Municipal Markets vs The Future

ALM Market 02 OnLIt’s a pity that for nearly a decade disagreements exist on what one should do with Almuñécar’s ramshackle, market-hall structure.

Its dilapidation started with its construction in 1987 requiring numerous repair works until the use of the underground, car park underneath the market was prohibited for safety reasons by engineers in 2012.

Hundreds of joists were erected throughout the whole car park to support the floor of the market hall. Recently the bickering amongst the political parties started with the loudest voices of those politicians who inaugurated the market 25 years prior.

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After ongoing squabbling and some twists and turns a decision was made to tear the whole building down, because a rebuild from scratch would be equally expensive and time consuming.

Up to 2017 the costs were estimated at 4.5-million euros. In the meantime, a public enterprise, Mercasa, accepted Almuñécar’s bid to conduct a viability study for a new municipal market. This was paid for by the ministry of economics in Madrid.

The study concluded that a viable option for the municipal market will cost an estimated 8-plus-million euros. The building then will need to comprise of two floors for an underground car park, a ground floor with shops and the municipal market reduced to half the number of its current stalls, a 1st-floor supermarket and a 2nd-floor, leisure area.

At least the ground floor will be amplified from 850 sq/m to 1055 sq/m. To recuperate the investment the company responsible would be allowed to exploit the building complex for 40 years, except the market itself.

On April 27th it was decided by the municipal council to accept this proposal. It is likely that this proposal will be the base of a bidding process for private investors to build a new market.

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So far, so good, but do we not need a viability study for the shops in the closer and farther vicinity, too?

What happens to the quality of living in the neighbourhood and the value of the real estate around the new mall? Do we really want the whole area being shaped according to the needs of a private company? Does the license have to run out exactly when major renovation works can be expected? Do we want a building in this square significantly higher than now? Can one really not find a suitable space to permanently house the proposed down-scaled market elsewhere, which would make the search for temporary accommodation of the market during the building works unnecessary?

But the really startling point is that the political parties have only been talking about a new building and not about the market itself.

Shopping in a municipal market is not the way people will shop in the future, the drop in the number of customers of the market is not due to the closed, underground car park, as the squabblers always claim. It is due to the general drop in income owing to changing eating habits and to the four existing supermarkets with their abundant offers and long opening hours. A single day audit registering the age of the market’s customers probably will prove that older people are over-represented.

Let’s look at the surrounding municipalities. In Motril, the 1st floor of the market has been abandoned completely (this beautiful building is actually from 1953), the state of the markets of Salobreña and Torrox are certainly not attracting new customers, in Nerja the market has been converted into a cultural center and the markets of Torre del Mar and Velez-Málaga are tiny compared with their population.

The concept, ‘municipal market,’ is not flourishing in any of the surrounding towns, even more so when one takes into account that the big players in the food business still have some catching up to do compared to Northern European countries where a handful of supermarket chains control up to 80% of the food market.

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To be provocative one could also ask: is it a Town Hall’s responsibility to keep a municipal market open in the 21st Century? Yes, I believe so, because the market is part of our cultural heritage.

For thousands of years it has been a meeting point to exchange merchandise and news, to bargain, to compare, to explore, to meet new people, to make you feel part of a community, to interrupt the daily routine and last but not least, to make a living.

The municipal market is the ancestor of Amazon, but Amazon will never be able to replace a real-world municipal market. To continue as if nothing has happened, is not an option for the municipal market, either. It will have to carve out its place in the 21st Century.

I feel uncomfortable with the idea that a central, public place may be given into private hands, doing away with the special flair of the neighbourhood and not giving any guarantees for a flourishing market or neighbourhood.

(Editorial/Opinion Piece: Wolfgang K. Piller)

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