Three-and-a-half years ago, revamping the Houston Farmers Market was an idea. Last year, the transformation started to take shape.
Now the vision of Fred Baca, Jeff Lindenberger and Todd Mason – who comprise MLB Capital Partners and purchased the 18-acre property in May 2017 – is coming to life.
Mason recently provided a tour of the under-construction farmers market, which has operated since 1942 at 2025 Airline Dr. on the northeast side of the Heights, and said the bulk of the work is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Interior buildouts for a group of new tenants will follow, with the new-and-improved market slated to be fully operational in 2021.
“It’s nice to be able to go out there and be able to actually see it,” Mason said. “I guess in our minds, we’ve always been able to see it, but it was hard to get everybody else to see what it was going to be. To actually see structures in the air is exciting.”
The ongoing project, which Mason said figures to cost in excess of $35 million, will add parking spaces, sidewalks, landscaping and a dedicated green space to the longtime community gathering place. There also will be about 10 restaurants, including two concepts from Underbelly Hospitality and James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd, who has served as a consultant for the market transformation.
One Underbelly restaurant will be full-service and the other fast-casual. Also recently announced is the addition of R-C Ranch Texas Craft Meats, a Brazoria County-based butcher shop that will feature glass walls so market visitors can see meat being cut.
Mason said a series of counter-service, street food-type vendors will operate under a 40-foot tall, open-air pavilion that will feature fans and serve as the centerpiece of the market.
“That’s going to be a really cool space,” he said.
Mason said another one of his favorite features of the new-look market will be its multiple access points, which gives the impression that there is not a front or back of the property. The side facing Airline Drive to the west could be considered the front, like it always has, but the largest parking area will be in the southeast corner of the market near the green space, which is accessible from Service Street. Other entry points will be from Angeline Street to the east and Sylvester Road to the north.
A building with refrigeration that houses wholesale vendors, which runs along the north side of the property, is among a few buildings that are remaining intact during construction. Mason said some of those wholesalers have continued to operate, as have many of the produce vendors and retailers that have become synonymous with the market over the years.
Mason said there are 30-35 existing vendors at the market, and the goal is to have a total of 60-65. Their products and services will run the gamut in terms of quality and affordability, so higher-end and lower-end vendors will operate at the same market.
“That’s been the goal and the challenge from Day 1 is to make sure we make this a place for all of Houston – culturally and economically,” Mason said.