Cannery Public Market slated for fall opening in Brownsville

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In this file photo, event attendees and city officials gather for the official groundbreaking of the renovation of the Cannery warehouse into the Cannery Public Market off 6th and Ringgold Street in Brownsville. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Looking a bit like the bleached bones of an unfortunate, plus-size whale, the exposed ribs of the future Cannery Public Market at East 6th and East Ringgold streets gleam white under the scorching sun and await their new roof.

The old corrugated-metal roofing on the former Quonset hut cannery, built in 1947 and later known as the Gutierrez Warehouse by the Zoo, was too far gone to salvage, though the “bones” are still intact and work continues at the site.

The city acquired the property in 2012. The idea to renovate the decrepit eyesore catty-corner to Gladys Porter Zoo and make it the new home of the Brownsville Farmers’ Market originated with former city planner Ramiro Gonzalez, who also suggested bringing in the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley and providing a community test kitchen on site.

The project groundbreaking was held on March 23, 2022, with the expectation that the ribbon cutting would take place about a year later.

Now it appears the Cannery will be completed this fall, according to Brownsville City Manager Helen Ramirez. The $4.3 million project has been slowed by the need for a sewer-line upgrade, supply chain issues and problems getting construction equipment on time — not unusual with construction projects these days, she said.

“It’s normal to have delays, but look what we’ve going to achieve,” Ramirez said. “It will be nice and cooler and a great time to open an indoor market.”

She predicted that the Cannery, which will feature outdoor vendor space as well, will attract locals and tourists alike, situated as it is in the heart of the city and anchoring Linear Park just across from the zoo.

“It’s just a great hub for food and for activities,” Ramirez said. “We’re really excited to be able to get this finally completed by the end of the year.”

The Brownsville Wellness Coalition, which runs the farmers market, will keep on with its mission of teaching obesity and diabetes prevention and sharing resources for healthy eating and living but in a nice, new setting, she said.

“It’s for folks at all different types of economic levels, and it’s very educational,” Ramirez said.

The old Cannery warehouse is pictured Wednesday, March 23, 2022, at the official groundbreaking for the renovation of the Cannery warehouse into the Cannery Public Market off 6th and Ringgold Street. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

The city takes a lot of pride in the project because it’s so collaborative, she added. The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation kicked in $1 million to make it happen, while other major contributions include $700,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, $300,000 from the Musk Foundation, and $300,000 from Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry. The Mitte Foundation, which has been bankrolling an upgrade to Linear Park, is splitting the roughly $75,000 cost of shared restrooms.

Other partners making the project possible include BWC and the Food Bank as well Brownsville Beautification Committee, Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, Halff Associates Inc., SAMES Inc., Megamorphosis Inc., Texas Southmost College and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

BWC Executive Director Veronica Rosenbaum said the Cannery can’t open soon enough for her and that she’s keeping her fingers crossed that it will actually come to pass this fall.

“I’m the most optimistic, hopeful person you’ll ever meet, so I am hoping that will be the case,” she said.

Rosenbaum said the new set-up will have market vendors indoors as well as in a “beautiful outdoor space on the side” with pergolas for shade.

“Some of my folks will want to set up outside on Saturdays or whenever the operations are going to be, so we’ll have kind of hybrid situation there,” she said. “But we are excited about having restrooms, and the heart of the building will be that incubator kitchen. That will definitely be the highlight of the whole building.”

The air-conditioned half of the Cannery will be devoted to the indoor kitchen, office space and the Food Bank’s refrigeration and storage area, Rosenbaum said, while the un-air-conditioned portion will feature “two giant barn doors” and side windows to keep the air flowing.

Rosenbaum conceded the new digs have been a long time coming.

“It’s all about the right timing,” she said. “We were ready right before COVID, and then situations happened with COVID. So we are very excited. This building is definitely going to fill a lot of gaps.”