Millions still needed to buy land, construct market and building

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Crown Paella owner Scott Ketterman (left) and Ryan Skarl dish up paella at the First to Market event. Now the hard part begins for backers of the James Beard Public Market.

Portland foodies, real estate developers and civic leaders munched paella and salmon cakes and sipped Oregon wines and brew Friday evening, to formally kick off a $25 million fundraising campaign on the site of the planned year-round food emporium west of the Morrison bridgehead.

It was a coming-out party of sorts at the chosen location of the market, expected to include more than 100 year-round food, drink and flower retailers, topped by a midrise commercial building of perhaps 17 stories.

“This one has been waiting awhile to blossom and grow, but this is the time,” Mayor Charlie Hales told the crowd huddled under a white tent while a storm raged. The mayor’s involvement in the project dates back several years, to when former restaurateur and market promoter Ron Paul was hired as his chief of staff when Hales was a city commissioner.

The project is “transitioning from vision to reality,” Paul said at Friday’s event, billed as “First to Market.” He now works full time to bring the James Beard Public Market project to fruition.

“I think we’re on the verge of depaving a parking lot and putting up paradise,” Paul told the crowd, noting that the surface parking lot they were standing on was the site of the planned North Market Hall under the current design.

Some 75 people contributed $250 or more to attend a VIP event right before Friday’s event. After those donors joined the rest of the crowd under the white tent, Paul announced a new $50,000 anonymous challenge grant, that, if matched by the end of October, will be matched with another $50,000 from the donor.

About $1.1 million had been raised before Friday toward the $25 million goal, which helped pay for design and feasibility work.

Melvin Mark Development Co. teamed with James Beard Public Market organizers to negotiate a deal last year to buy the surplus parking lot at the bridgehead for $10.4 million from Multnomah County.Now they have to raise money to buy the land and build the market.

Given the explosion of Portland’s foodie scene, few doubt there is a demand by food companies to locate at the market.

“The marketplace for this type of place is growing so fast, people don’t worry about it,” said Scott Andrews, president of Melvin Mark Properties.

But funding the market is seen as a prerequisite to designing the commercial building that Melvin Mark hopes to put atop the ground-level market stalls, Andrews said. That’s because the two uses for the site are so closely intertwined.

If the project were built today, he said, it would most likely be a hotel or apartments above the market, given current market demand. New office space wouldn’t pencil out right now, he said, given current downtown rents.

Dan Petrusich, president of Melvin Mark Development Co., said the market, combined with Saturday Market a few blocks to the north, will create a new “market district” along the riverfront. Backers also tout the project’s role in expanding downtown’s retail shopping core from the West End all the way to the riverfront.

The market project won a nice boost from the Legislature in the final hours of the regular 2013 session, when lawmakers agreed to put up $250,000. But to put the project’s fundraising goal in perspective, that’s only 1 percent of the total needed.

Melvin “Pete” Mark Jr., who has passed much of the reins of his family’s real estate company to a younger generation, will help raise money for the market. Mark earlier led the capital campaign for Pioneer Courthouse Square. But Mark, now 87, will be enlisted as a “key partner” in fundraising, not as the campaign leader, Paul said. Lucy Buchanan, a prolific fundraiser for the Portland Art Museum before relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area, was hired as a consultant last year to provide oversight for the capital campaign.

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