Hamilton’s old freight house will have to overcome challenges to become a new community market

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Abandoned freight storehouse envisioned as place for commerce, arts

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The freight house site at 1007 Maple Ave. in Hamilton is not the optimal location for a market, a respected expert on such facilities has told proponents of the proposed Freight House Public Market.

“Given the locational challenges, the project should explore other potential sites in Hamilton,” Ted Spitzer, president of Market Ventures Inc., based in Portland, Maine, wrote in an eight-page letter to Alfred Hall of the freight house project. “If the Freight House site best meets the criteria, then the streetscape around the Freight House should be upgraded, including the re-pavement of Maple Avenue, new sidewalks and lighting.”

On the other hand, the freight house, which was built around 1890, “offers a great atmosphere for a public market,” Spitzer wrote. “It has attractive brick walls, interesting beams, fenestration (windows) and door fixtures, and a variety of spaces.”

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Spitzer, who recently visited Hamilton for a couple of days to view the site and meet with a variety of people, including prospective vendors, foodies, and economic-development officials, had other concerns, but also saw some reasons the site could work.

His report comes as proponents prepare for a public meeting at 6 p.m. today about the project at Miami University Hamilton’s Harry T. Wilks Conference Center.

Alfred Hall, a leader of the effort to create the market, remained encouraged about the project.

“The Freight House team, and those who have assisted us over the last few months, have taken the idea of a Freight House Public Market and brought it much closer to a reality,” he wrote via email. “There is still much to do but we are building a strong foundation for this project.”

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Jeff Gambrell, another member of the project’s leadership team who also is executive director of the Hamilton! Civic Society Inc., noted many of Spitzer’s observations were in sync with the proponents’ expectations.

“We felt his report was very useful, because he made several recommendations to guide us along the way,” he said.

Gambrell said Spitzer’s report noted that while Hamilton’s population has been stagnant this decade, “Butler County as a whole is continuing to grow, and carries much more wealth (per capita) than the city.

Gambrell agreed with Spitzer’s suggestion of reaching out to their interests: “We want to be able to target and serve families of all socio-economic backgrounds (including low-income families),” Gambrell said. “We have to offer goods that residents of West Chester, Mason or affluent areas like that, they’re going to want to buy those goods.”

“While we make sure that they’re affordable, we have to make sure that they’re high-quality,” Gambrell added.

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Spitzer’s report noted such markets tend to attract broad spectrum of customers, but “our research has found that the highest-spending customers are typically well-educated women from higher-income households.”

Spitzer had other observations about the proposed market:

  • It will face competition from several sources, including Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield, as well as Meijer, Kroger and Walmart, which all have local food programs. As the project goes forward, the project should explore a relationship with Hamilton's Historic Farmers' Market, which operates seasonally on Saturdays at the Butler County Courthouse.
  • The project's mission of providing sustainably produced food, creating a vibrant public space that welcomes the entire community and promoting local culture and arts may be too broad. It may be best to focus on the food, with the arts as a secondary goal, so as not to dilute either concept, he wrote.
  • It's important to have "great vendors who offer unique products and services, and are able to carve out their niche regardless of competition," the report said. It's also critical to have vendors who can all be open at the same time, something Spitzer called "no small feat." Also important is the goal of having no more than one-third of vendors being start-up operations.
  • The location is far from perfect. Proximity to railroad tracks creates substantial train noise and delays from trains that use nearby tracks about four times an hour. Given all the challenges of the site, Spitzer suggested evaluating other locations in Hamilton.
  • The freight house, built around 1890, "offers a great atmosphere for a public market," he wrote.
  • How the organization governs and manages itself and the facility is critical to the operation's success.
  • Given that new public markets typically do not have sufficient cash flow for operations, the question should be whether the freight house project can operate without subsidies after a reasonable start-up period.

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Spitzer called successful public markets “some of the most exciting urban places in the country and greatly enhance their communities.”

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