Vancouver could be home to public marketplace

Port of Vancouver officials think the development could be a major tourist draw

Port of Vancouver rendering
Courtesy of the Port of Vancouver

Could Vancouver be home to its own version of Seattle’s Pike’s Place or Wenatchee’s Pybus Public Market? The Port of Vancouver thinks so.

Port officials have spent about a year looking at the concept of a public marketplace to go along with the redevelopment of Terminal 1 on the waterfront. The development could take several years to complete, but officials think it could be a major tourist draw, a vibrant connector between downtown and the city’s Waterfront Project and a boon to local small businesses.

“I think the vision is a mix of public space, retail, commercial offices, residential, recreational activities and a tourist destination,” said Jonathan Eder, the Port’s human resources director and Terminal 1 project manager. “I like ‘bustling’ as a description for this market and the overall development. Lots of activity that starts in the morning and goes through the evening every day.”

Unlike the Vancouver Farmers Market, which has temporary stalls and is open on weekends through much of the spring, summer and fall, a public market would include a more permanent mix of shops and stalls showcasing crafts, foods and other wares from the community.

And having something like that would be a big draw for tourists coming up from Oregon and other places, said Jim Hagar, the Port’s economic development project manager.

“It’s the front porch into the state of Washington,” Hagar said. “As the owners of that porch, we want to make sure it represents the state well, and the city well.”

Port officials completed a feasibility study on the potential for a public marketplace last December. In the study, respondents said they’d most like to see stores with local foods and products, event space and a beer or wine garden.

“We’ve had a lot of interest,” Eder said. “Several restaurateurs are interested, some of our public meetings could be held there, there’s a wide variety of retail opportunities.”

But it’s the market’s potential as a second-stage business incubator that has Jordan Boldt, executive director of the Vancouver Farmers Market, excited.

The Vancouver Farmers Market is almost always packed, and every year some vendors don’t make the cut. Boldt said he thinks the Farmers Market and the Public Market could help with that – and work as two-stages of a business incubator for the region’s small craft vendors and farmers.

Farmers Markets are very mobile, use tents, aren’t expensive and have a low barrier for entry. A public market is sort of a step-up for growing businesses, Boldt explained.

“So people could build up their businesses at the Farmers Market, and then graduate into the Public Marketplace,” Boldt said. “The jump between a ten-by-ten canopy is much different than running a brick and mortar store. That’s a big jump. So, I like the idea of giving them a space that’s in between the two.”

In the public market, stores can save costs and share on facilities like bathrooms. The Port and the Farmers Market could also include some business education and support, which is something the Farmers Market already does with its vendors.

The market will also be a nice connector between downtown, the city’s Waterfront Development and the port’s Terminal 1, said Jack Flug, the Port’s senior financial analyst.

The public market will be partially located on two acres of over-water dock structure. And it’s important to note that there won’t be direct river access, only docks and waterfront views, he said.

“It’s an incredible experience for our community to go over water,” Flug said. “The views are fantastic.”

The dock will have 87,000 square feet of space and be 120 feet wide, he added.

The public market could also host food trucks, and Port officials have been discussing whether to put the infrastructure in place beforehand, Hagar said.

“One thing we’re looking at is how do you put in the proper infrastructure to support food vendors or food carts whether it’s needed or not,” Hagar said. “If you’re going to be digging around in the ground, you might as well put the infrastructure in then. It’s cheaper that way than going back in later.”

Terminal 1 is 30,000 square feet that encompasses an old warehouse the Port built in the 1920s, said Abbi Russell, Port of Vancouver communications manager.

“In the early 1900s there was a municipal dock west of the I-5 bridge,” Russell said. “In the 1920s, we partnered with that to build the port’s first warehouse,” which is now known as Terminal 1.

In the past, vendors shipped prunes, lumber, flax and wheat from the warehouse, but officials now see it as something that could become a slick, industrial-looking indoor-outdoor market.

“It’s got this industrial path, which most ports do,” she said. “It has a great look.”

In the late 1950s the Thunderbird Hotel, later renamed the Red Lion at the Quay, opened in Portland. The Red Lion closed in 2015 and its neighboring Quay Restaurant and Bar closed in 2016.

But despite a bit of a downturn, new construction efforts are bringing vitality back to the area. And the start of that is Warehouse 23, which is now thriving at the location on 100 Columbia Street, Russell said.

“It’s doing great,” Russell said. “It’s phenomenal.”

So far, the site has Warehouse 23, an amphitheater, office space and some old hotel rooms in the former Red Lion that are being renovated for business use.

“It’s kind of a mix of some industrial, open air and business sites,” Eder said. ”We’ve got a fair amount of pedestrian activity, too.”

To the west, where the city’s Waterfront Project continues, there’s also significant construction that when complete is likely to draw visitors back and forth from the public market, he said.

“What we’d like to do is replicate the original building, that 1920s industrial warehouse,” Eder said. “We’d strip it back and have it represent the history of the Port of Vancouver as well as being a market space.”

The port also recently got a $485,000 grant from the Regional Transportation Council to extend and connect the Renaissance Trail from west to east through Terminal 1 and the city’s Waterfront Development Project – which will connect the various developments together and draw foot traffic throughout.

The Renaissance Trail will be completed in two phases. Phase 1 will go in front of the AC Hotel by Marriott at Terminal 1, which is set for construction next year. The second phase will stretch out to the Waterfront Development Project and is set to begin in 2021.

“We will provide a temporary connector until we can go back and put the rest in,” Flug added.

Also part of phase 1, which should begin soon, is ground stabilization work – with the addition of some stone pillars and pounding of soil to prevent liquefaction in case of an earthquake, Flug said.

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