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Task force organizing support for Hunts Point renovation

by Christina DiMartino | June 25, 2009
While discussions between produce professionals, government representatives and others regarding the need for a complete renovation of the Hunts Point Terminal Market have been ongoing for years, a new task force is determined to do whatever it can to help the project come to fruition.

Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association in Fishers, NY, and a Hunts Point renovation task force member, told The Produce News that the task force is comprised of volunteers from the produce industry and government who recognize the need for a major renovation of the Bronx, NY-based facility.

Mr. Allen said that his association has been asked by New York produce industry leaders, the New York Department of Agriculture & Markets and the city of New York to lend its support in seeking federal funds to upgrade and make significant renovations to the terminal market.

"Bob Lewis, special assistant for market development at the New York state Department of Agriculture and Markets, several industry professionals and I have discussed the Hunts Point renovation project with senators and other officials for years," said Mr. Allen. "There are many good reasons for this project to be done. Product from all over the country passes through Hunts Point throughout the year."

The more than 50 companies located on the Hunts Point Terminal Market offer one of the wider selections of fresh produce items to the largest ethnically diverse region in the world, with an estimated population that exceeds 22 million people within 50 miles of its Bronx location. Restaurants, green grocers, bodegas, industrial foodservice operations and even major retailers with their own distribution centers rely on the market for fresh produce. Terminal market revenues exceed $2 billion annually, more than any other produce terminal market in the world. The facility opened in the 1960s.

At a meeting April 28 with the New York City Department of Economic Development, which included apple shippers and industry leaders, plans were unveiled for the market renovation and details of the project were shared with agriculture representatives.

In attendance at the meeting were Matthew D'Arrigo, vice president of D'Arrigo Bros., located at Hunts Point, as well as representatives from the New York Department of Agriculture & Markets, officials from the New York Farm Bureau and representatives from congressional offices. That meeting led to discussions among Maureen Torrey of Torrey Farms in Elba, NY; Jennifer Sun-Vigoreaux, vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corp.; and Mr. Lewis of the New York Department of Agriculture & Markets.

"We contacted Robert Guenther [senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association] to discuss an outreach program to producers across the country, and he responded with a commitment of support," said Mr. Allen. "I then issued a letter to task force members advising them of UFPA's Government Committee Statement regarding Hunts Point. We are very grateful for the position they have taken, and we value their leadership on this issue. I had the opportunity to visit with [United Fresh President] Tom Stenzel at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association convention and expressed my appreciation to him and his staff, and he reiterated the organization's commitment of support."

Mr. Allen added that his association has agreed to invest staff resources into this project. With increased attention on food safety and maintaining supply- chain protocols, the association feels that its efforts to aid the project would be a valuable investment of its time and resources.

"Our efforts will include helping to identify current federal resources as well as working with congressional members and key committees to seek funds through legislative vehicles," said Mr. Allen. "Most important, we would offer to help broaden support for this project outside of New York among the produce industry."

Janel Patterson, an associate of Ms. Sun-Vigoreaux at the EDC, said, "We are actively working with the produce market co-op to develop a feasible design by early fall. Finalization of the design should take about a year. Construction may begin in early 2011 and take about two years to complete."

In describing the magnitude of the project, Mr. Allen said, "There are currently four main buildings at Hunts Point. The current plan is to eliminate two of them and replace them with one large structure. Another building will be renovated as a wholesale farmers market and the fourth will be refurbished to function as a value-added and processing facility. The finished project will have full cooling facilities. There is not adequate cooling space at the market today, so reefer trucks are used on idle to keep product at proper temperatures. The rail lines will be upgraded to eliminate train car and truck conflicts."

Food-safety initiatives are expected to be of the highest possible level. The facility will be fully HACCP certified, and the buildings will have an unbroken cold chain throughout. Sustainability and environmental efficiencies are also included in the plan. The buildings will be energy-efficient, and recycling will be employed in every way possible.

"The finished project will benefit not only the produce industry, but it will also create jobs and new commerce," added Mr. Allen. "The new fish market that opened in the area last year is an added boost. When the terminal market is completed, Hunts Point will be an integral place of commerce, and it will service virtually thousands of businesses with optimum efficiencies."

Although preliminary architectural renderings have been created, the EDC said that it is not ready to release them to the public. And while the exact cost is not yet known, Mr. Allen said the entire project could run close to $450 million.

"At the UFPA Public Policy Conference in Washington, DC, scheduled for September 9-11, we want the Hunts Point initiative to be an important issue on the table for discussion," said Mr. Allen. "In March, a letter was sent to New York Governor David Paterson saying that on behalf of the New York Farm Bureau, the New York Apple Association and the New York State Vegetable Growers Association, we are expressing our members' strong support for the proposed Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market Project."

Mr. Allen added that the letter also stated that the associations wholeheartedly endorse and support the proposed revitalization plan and would like to offer their continued assistance and involvement in the effort on behalf of grower members.