the business, according to Jessica Trivisonno, the city’s senior strategist for the market.

But first, the market will undergo a 10-month master planning process. Ohio City Inc., the neighborhood’s nonprofit development corporation, maintains a special fund to support the market and has hired the consultant Market Ventures to lead the planning.

“We don’t want to just hand the keys over to the market without giving a road map and a game plan for that new entity to succeed,” Trivisonno said.

Nonprofit management would put the West Side Market in the company of similar markets around the country and give the facility more flexibility in obtaining funding and tax credits, Trivisonno said.

The market is currently about 30% vacant and in need of $20 million in upgrades, she said. A consultant report produced under former Mayor Frank Jackson recommended more staffing and more hands-on management, but it stopped short of proposing a new operator.

During last year’s campaign, Bibb endorsed the idea of a nonprofit market manager. As mayor, he hired Trivisonno to the newly created position of senior strategist for the West Side Market. In February, Cleveland City Council approved Bibb’s proposal to allow alcohol sales at the market.

Bibb’s plan has the support of Councilman Kerry McCormack, whose Ward 3 includes the market and who has advocated for an independent manager.

“All of that value add that we could bring to this incredible institution will come with a model where the people who are running it are not a part of a 2,000-person department at the city,” McCormack said. “The people that are running it have the proper independence to manage the market and wake up and go to bed every single day thinking about the market.”

McCormack said he shared the plans with Cleveland City Council leadership before the announcement. The Bibb administration has not yet introduced legislation asking council to approve a switch to nonprofit management at the market.

Earlier this year, council renewed an agreement with Ohio City Inc. to maintain a fund raised for the market’s centennial. That fund would be used for West Side Market programs and “facilitating long-term planning,” according to a summary of the legislation.

The master plan will examine the West Side Market’s business plans and capital needs, Trivisonno said. It will solicit input from customers in surveys and focus groups. Planners will also take stock of the market’s design, mix of merchants and finances, she said.

The West Side Market could be a hub for business incubation, offering healthy foods for the neighborhood and drinks and music for visitors, Trivisonno said.

“But for all of that to happen, we need to make sure that we have a strong foundation,” she said. “Which means we need to have master planning. We need to set this next nonprofit up for success.”

Updated: July 28, 2022 at 6:23 PM EDT
Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.