Riverfront market’s anticipated opening arrives

William Evans

To an inattentive passerby, the Black Warrior River can appear to be an unadorned attraction unto itself — a reservoir of nature and time. But lying parallel to Jack Warner Parkway on the north side of campus, the waterway now flows beside a new farmer’s market with enough space to host weddings, band performances and, of course, the sale of produce from local farmers.

Yesterday afternoon, the City Council and Mayor Walt Maddox officially opened the Tuscaloosa River Market after four years of planning and patience. City Councilman Lee Garrison, in addition to recognizing those who organized, designed and built the building, credited God for blessing Tuscaloosa with the riverfront market.

“God gave me the spirit to make it happen,” said City Councilman Lee Garrison as his throat clenched and eyes sprouted tears. “It takes a lot to get here, but I’m extremely happy, so I’m going to get cheered up now.”

The market has six roll-up bay windows on each side of the building where farmers can unload produce onto product displays. The sale of produce will take place on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. until noon.

In front of the market proper, the building houses the Tuscaloosa Visitor’s Center and the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission.

The market is a lesson in floor design. A heating system lies beneath the market’s floor to allow for the building to be warmed when cold nights sweep into Tuscaloosa, and the space crossing from one end of the building to the next leaves room for more than 300 people to mingle comfortably. Overhead, two fans spin with blades the size of fence posts.

“They’re low-velocity fans blowing more air than the typical fan, but at a slower rate,” said Eric Requist, who works with Ellis Architects, the firm responsible for the architecture and design of the market.

He said the fans and the heating system allow the building to keep a temperature appropriate for a year-round facility. Although no final decision has been made to keep the River Market open perennially as a destination for the sale of produce, the option is being considered, said the market’s director Christy Bobo.

Also, wireless Internet capability has been installed into the building, so students might be able to make use of the market as a study lounge, Bobo said.

The fee for renting the market for a wedding or other event is $2,000, unless the patrons use the preferred food caterer, which drops the price to $1,700, she said.

Bobo also said the move of the farmer’s market from downtown to a destination overlooking the Black Warrior River is an improvement.

“Change can be alarming and a little scary, even when it’s good,” she said.