The city’s plan to build a public market, which would feature food and wares from local restaurants and businesses and create a strong downtown center, got a big financial boost Thursday from the federal government.
The U.S. Commerce Department announced it would award $3 million to the Dickinson Economic Development Corp. to help it a build a 30,000-square-foot building billed as the Gulf Coast Market.
The money is being awarded through the commerce department’s Economic Develop Administration. Federal officials and elected leaders said they expect the market to help Dickinson recover from the severe damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, according to a statement announcing the award.
“The Trump Administration is committed to helping communities rebuild in the wake of natural disasters,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said. “The new market will help fuel a thriving small business hub in an area experiencing economic distress due to Hurricane Harvey.”
Congress set the money aside for hurricane recovery work under a budget bill passed in 2018. The city’s Economic Development Corp., which is funded by local sales taxes, is expected to contribute $1.3 million to the project, according to the federal government.
The market would help create nearly 400 jobs, the commerce department said.
The public market concept was first pitched to the public in January 2018. The city’s Economic Development Corp. and a private consultant described the idea as a public marketplace in the style of Seattle’s Pike Place Market that would feature locally-owned restaurants and stores that catered to organic and health-minded food sellers.
The project has churned through the city planning process over the past 18 months. The proposed site for the market changed from a former school building, to a 4-acre plot of empty land across from Dickinson City Hall.
There’s been some public skepticism about the public market and in March the city held a forum to allow residents to sound off about the proposal. At that meeting, City Administrator Chris Heard told residents the market, if built, would not increase property taxes. If the market fails, the debt would fall to the corporation, not the city, Heard said.
The city applied for a grant from the commerce department in March, said Alison Benton, the interim economic development director for the Dickinson Economic Development Corp. She and other city leaders learned about the commerce department’s award Thursday when it was announced in a press release, she said.
The grant doesn’t guarantee the market will be built, but it does help the project get closer to reality, Benton said.
“This is absolutely the start of helping people feel comfortable about continuing with the project,” she said. “It definitely gets us way past the thinking stages.”
The next step for the market project is to create an advisory board and to write a business plan for the market, she said.
City officials hope the market will be an economic engine for Dickinson, which was badly flooded during Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. The August 2018 dropped 50 inches of rain on the city, and flooded the bayous and creeks that flow east toward Galveston Bay.
Hundreds of homes were swamped by Harvey’s floods, as were around 160 businesses, according to the city. Most, but not all, of the flooded businesses have reopened, but the city is very much still recovering, Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters said.
The hope is that the market will be the start of a real downtown area for Dickinson, Masters said.
“We’d like to, like most cities, have a downtown center,” Masters said. “This project would really be a catalyst for that.”