Note: Due to the large amount of community interest in this topic we are soliciting reader questions regarding the below piece and will have an open comments section once these questions have been received and answered. This will help address issues about the Portland Public Market in an organized way and allow the Portland Public Market, given their limited availability and resources, a chance to respond to reader concerns and questions in a timely manner. Please feel free to e-mail us your questions here.
After we receive questions, we will post both the questions and Ron Paul and Amelia Hard’s responses in a new post, where comments will be turned back on in an open forum for any additional discussion.
Posted by Ron Paul, Portland Public Market Consulting Director and Amelia Hard, Portland Public Market Board Member:
Mike Thelin’s Willamette Week (Oct.3rd) commentary on the proposed Public Market in Portland contains a number of inaccuracies and omissions, which Ron Paul and I have collaborated on addressing below. We’re very pleased by the invitation to post this information on PFD. Mr. Thelin’s subsequent comments on this site have been gracious and conciliatory, but the original WW piece really does require correction.
Regarding the September 28th event at Union Station, Mr. Thelin failed to disclose that he had attended as a media guest; and he ignored the media materials which clearly and repeatedly explained that this was one of 20 “Taste America” events throughout the country occurring on the same weekend to honor James Beard. Since Beard was a native Portlander, PPM co-produced the evening (and is sharing the revenue) with the James Beard Foundation. Restricting participation in the event to local Beard award-winning chefs and nominees was part of our agreement with the Beard Foundation. The $50 price, which included a pre-event reception prepared by the capable students and faculty of the Oregon Culinary Institute, was hardly elitist, especially when you consider the ticket prices for other recent food-related fundraisers including PFM’s ($125) and Oregon Food Bank’s ($250). The sell-out crowd of over 550 guests and close to 50 volunteers from all walks of life (including several farmers’ market vendors) enjoyed a memorable evening—one that was never intended to be a “mini-market” with faux booths for vendors, as Mr. Thelin claimed to expect. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he attended the event with the intention of accusing PPM of elitism and irrelevance, and then suppressed any information that wouldn’t bolster his argument.
Mr. Thelin also blurs the history of PPM. Although Heidi Yorkshire’s 1993 proposal provided the initial concept which the Portland Public Market Task Force began discussing in earnest in 1999, PPM and Portland Farmers Market always had separate identities. PPM was never discussed as a substitute for PFM, only as an addition to the now numerous seasonal, episodic farmers markets in the metro area.
The defining identity for PPM is its focus on local food entrepreneurs showcasing regional ingredients, which sets it apart from the oft-referenced Pike Place Market with its over-representation of crafts. (Unlike Seattle, we have the 30-year-old Portland Saturday Market, which should continue as Portland’s favored crafts venue.) The space constraints of the Ankeny Square site were not responsible for PPM and PFM going “their separate ways,” since they had never been joined in the first place. There were indeed discussions, even a memorandum of understanding, regarding our invitation to PFM to play a role in the Public Market, perhaps as the operator of the outdoor stalls and day tables; PFM decided ultimately to pass on that opportunity. So when Mr. Thelin says, “Nearly a decade later, the two markets no longer aim to fill the same niche,” he overlooks some important and well-documented history.
Regarding PPM’s role in supporting local agriculture, our goal is to provide support in ways that complement the existing network of farmers markets. PFM recently announced that their markets’ combined sales totaled just over $5 million for their recent season; adding in the estimated receipts of other local farmers markets, the Portland region still generates well under $10 million in farmers’ markets sales. Given that over $2 billion is spent annually on residential food shopping in the metro area, we believe the discussion should focus on how to reach the more than 95% of Portlanders not buying fresh, local and sustainable foods. Creating a public market will help expand the visibility and availability of those foods for a greater number of shoppers and vendors. Scott Dolich ably participated in just such a discussion at City Club on September 28th (available as a podcast from www.pdxcityclub.org) where the common ground between Portland Farmers Market and the Public Market clearly supplanted any faded memory of rivalry or competition.
PPM’s aim is to fill at least one of the missing links in the continuum of support for local agriculture. This includes U-pick, farm stands, CSAs, farmers markets, public markets, local supermarkets and extends to even the multi-national chains. Yes, even Costco is making a serious effort to decentralize its purchasing and source more locally produced goods.
A true public market is able to support local agriculture in ways that farmers markets and supermarkets can’t. There are many types of producers either not represented or under-represented in farmers markets, and for very good reasons. Fresh meats and poultry, seafood, and dairy, among many others, all benefit greatly from infrastructure such as plumbing and cold cases which allow vendors to portion their products to order. In addition, there are those for whom farmers markets and supermarkets don’t produce the returns necessary for survival; they’re referred to as “Ag. in the Middle.” Either they can’t satisfy the rigid requirements of supermarkets, even local ones, or they don’t fit the formula for success at farmers markets. They may be too small or too big, sustainable but not certified organic, regional within the food shed but too distant to travel for a short period of sales. Whatever their reasons, many of them are invisible to local shoppers. They too would like an opportunity to share in our community’s growing commitment to supporting the local food economy.
Mr. Thelin makes it sound as if PPM has arbitrarily shifted from one proposed site to another. The fact is that as early as 2000, the PPM Task Force had identified several sites which could accommodate the Market; the 511 NW Broadway building emerged as our unanimous first choice, but after a study by a group of architects on the task force and discussions with the Portland Development Commission, we reluctantly concluded that the cost of seismic upgrade made it impossible for us to develop the entire building without a private partner. The Ankeny Square site was our second choice, but it was unexpectedly removed as a possibility when the unfortunate and short-sighted decision was made to not move the Central Fire Station. Discouraged but not defeated, we next turned our attention to Union Station, excited at the prospect of creatively using that beautiful building but also understanding that we would need heroic accommodation from Amtrak and would need to push the city to pay for the long-deferred maintenance and seismic upgrade the Station needs. Then in August, we were approached by the Melvin Mark Development Company and SERA Architects with a proposal to site the Market in the location that had always been our first choice: 511 NW Broadway. So what appears to be “Plan B” is actually a return to “Plan A.”
Mr. Thelin not only skips over all this history but also misquotes Ron as saying that the Market’s earliest possible completion date is 2013. If Melvin Mark Development is able to acquire the 511 NW Broadway building from the GSA, the Market could be completed as early as 2011.
Mr. Thelin also misquotes Ron on the subject of how PPM will be funded: “Paul says that in order for the market to open sometime this century the city needs to allocate an additional $8 million in funding…” Not so. PPM will need $8 million in funding, but that will be raised chiefly through private donations. This will cover not only tenant improvements but will also allow the Market to open debt-free. With no debt service and no investors to reimburse, PPM’s operational expenses will be fully covered by vendor rents; but since it will take a few years for PPM to reach full capacity, both in sales and in vendor participation, the $8 million funding goal will also include sufficient reserves for the first few years of operation. (The feasibility study which PDC commissioned in 2005 from Bay Area Economics found that PPM could be self-sustaining within 4 years, even using the most conservative revenue figures and the smallest possible square footage. 511 NW Broadway offers almost twice as much space for the Market as this study posited, with the additional advantage of being located in an area with much higher housing density.)
The proportion of the $8 million that will come from public sources is PPM’s pro rata share of federal tax credits for the development of the 511 building (such as “new market” credits and credits for preserving historic buildings), plus our share of PDC’s support for the creation of the new northernmost Park Block and the parking spaces below it. During its construction, PPM may also receive public support deemed appropriate to building a project of such significance to the city.
On the subject of whether or not PPM is “homegrown,” we’d like to remind Mr. Thelin that over the seven years that this project has been underway, our task force and subsequently our Board of Directors have been made up of local volunteers representing a wide spectrum of professions and interests. (You can check out who’s on our board at
http://www.portlandpublicmarketcom/PortlandPublicMarket-Committee.html). And we’re constantly refining our vision for the market, based on frequent meetings with neighborhood associations and other groups.
Finally, regarding building enthusiasm and momentum for this project, it’s been our experience that most Portlanders are immediately drawn to the idea. A recent city-wide poll by the respected firm of Davis, Hibbitts and Migdall showed that 63% of Portland residents favor creating a central city Public Market. We agree with Mr. Thelin that more support is necessary and we will continue our efforts, but at the same time we sincerely appreciate the existing baseline of support, also demonstrated in the PFD poll, which is now running at 80% in favor of building a Public Market.
We want to say again that we appreciate Mr. Thelin’s comment on this site expressing his respect for those of us involved in the PPM project and his eagerness to bring the issue forward for debate. We hope that the information we’ve provided here will answer some questions, raise new ones, and encourage further constructive discussion. We assure you that we’ll answer any questions from PFD readers honestly and fully.