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Valley Public Radio Staff
Tue January 8, 2013
Fresno to Explore Possibility of Downtown 'Public Market' in Former Gottschalks Building
A national expert on public markets toured Fresno today to explore the potential of creating a year-round indoor market for the valley’s agricultural and prepared food products.
The bottom two floors of a downtown parking garage, once home to the Gottschalks department store, could become the home of a new indoor public market for produce, baked goods and other food items, according to officials with the city of Fresno.
Ted Spitzer, a national consultant who has helped plan new public markets in cities like Grand Rapids and Milwaukee toured the city owned building on the Fulton Mall today, as well other potential sites downtown.
Spitzer says that year-round indoor markets have proven popular elsewhere in the country, and typically capitalize on regional crops and specialty products, drawing people from throughout the region.
“There’s a lot of interest in local foods, and that’s happened across the country. What we’ve seen is a virtual explosion of outdoor farmers markets, so now people are looking for the next step. And from that, is around indoor markets. There are historic public markets, some very famous ones like the Pike Place Market in Seattle, and then there are a number of communities that have created new indoor markets like the Ferry Plaza in San Francisco,” says Spitzer.
Spitzer will give a presentation on Wednesday to a group of local business and agriculture leaders about markets in other communities. He says he hopes to give Fresno leaders a better idea of whether or not the concept would work locally.
“Part of the work which I do is understanding what the local aspirations are, but also looking [at] and understanding the local potential. And kind of marrying the aspirations and potential in a concept that makes some sense, is economically feasible, and meets the goals the community has established for the facility,” says Spitzer.
He says the project could also house local food related entrepreneurs and restaurants, and serve as an incubator for local small businesses.
City of Fresno Business Development Director Craig Scharton says while such a market won’t open in Fresno anytime soon, local businesses are already showing interest.
“We have a group of food related businesses that have formed an advisory group, and they’re really leading this, so it’s a very private sector led effort. It’s a big project. I wouldn’t be surprised if it took us three years or so to get this going,” says Scharton.
Spitzer says that the proposed market could be either publicly or privately funded, though many are operated by non-profit organizations. A similar project in Grand Rapids, Michigan cost around $28 million.
The retail portion of the so-called "spiral" parking garage has been vacant for around twelve months. Last year, the city evicted the former tenant, the Fresno Discount Mall, over what it called the tenant's failure to maintain the facility.
The city constructed the building in the late 1960's to provide parking for downtown shoppers, and leased the ground floor and basement to the Gottschalks chain.
Despite being evicted last year from the city's building, the discount mall remains open in an adjacent, privately owned portion of the former department store building.