Finally the proposed James Beard Public Market has life. The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners granted the okay to start negotiating with developer Melvin Mark Companies and the nonprofit James Beard Public Market to turn roughly three to four blocks of downtown Portland at the end of the Morrison Bridge into a $120 million project. The proposed site includes a 17-story office tower adjacent to the site’s showpiece: a public market reminiscent of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, only a touch fancier and quite a bit newer. 

Oh, the icon-making potential of it all.

This project isn’t a flash-in-the-pan idea, though, with over a decade of planning and false starts, the project may have found exactly what it needed most: a large site and willing owners.

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Proposed project

Currently just a parking lot, developers like the idea that not only do the county and city want to see it creatively transformed into a usable space, but the location near public transit also touches the downtown waterfront.

Melvin Mark won the bid to purchase the property for $10 million (it will complete the transaction after the company walks through a three-year design and permitting process), beating out Portland’s Gerding Edlen Development Co.’s $8 million offer for an immediate purchase. By leaving the property in the county’s ownership, the government entity will continue to rake in parking revenues.

As per a plan developed by Portland’s SERA Architects and Mayer/Reed Landscape Architects, the design aims to combine the public market—hopefully bustling with local and regional shoppers—with a tower serving as a gateway to the city. Expect to see the Morrison Bridge’s existing ramps incorporated into the setting and see a footbridge spanning the MAX light rail tracks, linking the urban environment to the riverfront.

The indoor public market should not only feature architectural prominence, but also kick a budding foodie city into the mainstream with year-round market space and plenty of related buildings for the James Beard Public Market. Demonstration kitchens for food shows and classes, a catering kitchen usable for nearby event spaces and community meeting rooms will supplement the main market space. A stage area hopes to draw artists during festivals and events.

As the county and developer continue to negotiate the final design of the space, construction could start as early as 2014. In the meantime, we’ll wade through a few years of planning and design.