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Wheaton City Council postpones vote on extending French Market agreement

WHEATON – A staple in downtown Wheaton for years and a major component in the recently-approved Downtown Strategic and Streetscape Plan, the Wheaton French Market may see its rent raised pending a City Council vote later this month.

The council was scheduled to vote at Monday's meeting on a license agreement extending the market's ability to use the parking lot at Main Street and Liberty Drive.

The $2,500-a-year agreement was originally on the consent agenda, with routine items unlikely to require input, but council member Phil Suess pulled it for discussion.

"I appreciate the fact that the French Market's been very successful and obviously we want it to continue," he said. "But this is a three year agreement. It's locking in the fee at $2,500 – that's not even $100 a week."

City Director of Planning and Economic Development Jim Kozik said the fee was the same as in the previous seven-year agreement with market operator Bensidoun USA, Inc.

In 2013, the market took place from April 20 to Dec. 21.

Kozik said it is difficult to tell how much sales tax money the market generated for the city, as each vendor registered as an independent taxable body.

In addition, the city largely deferred maintenance on the lot because of plans to build a permanent structure for the market in the near future as part of the Downtown Strategic and Streetscape Plan, Kozik said, so it could not raise fees because of city work done.

City Manager Don Rose said as plans for the structure develop, the city will ultimately pursue a long-term agreement with Bensidoun.

Suess asked the council postpone the vote for two weeks, at which point it would receive a report from city staff comparing rates municipalities had with the company and other measurables.

"Maybe we just renew it for one year, but I think there ought to be some form of increase. I mean, we're increasing permits and things that residents incur," he said. "I just feel rather strongly that this fee needs to be addressed. I don't think it represents appropriate value to the city."

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