The downtown farmers market on opening day in May. The ground is heavily compacted, much of the grass has worn away and some of the trees are dying.  Darcie Moore / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick downtown mall is being loved to death, according to Tom Farrell, director of parks and recreation. 

The park in the middle of town has become a hotspot over the past few years, boasting an ice rink and holiday events in the winter, a successful summer concert series, and a thriving farmers market two days per week from spring to fall. 

But all the use and attention the mall is receiving is coming at a cost — bare patches of compacted earth, pits of mud and dying trees. The weight of the vehicles parked on the mall puts stress on tree roots. 

“It’s at a state that it’s almost embarrassing,” Town Manager John Eldridge told the council Monday night. 

To help improve the condition of what Farrell called a “vital part of the community,” the Farmers Market Site Investigation Workgroup, made up of farmers, town staff and community members, has suggested a temporary solution: Move the farmers market back along the western side of Lower Park Row. 

The decision is “not a win-win for any portion of the group,” councilor Jane Millett, who was in the workgroup, said Monday, but it is the “least worst for the most people.” 

The farmers market has 15 vendors selling vegetables, meats, cheeses, eggs, bread, coffee, sweets, flowers and more, and depending on market configuration, needs between 7,500 to 23,000 square feet to operate. The market was moved from the center of the mall, where the ice rink goes in the winter, in 2012 after the earth started deteriorating there too. The town re-sodded the lawn for $12,260. 

The Park Row plan would require that Park Row become a one-way street running North to South, and staff would install pedestrian barricades behind the vendors. This would keep the mall close to its current location but would also eliminate some of the already limited parking downtown, Farrell said. 

The initial cost of the plan would be about $5,600 to purchase the pedestrian barricades with an estimated annual operating cost of $9,750 for barricade set up and pick up twice per week. The council will also consider allocating about $29,000 to extend the 5-foot sidewalk to 10 feet. The ground will also need to be re-sodded no matter what, Farrell said. 

The committee also considered keeping the market on the mall but using the existing sidewalks and adjacent grass area with the installation of permeable pavers and anti-compaction grids, but determined that not only was the option more expensive, it also would not be as aesthetically pleasing and would not solve all the problems. 

Town staff will begin developing an ordinance and putting together a budget for the project ahead of a public hearing, which has yet to be scheduled. 

Abby Sadauckas, co-owner of Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham and president of the Brunswick Farmers Market Association, said Wednesday that the farmers initially hoped to go back to their original location on the ice rink side of the mall, where they had been operating for over 30 years, and offered to split the cost of re-sodding the spot every year. Adjusted for today’s construction costs, the $12,260 in 2012 would likely be closer to $18,000 per year. The cost was significant, she said, and the idea did not come to fruition. 

“When we moved in 2012 it was seen as a very temporary solution,” she said. “We want to be back in our old spot.” 

No matter the location, everyone seems to agree that something needs to change. 

“The value in this space is the natural environment,” Farrell said. Millett, too, said it was a “jewel” the town needs to preserve and protect. 

“We’ve all been concerned about the state of the mall for a few years,” Sadauckas said, and everyone involved hopes to “figure out a way to use the space to the grass wouldn’t be so degraded during our tenure there that things reach a crisis point,” she said. Over the years, farmers have suggested taking a closer “look at the way the mall is managed,” suggesting different seeding techniques or using varied native grass species to make the lawn more resilient among other ideas, she said. 

She said there are also “significant concerns that this puts us in direct conflict with abutters,” who “would like to see the town deal with this within the envelope of the mall.” 

Unfortunately, as Millett said, the proposal is far from ideal. 

“If there were an easy answer we’d have solved it,” Eldridge said. 

The plan “seems like a good temporary solution while we take the time to invest in the resilience” of the mall, Councilor Dan Ankeles said, which ultimately, “needs to become the priority.”

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