After years of controversy, the James Beard Public Market has released a potential design from the Oslo and New York based Snøhetta.
According to James Beard Public Market planners, the market will be at the west end of the Morrison Bridge, across from Tom McCall Waterfront Park. They want it to become the “hub and connector to the surrounding cultural, social, and economic districts”. Plans include two market halls, over 100 vendor stalls, a teaching kitchen, event venue and full-service restaurants.
The design concept for the James Beard Public Market captures the essence of Portland’s market history and its DNA while daring to mark new architectural territory. Form and function merge into a graceful, bowing arc that spans more than three blocks along Portland’s waterfront at the west end of the Morrison Bridgehead. What are now cracked asphalt parking lots and remnants of long-ago freeway ramps will become the food hub for the city’s future, bringing healthy, fresh, local foods and beverages within easier reach for all of our citizens.
You can see a couple of images of the proposed market here. As of now market promoters are actively soliciting donations towards the project.
I, of course, have a few comments. From what I can see, the design is quite nice, though a bit modern for my idea of a farmers market. It will undoubtedly draw tourists. Most likely it will bring some much needed life to that section of downtown. However, I have to bring up the same questions I’ve been asking since the 90’s.
- Do we really need this? There are a ton of farmers markets in Portland, many more than there were when this project was first conceived. Do the vendors at those markets feel like we need a larger one with a much more expensive overhead? Will they support it? Investors are worrying this week about Whole Foods Markets valuation, partly because there so much fresh, organic produce available at ordinary markets, people no longer need to pay WF prices. Doesn’t this trend make the concept of this year-round market less necessary?
- I’ve heard lots of people say that it will elevate our food scene, and raise its national prominence. It seems to me our chefs and farmers are already doing quite a good job of this. How big a difference is this market really going to make?
- It is one thing going to the Saturday market, or to our local neighborhood markets, but are people going to be willing to deal with downtown traffic, parking fees and panhandlers on a frequent enough basis to make this a viable project? You’ve got to sell lots of apples to pay the overhead on a building like this, especially with state of the art designs by world-renowned architects.
- Speaking of which, who is going to pay for this. When I read this type of glowing PR, I can’t help but think boondoggle. It makes me nervous. Show me the financial plan. Show me feasibility studies, including impact reports on existing farmers markets and businesses. Will it be financially viable? Are taxpayers going to be paying for any of this? Someone has to put up the money for all of that infrastructure. I don’t see these details on the market website. I’d be a lot more comfortable supporting the market if we had a bit more information. You would think we’d have more details from a plan that was first hatched in the 90’s.
- In an article on this website in 2007, Ron Paul said, “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.” Tell me again, how is this downtown market going to help the people on the outskirts of town that don’t currently have access to fresh, local foods. The people in downtown, the 5%, already have these things. It feels to me like we need something like this on the east side, not downtown.
A breathless article in Portland Monthly calls the project a “bold vision”, saying –
The images Snohetta produced are breathtaking. The basic scheme, which would front SW Naito Parkway with 650 feet of continuous storefronts featuring fresh food, would be transformative to the loneliest stretch of Waterfront Park.
Of the more than five proposals floated for the market over the last decade, Snohetta’s is the most ambitious yet. Atop the market, Snohetta has conceptualized two housing towers rising more than 20 floors. Thus, if the entire market scheme were to be realized, it would stand among such large urban redevelopments as the Brewery Blocks of the early 2000s and the Lloyd District’s Hassalo on Eighth currently underway.
Sidebar: I didn’t know Waterfront Park had a lonely stretch.
I get why this city wants this. It’s pretty. Some jobs will be created. Many people say that this is Portland’s chance to have an equivalent to Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I see one big difference. Pike Place has a charm. It’s entertaining. There is history behind it. The same could be said of the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace. I’ve played tourist at both, and probably have pictures of myself standing in front of each. But based on the limited renderings now available, this isn’t going to be that type of experience. I don’t feel any soul or warmth. I look at these and I don’t feel our “city’s dining zeitgeist” – slam intended.
Convince me, and I’ll support it all the way, but let’s not throw money around willy-nilly.
Now for some history.
The initial concept of a year-round Portland Public market was first brought up in a proposal by Heidi Yorkshire in 1993. In 1999, the idea gained traction with the creation of a Portland Public Market Task Force. In 2007, the whole idea blew up when many in the community questioned the need for such a market, when we have the highly regarded (now 77 year old) Portland Farmers Market already providing much of the same functionality. At that time, Ron Paul, the Public Market Consulting Director, and board member Amelia Hard responded to the controversy telling Portland Food and Drink,
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 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.
This was followed quickly by an article in OregonLive.com (which mysteriously went missing a few hours later), discussing the financial problems other cities are having with public markets, and how they are having to diversify because of the lack of year-round produce, as well as how thinly stretched vendors already are in trying to support the various farmers markets all over the area, without adding a project as big as this one.
In a similar article in USA Today called “Pitfalls loom for public market plans“, gave additional fuel to the controversy –
“It will put Portland on the food map, and grow the awareness of local food,” said Ron Paul, a former restaurateur who has been working on the nonprofit project since 1999.
Paul said the years spent planning for a market have let him learn from other startups. For example, he said he’d strive for a mix of vendors like those at Philadelphia’s historic Reading Terminal Market, where there are at least two butchers, two bakers, and two produce vendors, each selling at different prices.
Markets can’t have too many handicrafts vendors, he said, because they create a flea-market feel.
Year-round local produce in a climate like Oregon’s is unlikely, Paul acknowledged. But vendors who sell meat or dairy products will welcome the chance to set up in a stall with proper refrigeration and display cases, instead of pulling their shrink-wrapped wares out of a cooler at an outdoor market.
To break even, some public markets have branched out far beyond the original concept of local, sustainable foods: The new managers of the Milwaukee Public Market in Wisconsin, for example, just announced that the venue will be available for weddings and other events.
Have things changed enough to support a year-round public market in Portland? Time will tell.