A Tri-Cities public market would be a winner, but where best to put it bedevils Pasco

A proposed Tri-Cities Public Market is economically feasible in Pasco.

That’s the clear conclusion of a study ordered by the city of Pasco and port of Pasco.

But a recommendation from a Portland, Maine-based consultant to launch the market in downtown Pasco instead of a vacant site next to the Columbia River is baffling advocates.

The Pasco Farmers Market site has a slight edge over the Port of Pasco-owned property along the Columbia River, according to Market Ventures Inc., which was hired to evaluate if a market makes financial sense.

It would be easier, cheaper and faster to launch the market at the Pasco Farmers Market site, Ted Spitzer, president of Market Ventures, told the Pasco City Council and Port of Pasco Commission.

The recommendation flies in the face of widespread support the 55-acre “marine terminal” property.

The Port of Pasco and the city paid a consultant to evaluate whether it would be better to open a public market downtown or at this former marine terminal near the cable bridge. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

Spitzer agreed the terminal is superior to downtown in most regards. But with little commercial development in the neighborhood, he said it is too isolated to draw potential customers.

“We cannot just build a public market and wait for things to happen,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to create a market district in downtown.”

Downtown perceptions

It’s a soft nod at best.

Spitzer suggested Pasco consider a hybrid approach: Launch downtown at the farmers market property and migrate to the river over time as the waterfront develops.

A downtown public market would get an immediate boost from neighbors such as Viera’s Bakery, El Torito grocery and the Pasco Specialty Kitchen. The city is already preparing to upgrade the Pasco Farmers Market pavilion and neighboring Peanuts Park.

Pasco Farmers Market in downtown Pasco. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-CIty Herald

But it could be a struggle to overcome perceptions of the area, including a perceived lack of parking and concerns about the homeless population in the area.

“It would be easier if there was a clear winner,” said Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins, who said the report signals the need for a broader conversation about how to get the idea off the ground.

Adam Brault, president of the Tri-Cities Public Market Foundation, is perplexed by a consultant’s recent report that it would be more challenging to start a public market at this waterfront site than in downtown Pasco. Watch a video at www.tricityherald.com/video Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

The recommendation perplexed Adam Brault, president of the Tri-Cities Public Market Foundation.

The foundation has long pushed for a daily, Pike Place-style market in the Tri-Cities.

It initially focused on what’s locally known as “the pit,” a Richland property along George Washington Way.

The foundation turned to Pasco when the Richland City Council decided to pursue an apartment-based development at the site instead.

Brault said the foundation prefers the marine terminal site. A public survey confirmed that choice.

He added that prospective donors are more interested in supporting a waterfront market to a downtown one.

Why was the waterfront second place?

Brault said the group wants to dig deeper into Market Ventures’ conclusions to find out why the marine terminal came in second.

“What does that mean? What makes it harder? Are there things we can do to mitigate those challenges? Are there things we can do to lower the risk, speed up the timelines? We don’t know that,” Brault told the Herald.

Brault said developing an actual plan will be the focus of a follow-up feasibility study.

It would evaluate the types of businesses that would be included and potential funding sources. It could select a site at that point or keep its options open.

Market Ventures concluded that demand in the Tri-Cities would support a 24,000-square-foot market with indoor and outdoor space for restaurants and other food-related businesses.

It said the site must be readily accessible and visible from highways or major roads. It should have at least 200 parking spaces.

The Marine Terminal property was a busy hub during World War II, moving war-related materials to Hanford and to Naval Air Station Pasco at what is now the Tri-Cities Airport.

A consultant says this former marine terminal owned by the Port of Pasco near the cable bridge would take longer to develop as a Tri-Cities public market than starting it near the Pasco Farmers Market downtown. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

The port later acquired it for a grain terminal that’s now closed.

The property includes a 5,000-square-foot building, acres of pavement, a substation and a former barge wharf.

The blank slate, in the shadow of the iconic cable bridge, offers a picturesque setting for what promises to be a picturesque market. But Market Ventures insists the market won’t work without a large-scale mixed-development to lend energy to the neighborhood.

The small and fledgling businesses that populate public markets need the energy of neighboring businesses to survive. By itself, the market won’t draw enough visitors to pencil out.

Market fans still encouraged

The marine terminal is served by water, sewer and power, though some upgrades could be required. The water main, for instance, is likely made with cast iron may need replacement. Utilities may not be in the right spot.

The wharf could be problematic, as well.

It is a striking feature that would cement the site’s connection to the river.

But it would need substantial repairs and upgrades before it could be opened to the public. The port is currently evaluating the overall site and indicated the wharf is due for a close look, including underwater inspections of the piers.

Market fans say they’re encouraged the study concluded a market will work, even if they’re scratching their heads over the recommendation to start in downtown.

Mayor Pro Tem Craig Maloney, who represents the city on the market foundation board, said he’s pleased the study concluded there is demand for a market.

“We have two good potential options. We have choices to make. Nothing fell out,” he said.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.