A market event held after hours is just the beginning for Empire Market, say organizers.
The Downtown Joplin Alliance announced that is seeking architectural services to develop renovation plans for the market's current space. The designs and plans will be used in September to launch a capital campaign for upgrading its building, including installation of a commercial and teaching kitchen, building a farmer's pavilion, classrooms and a conference center.
Members of the alliance are moving forward with the plan thanks to the reception of the market, said Jeff Neal, president of the alliance's board. The market, which runs regular sessions on Saturdays, hosted its first night-time event Friday.
"We started off in April of last year, and it's been very well received, so we are planning on expanding the programming in that building," Neal said.
The alliance anticipates launching a $4.1 million capital campaign for those upgrades in September. Neal said the alliance already has about $1.6 million of its goal: That's the value of the building where the market operates.
The building housed the former Joplin Casket Co. until 1916, when Liberty Utilities-Empire District bought it and used it as a lineman's garage. Saying it outgrew the space, Liberty-Empire donated the building to the alliance in 2017. With that, the alliance will begin pursuing about $2.5 million when it begins its campaign.
The alliance's core goal deals with economic revitalization through historic preservation, Neal said. By improving aspects of the market, the alliance can expand the services it offers with additional market sessions and renting out its space for other events.
The market's solstice event drew an estimated crowd of between 1,200 and 1,500, market coordinator Ivy Hagedorn said. The event featured live music, performances of Shakespeare's works, pig roast, cash bar and several artisan vendors and producers, and was held in an outdoor area of the property.
The outdoor space used for Friday night's event showed what is possible, Neal said. Expansion of a pavilion would allow food producers to occupy one space, which would free up space for an artisan's market inside that could be open five days a week, Neal said.
"We are taking what was an underutilized part of the property and turning it into a festival space," Neal said. "Once we reach the goal in our capital campaign, we'll be able to improve that with significant landscaping and the ability to flow between the pavilion and outdoors."
A commercial kitchen would allow for healthy living classes and would give farmers the chance to extend the life of their production season through canning, drying and processing their own foods.
A similar kitchen has been established at the Webb City Farmers Market. Director Eileen Nichols said for the last three years of its operation, it has provided space for preparing about 800 meals a week, and helped smaller operations develop their business. Several of the meat vendors were able to expand their businesses by making use of the kitchen's freezer space for storage, she said.
Neal said the alliance's project is ambitious, but members are optimistic thanks to other successful capital campaigns across the area, including for an arts and entertainment center, dental school and medical school.
"All those things are phenomenal steps for the community, and we feel like Empire Market can play a role in that," Neal said. "It's an ambitious project overall, but we feel we'll be able to provide a lot for the community for a relatively small price."