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Calle Guanajuato seasons adapt to pandemic times

Lithia Artisans Market file photo Entering its 40th season, the Lithia Artisans Market’s growth is returning to pre-COVID numbers.

ASHLAND — The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved Wednesday a set of agreements to kick off the Calle Guanajuato season with new dates and fee schedules.

APRC approved a 7% fee increase for commercial use; 10 lease agreements for 2022; the boundary map for Lithia Artisans Market booths, restaurant tables and shared spaces; an eight-month season, nine-month season and off-season; and use of the front of Lithia Park during the regular season with no lawn/grass area use before April 1 or after Nov. 1.

“This is probably the most complicated set of proposals we’ve had on the Calle,” APRC Chair Rick Landt said. “This was really attuned to the needs of both APRC and to the restaurateurs and artisans market who are renting the space.”

For the lawn and park row, staff reserves the right to temporarily suspend use in the case of rainfall creating soggy conditions.

APRC approved an eight-month season lasting March 12 - Nov. 11, and an extended season lasting through Dec. 31, provided that restaurants and the market have a plan by Nov. 1 to remove equipment, chairs, tables and other items if a flood threatens. The off-season lasts Jan. 1 to March 10.

“For two-and-a-half months of time, a seven-day-a-week restaurant averaging 500 square feet ... would pay $800,” APRC Deputy Director Rachel Dials gave as an example of the off-season fee schedule.

Dials said the artisans market will continue to use the community development parking lot, spaces in front of the Public Works building and other “hard spaces” next to the park this season.

Staff first proposed use of the Lithia Park lawn when the pandemic began and restaurants needed more room to spread out, Dials said. Thus far, no “uncharacteristic damage” has been associated with artisans using the front lawn, she said, but APRC will “pull back” if that changes.

“The Lithia Artisans Market has really benefited from this change since 2019,” Dials said. “It does allow for more visibility for the public, welcoming them into downtown on the weekends, more hustle and bustle, and it has also allowed the restaurants on the Calle more space for their seating.”

Dials said some members of the public were concerned about seating next to the Calle Guanajuato mural, and staff found some damage such as nicks and chips.

“Staff has observed minor damage at chair height and below, and having tables and chairs in that location creates damage over time,” according to the staff report. “Diners seated along the wall block the view of the mural, which has become an Ashland icon and a symbol of the town’s 52 years of Sister City ties to Guanajuato. Staff worked with Skout and representatives of the mural to come up with a resolution.”

Staff, the concerned citizens and Skout Taphouse agreed to address the damage by putting tape on the ground marking table and chair locations away from the mural, and placing small signs on each table asking people to treat the mural with respect, Dials said. The group will also pay for mural chip repairs and touch-ups.

“Moving forward, we do have a good plan in place, and obviously staff will keep an eye on it,” Dials said.

Lithia Artisans Market Manager Marcus Scott described use of the Lithia Park lawn as a benefit because “more space has been the COVID solution,” it provides significant downtown visibility, and offers more flexibility for restaurants and artisans to mix and share space.

Scott said he has advised artists to move their spaces slightly throughout the season to minimize impact on the lawn. Other benefits to using the space include a welcoming family-friendly environment, form of environmental policing, and revenue for Parks and Recreation from the “built-in city attraction,” he said.

“For the past two years, we have truly been the face of downtown Ashland on the weekends; we keep showing up,” Scott said, supporting all staff recommendations. “Lithia Artisans Market is perfectly fine with a rate increase of 7%, that seems super reasonable in our opinion, especially after the last two seasons.”

Entering its 40th season, the market’s growth is returning to pre-COVID numbers, and jury committee meetings are coming up, he said.

“We’ve been running our market pretty lean in terms of a lot of the spending,” Scott said. “We have found that our artists per capita, per vendor out there are doing as well as they were doing in 2019, while we’re still running lean. That is a really good sign, in my opinion, that that visibility is making a huge impact on our organization.”

Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.