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Proposed James Beard Public Market would provide a boost to the city's waterfront



COURTESY: JAMES BEARD PUBLIC MARKET - The James Beard Public Market could play a key role in revitalizing Portlands waterfront.Last month the proposed James Beard Public Market faced three milestones related to its future.

First came word on Dec. 21 that the market’s founding executive director, former restaurateur and political advisor Ron Paul, passed away after a battle with cancer. That same day, the Washington Post named Portland the top food city in America, and a deal closed on MMDC Company’s purchase of the site (at the west end of the Morrison Bridge) from Multnomah County, for $10.4 million, with the intent of building a mixed-use highrise above and behind the market.

PORTLAND ARCHITECTUREPlenty of challenges remain for the project to reach fruition. When internationally acclaimed architecture firm Snøhetta (which designed the National September 11 Memorial & Museum as well as an expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) released an eye-catching design last summer, it was based on the market occupying two adjoining circular plots inside the Morrison Bridge onramps. However, in a Jan. 7 interview with the Portland Tribune’s Steve Law, Fred Granum, who succeeded Paul as executive director, said of such a design, “I cannot see that it would be feasible.” This means the ramps would have to be re-aligned for the market to be built there, something Mayor Charlie Hales (for whom Paul served as chief of staff when Hales was a city councilor in the late 1990s) told Law may be feasible. But Hales is also in the last year of his term, calling into question the mayor’s ability to shepherd his old friend’s dream.

It’s also arguable that Portland doesn’t need one big market in the vein of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, because we are already served by a host of neighborhood farmers’ markets as well as new food halls like the Pine Street Market downtown or The Redd in the Central Eastside.

But make no mistake: we should build the James Beard Public Market, not simply as a tribute to Ron Paul but because it’s precisely the kind of civic, cultural infrastructure the city needs.

It’s a glassy, light-filled winter garden where people from all walks of life, can come together out of the rain and sample the bounty coming in from our farms, ranches and fishing boats. A Beard Public Market would also do wonders for the downtown waterfront and help bring an increasingly human scale to busy, multi-lane Naito Parkway, which for too long has been a kind of barrier to accessing Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Historically, Portland has almost always shied away from big moves: we don’t build towering structures like our richer, more ambitious big-city neighbors to the north and south, and to some extent that’s to our credit. We don’t need architectural trophies to be a great city. But the Beard Public Market epitomizes our values and DNA: a place where we can celebrate the best of our city and the ritual of living well. If Pioneer Courthouse Square is the city’s living room, let the James Beard Public market and adjacent Waterfront Park become our kitchen looking out at our front yard.

Brian Libby is a Portland freelance journalist, critic and photographer who has contributed to The New York Times, The Atlantic and Dwell, among others. His column, Portland Architecture, can be read monthly in the Business Tribune or online at: portlandarchitecture.com

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