Imagine Washington, D.C., without a Capitol Dome. Imagine the Rockettes without Radio City Music Hall.
That is Sacramento’s present situation. Our city aspires to be the center of the farm-to-fork food revolution, but we lack a physical place – a public market – that can serve as the centerpiece for our celebration of regional food and agriculture.
Cities use public markets to showcase locally sourced foods distinct to their communities. There’s the Ferry Building in San Francisco, Oxbow Public Market in Napa, Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles and Liberty Public Market in San Diego. In each, vendors sell fresh produce. There are fishmongers, butchers, bakers and purveyors of jam and cheese. Wine and beer makers have tasting rooms.
Cities use public markets to attract visitors. A recent survey found 63 percent of baby boomers and 69 percent of millennials list culinary interests as an important motivator guiding where they decide to travel.
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The public market in Milwaukee, population 600,000, draws 1.4 million visitors a year to the Historic 3rd Ward District. Findlay Market in Cincinnati, population 300,000, draws 1.3 million visitors a year, an estimated 20 percent of whom are tourists. These markets, like counterparts from Barcelona to Vancouver, drive more foot traffic to local farmers markets.
A few blocks away from the Tower Bridge, where 600 lucky diners will savor the Bridge Dinner on Sunday night, Sacramento and the Kings are preparing to open the Golden 1 Center. If you need any more evidence that a physical structure can shake up old thinking and generate enthusiasm, there it is.
Sacramento is blessed with several sites that meet the basic criteria – at least 25,000-30,000 square feet in an iconic building – including buildings in the railyard. What is needed is creativity and ambition.
Many cities have launched or renovated public markets in partnership with the private sector. The Pennsylvania Convention Authority, for example, invested more than $30 million in 1990 to update the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. The facility attracts more than 6 million visitors a year.
The agricultural output in the Sacramento region is about $4 billion, roughly the size of the Seattle fishing economy. Why not set out to design a public market that could rival Pike Place Market?
At the end of this Farm-to-Fork Festival, let’s not succumb to a food coma. Instead, let’s deliver the next great civic amenity for the Sacramento region: a public market.
Joe Rodota is a writer and political consultant based in Sacramento. Jeff Dorso is the managing partner of Pioneer Law Group LLP. They may be reached at www.facebook.com/SacramentoPublicMarket.