New facility would give farmers, businesses 'great platform as entrepreneurs'

[caption id="attachment_19305" align="alignright" width="314" caption="Concept scheme of the Sonoma MarketHall"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA – The Sonoma County Fair board is holding a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 16 on the plans for a permanent year-round public market at the fairgrounds inspired by Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, Wash.

Mark Rivers is the developer of the $10 million privately funded and developed 70,000-square-foot facility.

“The notion of a facility like this is to act as an incubator," he said. "If we as a community and as an economic development alliance can fertilize and help these farmers and business owners grow and act as exporters, that gives them a great platform as entrepreneurs.”

In a letter to neighbors, Fair Manager Tawny Tesconi said the Sonoma MarketHall is expected to be a centerpiece of commerce and community in both planning and daily operations.

John Stewart, the developer of the New Railroad Square mixed-use project downtown, said he is moving ahead with plans for a 40,000-square-foot Sonoma County Food and Wine Center.

The center would be in addition to affordable for-rent housing, 40,000 square feet of office space, a 263-space parking garage, several restaurants and, according to Mr. Stewart, a Club One.

“We have entered into a contract with Steve Carlin regarding the feasibility of the public market,” said Mr. Stewart.

Mr. Carlin is the founder and CEO of Oxbow Public Market in Napa and was the project manager of the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace.

“He is going to provide information on his operations and look at bringing a public market like Oxbow market to Railroad Square,” he said.

“We have been working on our project for 11 years,” he said. “We are going to continue on a modest level on a site that has rail and bike as well as pedestrian access to the central business district.”

Tracey Pugh is the market director for the Santa Rosa Downtown Market.

“Personally, I do not think Santa Rosa can support two permanent farmer's markets,” she said.

But Mr. Rivers said he feels the project will be complementary to the proposed market in Railroad Square and that it can coexist with the current Veterans Memorial Building market.

“I think that one plus one can equal three,” he said.

He said if you look at merchandise mix, there will be one third produce, one third prepared food and one third products.

He hopes to get the construction under way on the site at Bennett Valley and Brookwood roads by the fall, which would make the market ready to open in the spring.

Ms. Tesconi said building will be completed using local labor and materials.

Each tenant will have stalls ranging from 200 to 2,000 square feet.

According to Mr. Rivers, the MarketHall will be open March 1 to Jan. 2 of each year, closing for the remainder of January and February. The market will be open six days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Mondays, he said.

The anticipated opening date is April 2011.

Ms. Tesconi said the fair board will be asked to review the project and to approve a directive to move forward at its board meeting on March 18.

Mr. Rivers, the chief executive officer of Brix, is a former adviser to Harrod’s Department Store in London on its Food Hall and consulted on the Port of Oakland’s Jack London Square, which would be the West Coast’s largest public market. He also has worked with the leadership of the Port of San Francisco, home to the Ferry Building Marketplace.

He currently lives in Boise, Idaho.

The proposal will be discussed at the 7 p.m. meeting at the Jockey Club. Input from neighbors and local interested parties is welcomed.

Mr. Rivers will be there to present the project and answer questions.