Better Block OKC, the all-volunteer effort to temporarily transform faded urban corridors into vibrant social and business hubs, is setting its sights on the Farmers Market District just west of downtown.
The 2013 Better Block OKC on May 4, presented by the ULI Oklahoma District Council, will again be coordinated by Allison Bailey and Kristen Vails as it follows up the 2012 inaugural effort staged at NW 7 and Hudson.
Last year's two-day event drew thousands who visited pop-up shops, food trucks and enjoyed a variety of live music and art displays. Visitors also saw experimental displays of curbside patios and back-in angled parking spaces. Only the parking spaces remain, and city officials are considering re-striping the street back to regular pull-in spaces.
Bailey, a retail consultant, and Vails, director of the 16th Street Plaza District, say their ambitions the second time around include more permanent changes in what was once one of the city's premier shopping venues for fresh produce.
“Partnership with the city is more important to move forward for this year, and we're hoping to do that,” Vails said. “The experiments on reverse angle parking and other efforts were meant for just one day and weren't set up to be done beyond that event. We realize if we had done more to work with the city to make them more permanent, they might have stayed.”
Vails and Bailey said the area including the Farmers Public Market is unique in that it is anchored by a large venue that still hosts concerts and special events, antiques shops and a couple of surviving produce vendors including Urban Agrarian, which opened last year.
“We have an opportunity to work with an area that has a culture and a history,” Vails said. “Here, it will be food and market focused. It will be daytime focused.”
Bailey said representatives of several depressed areas of town sought to host the second Better Block OKC, but Farmers Market quickly emerged as a favorite among the group's 20 volunteers.
That interest, she added, was partially due to public debates over design and construction of a new nearby downtown boulevard and also by Urban Agrarian's involvement in the first Better Block OKC.
“We first worked with Urban Agrarian during last year's Better Block OKC event, where they were a vendor,” Bailey said. “We are looking forward to helping them improve their home district now. Our volunteers' enthusiasm and the support from stakeholders in the area will be good ingredients for the project.”
The Farmers Market District is a series of commercial buildings built in the late 1920s around the landmark Farmers Public Market at 311 S Klein Ave. When built in 1928 by John J. Harden, the market was promoted as a way to clear up the mess farmers were creating along California Avenue. The site previously was home to the city's Delmar Gardens. With the opening of the market, Oklahoma City had one centralized place for farmers to sell their produce and a community event center as well. The upstairs of the market hosted music legends Hank Williams, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Daniels and Arlo Guthrie. The market area remained a popular venue for fresh produce sales through the late 1990s. In more recent years, retail operations dropped significantly, and the market is home to just a couple of produce shops, antiques vendors and a live event venue in the restored public market building. For more information about the 2013 Better Block OKC at Farmers Market District or to sign up as a volunteer, go to www.betterblockokc.com.