Public market advocates ask Richland to commit to a site

File: Adam Brault, center, is joined by other supporters of the “Grand Bargain,” a package of public facilities districts, for a group photo in this file photo at the pit along George Washington Way in Richland.
File: Adam Brault, center, is joined by other supporters of the “Grand Bargain,” a package of public facilities districts, for a group photo in this file photo at the pit along George Washington Way in Richland. Tri-City Herald

In the most direct plea for support yet, backers of the Tri-Cities Public Market asked the city of Richland to send a clear signal it supports the project.

Without critical city support, the market’s supporters say it will disappear.

Tuesday, the market’s board asked the Richland City Council to commit to supporting the project at 650 George Washington Way and to pony up half the $120,000 the market needs to create a formal business plan and architectural designs.

The council budgeted 30 minutes to discuss the market and ended up spending nearly an hour on the topic during a regularly scheduled workshop. While no decisions were made, Mayor Bob Thompson said the council has heard the passionate supporters who think the city-owned site at Richland’s entrance is exactly the right spot for a regional public market.

“There isn’t anybody on the council who thinks the market is a bad idea,” Thompson told Adam Brault, a Richland business owner and the market’s chief supporter. Brault and Mark Lambert, president of Crown Group, have a deal to develop the property, which has been occupied by an abandoned pit for some 15 years.

Last week, the council extended a key deadline by four months to give both sides time to study the best use for the prominent spot at the city’s entrance.

Lambert, who has developed some $500 million in commercial real estate projects over his four decades in the industry, said he knew the spot was special the first time he drove by three years ago. He wasn’t looking for a local project but began toying with ideas. When Brault suggested a public market, light bulbs went off, he told the council.

“That’s really what this site needs,” he said.

Thompson pledged to give the public market plan due consideration. But he said it won’t set aside a the downtown visioning process that is currently taking place. That could take several more months.

“Your ideas are at the forefront,” he said.

Brault, who has waged a high-profile campaign on social media to win city support for a public market on George Washington Way, said he was pleased that the two sides will keep talking.

Preliminary sketches by Portland-based TVA Architects show an L-shaped building facing a plaza oriented to George Washington.

The public market would occupy 30,000 square feet of street-level retail space over a 240-stall underground, public parking garage controlled by the city. Upper floors would be occupied by 25,000 square feet of office space and between 75 and 100 market-rate apartments. Brault and Crown Group would invest $15 million to construct the commercial elements.

Brault needs the office space to house his growing Richland software business, &yet.

The city would retain ownership of the property and would sell rights to develop the area above the site to its private partners.

But building the garage and public market will require a different source. It will cost roughly $18 million to develop the market and garage, including $9 million for the building, $1 million for the public plaza and $6 million to construct an underground parking garage.

The development team is seeking non-commercial financing. A traditional loan would saddle the market with too much debt to be supported by the kinds of startup entrepreneurs its backers hope to see move in — cafes, florists, growler fillers and produce vendors, among others. The market would be an incubator of sorts for food-related businesses.

“A public market is a utility that allows private for profit business to flourish,” said Aaron Zaretsky, a public market consultant who formerly led the renovation of Seattle’s Pike Place Market in the 1970s.

The market board initially hoped the project would be packaged with other regional amenities as part of a “Grand Bargain.” That fizzled when the Kennewick and Pasco public facilities districts decided to pursue projects on their own and Richland’s district expressed no interest in supporting the market.

Brault said the market will raise money privately. But it will need a show of city support.

Zaretsky, the consultant, said if the city indicates its support, donations will follow. If it doesn’t, the opportunity will pass.

“You have an opportunity to to do something that is special and unique,” he said.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell