Business owners at Belconnen Markets are fearful for their futures after being kept in the dark about plans to demolish and redevelop the existing market hall, they say.
A proposal by the owner of the site, Elanor Investors Group, would see store holders within the main market hall on Lathlian Street temporarily relocated before the building is demolished in early 2020.
It is unclear where they will be relocated to.
The new market hall would be opened in 2020 under the proposal. But businesses in an adjacent building on Market Street would effectively be expected to operate in the middle of a construction site during that time, owners say.
"Over the last few years, the markets have been allowed to be run down. Patronage has dropped off for most store holders considerably. They're already sort of suffering, and then there's this on top of it," Foodish owner Alaine Chanter said.
"The existing store holders are quite distressed that we've been told we will be temporarily relocated without any detail yet. And [for the store holders left behind], it's a building site."
The remaining store holders on Market Street who would not be relocated - including Ms Chanter - had asked for compensation in the form of lower rents during the construction period, but their request was denied.
"Some are saying, 'Why can't we close down the building while [construction is] happening if it's only going to take a year, rather than survive a year with high rent?" she said.
"The rents are high and the patronage is going to be negatively impacted."
Stage two of Elanor's development, which will see the demolition of the main market hall, is yet to be formally considered by the ACT government, and a development application will be made public in the next few days.
But stage one, which will see the construction of a 3750-square-metre retail strip on vacant land off Ibbott Lane, was approved earlier this month.
Many store holders see its construction, which is expected to begin in the second quarter of this year and be completed late this year, as the starting point for the markets' rapid decline.
"In a few shops, their leases have already expired, or some [owners'] leases are soon to expire. Those people will leave before construction starts [instead of renewing their leases]", the owner of Janey Fashion, Juan Li, said.
"That means more and more shops leave and that's no good ... and when they do the construction I don't think customers will come here to do shopping."
Other business owners said the markets had seen store closures since Elanor acquired the site in June 2018.
"The vast majority of us are very disappointed [in the way the process has been handled]. We've had store closures here through no fault of the business owners," one said.
Some store holders had suggested that businesses might be temporarily relocated into the stage-one development once it is completed. But the strip would only be suitable for retailers who need between 200 and 1000 square metres of space, Elanor's co-head of real estate, Michael Baliva, said.
"The stage-one development is not a market offering. It's more for larger retailers so it wouldn't be appropriate for the retailers in the markets to be put there unless there is a need [for the extra space]," Mr Baliva said.
Elanor had held sessions to inform store holders about the development proposals in August, October, and December last year, Mr Baliva said. He would not confirm when store holders would be notified about where they would be relocated to.
A press release with more details about the stage-two development would be sent out within the next few days, he said.
"We can assure that the [store holders] will continue to trade and that they will be housed in temporary accommodation," Mr Baliva said.
"We want to continue to ensure that the precinct is viable while it is under construction."
The proposed new market hall would have a high roof structure and be spread across 5500 square metres. It would represent a 30 per cent increase in the market's footprint.