By Allan Classen
Ron Paul has been on a seven-year mission to establish a public
market in Portland. The former restaurateur and longtime Northwest
resident believes buying fresh food from local producers has
enormous benefit for our health, our cities and the environment.
His saga took a hit last July when the city cancelled a project
to move the central fire station to Old Town and free its current
for a public market. But Paul is not easily discouraged.
"Our position became: trade up," said Paul, the consulting
director of the Historic Portland Public Market Foundation.
up," the organization has its sights on an
even better location, a historic landmark with great visibility
at the hub of transportation crossroads. They want to go into Union
"Based on the number of other rail stations around the country
exploring higher levels of commerce and food, what I'm wanting
is: Can a station accommodate rail traffic and a vibrant public market?"
Ron Paul checks out upper floors of Union
Station, which he thinks could make a great hotel.
Photo by Julie Keefe.
train station has actually been at the top of the organization's
list of possible sites since Paul's group was formed. Notable
rail stations in other cities have gone this route. Grand Central
in New York City houses the Grand Central Market, and Union Station
in Washington, D.C., has lots of small shops and restaurants,
he said. Amtrak has a national campaign to upgrade and enliven
it owns or uses.
Paul's initial idea
was to wait for Amtrak's expected move to Portland's eastside,
leaving Union Station largely vacant. But when
Administration sliced funds for Amtrak, that possibility died.
Now he thinks a public
market could co-exist with train service. But
getting the train station ready for a new use would require
major investment. It's in serious disrepair and needs perhaps
in seismic upgrades and repairs. When it rains, "it leaks
like a sieve," Paul admitted.
Diana Holuka, who
manages the property for the city's Office of Management and
confirmed that virtually every part
the roof to the wiring to the foundation-needs work, and outside
funding is needed. Leases with Amtrak and other tenants (such
as Wilf's restaurant) cannot cover the needed work.
national historic landmark is owned by the city, Paul believes
city leaders will eventually find the resources
and restore it.
"The city needs to take care of this asset regardless," he
has been no compelling reason to fix it in the past, but the
market becomes a catalyst to change that."
And to justify
the investment, new uses and revenue streams would be necessary.
Paul estimates that preparing the station to include a market
would cost an additional $5-$6 million, an amount that could
by grants and donations. His job now is to persuade the community
and its leaders that a public market has that magnitude of potential.
"It would be an economic development engine par excellence," he
said. "It brings people from far and wide."
these factors, "The balance in my mind began to
tip," he said. "We don't need to wait for Amtrak to
move out or wait for federal support to come in. We could do
At this point, the
Public Market Foundation is seeking about $25,000 from City Hall
for a study to see if
the project could
are at the very early stages of just exploring the possibilities," Paul
said. "We know there are mountains of issues."
one, if Amtrak is flatly opposed, it could end right there.
so, Paul has approached the rail company gingerly."
initial reaction was more positive than we feared," he
told the Pearl District Neighborhood Association last month.
Amtrak's lease runs through 2010, with an option to extend to
2015, said Holuka. The train company currently leases the concourse
the main lobby where Paul would like to put the public market.
He also thinks its baggage area is largely unused and might provide
Obsessed with food
Paul believes the city
would support a major public market because, as the New York
Times reported recently, "Portland
is obsessed with food." The quote came from prominent New
York City restaurant operator Danny Meyer, who was asked about
a growing national awareness
of where our food supply comes from, how it's produced and food
quality. Portland was at the top of his list of American cities
are going the extra mile for high-quality, locally produced food.
has been at the heart of that movement since he opened his first
restaurant at Northwest 23rd and Quimby in 1983. (He later
to Northwest 23rd and Everett and opened other eateries under
his name in Northeast and Southwest Portland.) In the 1990s,
part of a loose federation that included chefs, restaurateurs,
food writers and urban planners who formed the local nexus
of the "slow
Paul, who has spoken
to groups about the problems of the modern industrialized food
system and the growth
of more natural alternatives,
consciousness is rising all the time." He believes that
translates into rising demand for a public market that would
offer local produce,
meat and other food items.
"That ethos has begun to change with the success of Portland
Farmers' Market. New Seasons and others have put a premium on local
and organic food," he said.
Restaurants are increasingly
getting all their greens from a particular grower, for instance,
or all their beef from one rancher
these sources by name, he noted.
you're seeing that on restaurant menus," he said. "It
all reinforces the consideration of local food. The pendulum
is shifting now."
Joan Pendergast, president
of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association, is ready to get
"Everyone is eager to see the market- at least I am," she announced
after Paul's recent presentation to her association.
money may be a harder sell.
Lew Bowers, a development
manager for the Portland Development Commission, said the
is in the Downtown/Waterfront
Urban Renewal Area and is thus eligible for low-interest
loans and grants, but that program
is being phased
out and has no more uncommitted money.
"His concept and timing are right," said Bowers. "At
some point, we're going to have to deal with Union Station."
the short-term, however, "There are no funds available through
the Urban Renewal Area," he said. "It may be a good
idea, but we have no time or staff to actively pursue it. ...
market or public market?
When the subject of
a public market is raised, many people ask, "What
about the Portland Farmers Market?"
Since 1992, the Farmers Market has
operated at Portland State University and several other locations
on a once-a-week schedule. It has set
up in the Pearl District on summer Thursdays since 2001.
public market displace the Farmers Market, or is there room for
Portland Public Market's
Ron Paul believes the two can co-exist and even complement each
other. He cites the Granville Market in
B.C., and Seattle's Pike Place Market as examples of full-time
public markets that co-exist with farmers' markets. He believes
and public markets should aim toward tapping the 90 percent of
the food dollar now being spent in supermarkets rather than "wrangling
about how to divide 8-10 percent."
As an example of cooperation,
he suggests that a public market could have "day tables" where
growers who fail to sell out their produce at a farmers' market
could peddle the remainder
at the public
market the next day before it spoiled.
But Paul conceded that
the relationship between his organization and Portland Farmers
has been "quixotic."
The two organizations signed a memo
of understanding several years ago, providing reciprocal membership
on each other's boards. But
declining revenues at PFM have triggered concerns about its survival
in light of new competition, which were highlighted in a letter
to Mayor Tom Potter in 2005 and an op-ed piece in the Oregonian
"I'm still optimistic that we can find ways to work together," said
Paul. "We want to be as collaborative as we can be."
Executive Director Diane Stefani-Ruff said the relationship has
been "a sensitive subject."
While she believes
the two groups have distinct missions-she sees the Farmers' Market
narrowly focused on serving local farms,
while the Public Market wants to own/develop property-she is bothered
that only the Public Market is in contention for government assistance.
Stefani-Ruff said there are now 31 separate farmers' markets in
the metropolitan area and the growth in sales has been "tremendous."
"All this with no public subsidy," she wrote to the
think what our city's farmers' markets could accomplish with a
fraction of the proposed public market's budget."