Seeking to capitalize on Sacramento’s growing profile as a food and agriculture hub, a group advocating for a permanent public market in the city has recommended that the facility be placed inside the historic downtown train depot.
The group sent a letter to Mayor Kevin Johnson and City Manager John Shirey on Monday also asking that city officials issue a request for qualifications from potential developers and operators of a market. No financing plan has been developed, and the process of coming up with a design for the project would likely take more than a year.
Sacramento has long considered building a year-round public market. The historic shop buildings in the downtown railyard were considered as a potential site, but the group behind the most recent effort said the buildings need too much repair.
In 2010, a developer proposed building a market at the corner of Eighth and K Streets. The City Council instead approved a rival project calling for housing and offices; that development never materialized. In the 1990s, city officials opened a market on the riverfront in Old Sacramento, but the facility faded over the years.
Now, as Sacramento promotes itself as the “Farm-to-Fork Capital,” the conversation is picking up again.
“This is a civic amenity that really fits the time and really fits our community,” said Joe Rodota, a public policy strategist involved in the effort.
Mayor Johnson “is interested in the concept of a public market and looks forward to working with the stakeholders to explore its potential,” said his spokesman, Ben Sosenko. However, the mayor did not directly endorse the idea of placing a market in the train station.
Fran Halbakken, the city’s downtown railyard manager, said the train depot could be a viable location for a market. After the renovation is complete, the Amtrak ticketing station will be moved to the western side of the depot, leaving roughly 20,000 square feet of available space, she said.
“It’s one of many potential uses that we could have,” Halbakken said. The city also is considering a restaurant and a cafe.
Halbakken said the city must issue a request for qualifications for operators of a market because public money is being used in the train depot renovation. She said city officials also want to be careful about how they use the space.
“After all these years of disrepair that the depot was in, it wouldn’t be a good start if the first thing we put in there wasn’t successful,” she said.
Several factors led the group to settle on the rail depot, which Rodota called “an iconic location.”
Perhaps most notably, the city-owned building is undergoing a two-year, $34 million renovation, allowing for the market to move into an existing structure that has been upgraded. The depot stands at the gateway to the downtown railyard, slated to become a mix of housing, offices and perhaps a new professional soccer stadium in the years ahead.
Like San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace, proponents are also seeking to connect the Sacramento market with mass transportation.
More than 1 million passengers file through the train depot each year, making it the seventh-busiest rail station in the country. There is also a light-rail stop at the depot, and a planned streetcar system connecting West Sacramento, downtown and midtown would pass through the station.
Many other midsize cities have public markets, including Cincinnati, New Orleans and Milwaukee. A new market is being built in Madison, Wis., and Pittsburgh opened a new facility in 2013.
“These things are taking off,” Rodota said.
The Oxbow Public Market in Napa opened in December 2007 and draws an estimated 2 million visitors a year. Steve Carlin, who developed Oxbow and was a project manager for the Ferry Building Marketplace, is helping to lead the campaign for a market in Sacramento.
“With that proximity to farmland, it seems Sacramento is really the right place to situate a market,” Carlin said Monday.
The group envisions a market slightly smaller than Oxbow – roughly 20,000 to 30,000 square feet. “We’re not going to overbuild it,” Carlin said.
Rodota said a market would likely incorporate four elements: prepared food stations such as butchers and bakeries; produce stands; restaurants; and educational space.
“There’s no place now where you can go to get all of that,” said Jeff Dorso, an attorney who is working on the project. Richard Rich, a developer who specializes in historic buildings, is also involved.
Neighborhood farmers markets – including some in the central city not far from the train depot – draw thousands of visitors, and a year-round market under the W/X freeway downtown remains popular. Rodota said other cities have shown there is room for both permanent markets and weekly markets.
“If a building is big enough, historic enough and interesting enough, it can lock into the regional consumer and tourist markets very well,” Rodota said.