If downtown commuters passing through one of Spokane’s busiest corridors see only a large nondescript single-story building, it’s only because they lack the vision of those promoting the Spokane Public Market.
Renovation of the building at 23 W. Second Ave. is well under way, but board members officially launched the project on Monday at a ribbon-cutting – make that a wall-busting – ceremony attended by Mayor Mary Verner.
“Move over Seattle,” said Verner, “we are creating a regional draw here.”
She said the market is part of a community initiative to revitalize the city’s gateway at the Division Street exit of Interstate 90 and will one day rival the Pike Place Market.
Where the casual observer sees bare concrete floors and unfinished rooms, board members envision “a regional year-round public market as an educational and cultural center … where farmers, artisans, and value-added food producers can sell directly to the public,” according to the Spokane Public Market website.
Executive director John Hancock said the indoor market will open late next month and remain open year-round.
The timing appears optimistic, but no more so than the fundraising challenge that will make the project’s permanence possible. Over the years, several markets have come and gone in Spokane.
Hancock said the current endeavor has raised $350,000 toward the $800,000 price for completion of the first half of the project. Supporters hope to raise another $400,000 by July.
The total cost of renovating and purchasing the 21,000-square-foot warehouse owned and developed by Pacific Bridge and once occupied by Roses & More will cost about $2 million, Hancock said.
The goal is to provide a venue for people “to buy local,” stimulating the agricultural economy and making the food supply more durable while attracting 300,000 visitors a year, he said.
So far, the market has signed about 33 of the 100 vendors it hopes to attract, said board member Wayne McMorris, a former Kettle Falls orchardist and father of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
He said in the beginning the market will be open Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Committed vendors include Fussy Hen Flower and Herb Farm, featuring organically grown plants and handmade crafts; Pleasant Valley Plant Farm, a Lincoln County nursery; and Quail Ridge Ranch and Harvey Creek Boer Goats, purveyor of frozen goat meat and fresh baked goods.
“Everything here will be locally made and produced,” McMorris boasted. “There will be no stuff from China being resold here.”
The market also has signed vendors of cooked foods, including Mexican, Mediterranean, Asian and, of course, American.
Among the vendors is Kevin Tunison, a Seven Mile farmer who hopes to sell his USDA-inspected pork, lamb and chicken year-round.
“The idea here is fresh, from flowers to meat to veggies,” said Tunison, who also sells his products seasonally at the outdoor Spokane Farmer’s Market at 10 W. Fifth Ave. Tunison said he intends to maintain booths at both sites.
But the new market is not without its skeptics.
“As far as having a local produce-based market that can sustain itself throughout the year, it will be difficult,” said Timothy Pellow, of Tolstoy Farms near Davenport and an organizer of the less ambitious Spokane Farmer’s Market for the past 13 years.
The Spokane Farmer’s Market is successful, Pellow said, because it’s open only two days a week in the mornings and only for half a year. This gives local farmers the opportunity to sell fresh produce as it’s available and still provides them the time to actually farm.
There is also the difference in rates charged vendors for space in the apparently competing venues.
Pellow said the outdoor Spokane Farmer’s Market charges a $20 annual membership fee, then 4 percent of sales with a $20 minimum and a $45 maximum.
McMorris said the indoor public market will charge vendors a $50 membership fee and 8 percent of daily sales revenue, with a $35 minimum and a $75 maximum.
Pellow said his was an authentic farmer’s market.
“If you have a building that is going to cost $2 million to $2.5 million dollars, plus taxes, utilities, maintenance and management costs, you are going to have to focus on things that don’t involve farmers,” he said.
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