Arrow-right Camera

Washington Voices

Spokane Public Market finds home

Thu., May 20, 2010

Old warehouse north of Second Avenue between Browne, State streets could open in fall

It looks like the Spokane Public Market has secured a location that will finally let it settle and grow.

An old warehouse north of Second Avenue, between Browne and State streets, is being renovated by Spokane-based BR3 Development Group, and it will be the new home of the Spokane Public Market.

“This is a long-term project, but I think we’ve figured out how to make it work and make it profitable,” said Chris Batten of BR3 Development Group. “The biggest problem with raising money for the market has been not having a location.”

Since 2007, a group of people has pursued the idea of establishing a year-round market like the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle.

“We were very excited when Chris Batten contacted us,” said Kay Stoltz, the group’s leader. “It’s a great location, and we hope to be able to have a soft opening this fall.”

A warehouse on the corner of Division Street and Riverside Avenue was the last permanent location that the market, formerly known as the Spokane Marketplace, occupied, from 1991 to 1995. It then moved several times, at one point occupying an old building in the block where KHQ-TV is now located. It was in Riverfront Park for a while, first out in the open and later in a warehouse that belonged to the Spokane Parks Department. Its last address was in a warehouse off Ruby Street.

“It really has been a long process to get to where we are today,” Stoltz said, adding that the market already has a list of 50 interested vendors.

“We want it to be local, one-on-one, but not like a grocery store,” Stoltz said. “Yet we do want to be able to sell fish and bread, too.”

BR3 has worked closely with the Spokane Neighborhood Economic Development Alliance to create a for-profit development company that will run the market. Over time, Batten said, it will be possible for Spokane Public Market to purchase the building.

“We collaborated about this,” Batten said. “We will also do an economic impact study. A market like this is natural for job creation.”

A business plan has already been developed with help from Gonzaga University, and, on May 23, BR3 and the Spokane Public Market will bring in consultant David O’Neil from Philadelphia.

“I took over the Reading Terminal Market when it was having a very difficult time, about 30 years ago,” said O’Neil. “It became profitable at a time when marketplaces were not fashionable like they are today.”

Since then, O’Neil has traveled all over the country and the world as a marketplace consultant.

“I know what works and what doesn’t work, and I learned by doing,” O’Neil said. “You could say I learned in sort of an uphill battle kind of way.”

Key components to a successful marketplace are solid daily management and good synergy between vendors and other area businesses.

“It’s very important to know what the vendors’ expectations are to this place,” O’Neil said. “There are ‘front of the house’ issues and ‘back of the house’ issues. Most people would be shocked to know how much is going on behind the scenes at Pike Place Market to enable them to have that great market experience.”

While in Spokane, O’Neil plans to meet with potential vendors, developers and customers.

“I’m excited to come out and see the site,” O’Neil said on the phone from Philadelphia. “It sounds like a good location.”

On a short tour Friday afternoon, Batten pointed out that the old warehouse has huge doors that will make it possible to expand out on sidewalks and old loading docks when the weather is nice.

“We are right next to the House of Charity, but they are actually excited about us moving in,” Batten said. “We may be able to work something out with them along the lines of jobs.”

Other tenants will join. And there is plenty of parking just off Browne Street.

Batten said not only would the new market be a great asset to the neighborhood, it also would improve one of the much talked about gateways to Spokane: the freeway ramps where visitors have their first impression of the city.

“It certainly will look a lot better than what is here right now,” said Batten.

As plans take shape and designs are being worked over, Batten said they will make sure to make room for one thing: a big stack of terra cotta tile, with donors’ names on them, that was sold as a fundraiser for the original marketplace.

“We will find a spot for them,” said Batten.

Click here to comment on this story »