Sonoma Market Hall update

Three months after the announcement of a proposed Pike Place-style Market Hall in Santa Rosa, what's new?

Proposed site for the Sonoma County MarketHall

Here’s an update to what’s happening with the Sonoma Market Hall, proposed for construction in Santa Rosa…
Back in March 2010, plans were announced for the Sonoma County MarketHall, a 70,000 square-foot food market at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The $10 million proposal by Mark Rivers, CEO of Idaho-based Brix and Co., envisions a Pike Place-style retail space with 140 vendors and 100 permanent jobs for the county.
In the three months since the hall’s announcement, Rivers has been gripping and grinning around the county like a politician, trying to secure vendors, permits and general support — mostly with success, but not without a few hurdles.  Highly ambitious, well-funded and potentially lucrative to the tourist trade, Rivers’ MarketHall has been met with a mix of unbridled enthusiasm, wary skepticism and mixed-allegiance by the oft-divided local food community. The truth: Not everyone knows which basket to put their eggs in.

Here’s why: Rivers’ proposal isn’t the first to tread these waters. For years, hopes have been loosely pinned to a smaller-scale food market in Railroad Square, largely tied to SMART development. Though the Railroad Square committee say they still plan to pursue the project, it just hasn’t had the momentum (or funding) that Rivers is promising. And then there are the foodie factions, each with their own ideals, politics and long-term visions for Sonoma County’s food trade — Slow Food, Farm Trails, existing farmer’s markets, chefs, producers and those of us who just love food.  As several chefs have told me, it’s a minefield to know where to place your allegiance, for fear of upsetting a friend, or worse, a valued purveyor.
But the bottom line is that Rivers’ MarketHall is moving forward. With serious locomotion. BiteClub caught up with Rivers to see where things stand.

How is this different than any of the other Markets (Ferry Building, Oxbow, etc) that, frankly, have had their share of ups and downs?

Rivers: I think the Ferry Bldg and Oxbow are pretty high-brow, gourmet food courts, more than public markets. Our MarketHall has a broader arrange of product and, will have that festive, bustling atmosphere of diverse offerings from ag, wine and food. I like to think that those two facilities are grandma’s high tea. The MarketHall is more like your Uncle’s backyard barbeque, with organized chaos, kids and something for everybody.
Who is funding this project?
Rivers: My company is self-funding this project so, we can move quickly without any handcuffs to the credit markets or other development complications. Rivers and his company were advisors on the Harrod’s Food Hall and restaurants in London, and had ownership of the Jack London Square in Oakland and its planned public market, according to documentation. The Sonoma County Fair Board are the land lessors of the facility.

Where does the project stand, currently?
Rivers said he’s currently submitting for permits, and hopes to have that portion wrapped up by the end of June. He plans to announce the first tenants to the building by July. If all goes well, he hopes to have the building completed (it’s about a five month build he says) and ready to open by summer 2011.
What’s the biggest hurdle you’re facing?
Rivers: I worry about the entitlement process that can get bogged down and sideways. We’re not asking for public subsidy and, we don’t need special treatment. I just hope that local government will see a project that is creating jobs, serving the broad public and showcasing the community.
Okay, the elephant in the room is the Santa Rosa Farmers Market at the Veteran’s Hall — which would be right across the street, potentially. How does that work?
Rivers: I’m hoping to work together with Paula (Downing, market manager for the Santa Rosa and Sebastopol Farmer’s markets). I really hope to work together on many projects. We have farmers who can’t get into the local markets and, purveyors who need retail access. We have chefs with bold ideas for new concepts and, entrepreneurs with dreams, too. This is the ultimate sales and marketing platform and, we’ll attract a broad array of folks.  Rivers sees a “vertical movement up” for current farmer’s market vendors who want to graduate to a six-day-a-week permanent spot.
Why did you pick Sonoma County?
Rivers: The available bounty and the embedded food culture are the top reasons. There is so much product, its everywhere and there is lots of it. Many farmers and purveyors want and need another sales outlet. The market of locals is strong and, tourism is deep. Its ideal really.
Do you really think farmer’s can afford a stall at your market hall?
Rivers: I’m confident that we can merchandise this facility. Our proforma rental rates for a day are less than the rate card for the current Santa Rosa market. We have a built-in set of economics that works to insure success for vendors. Some higher-volume players might play close to market rents so that some smaller-volume players can comfortably exist.
What about anchor restaurants?
Rather than one or two large restaurants anchoring the market, Rivers envisions an 800 square-foot dining experience that will offer street food vendors, and “little shingles” for restaurants — sort of mini kitchens where restaurants can offer featured dishes — and an opportunity for entrepreneurs to try out dining concepts.
What’s the mix of vendors?
Rivers said the mix will be a pretty equal distribution between fresh agricultural produce (the farmers), artisan foods (like cheese, meats, olive oils, etc.) and chef-driven showcases.
What do you think you’ll bring to the food community that doesn’t already exist here?
Rivers is reaching out to chefs and restaurants, who’ve had difficulty organizing into any sort of cohesive marketing group in the past. “We’re offering what we’re calling the Chef’s Circle, a $25,000 marketing fund to promote Chef Days, cooking demos, booking signings and events at the market. We see this as a rallying point and promotion for local chefs,” said Rivers.
How will visitors get there? Will there be a shuttle from downtown?
Rivers: I think we will to connect visitors and locals alike from the traditional downtown core. We’ll also have shuttles fo seniors or those without vehicle access. We’re near bus routes and, we’re adding ped and bike access, too.
What will the building look like?
Rivers: We’ve got a great local architect, Del Starrett. We’ve been looking at design inspirations from agriculture and winery buildings. It will look and feel like Sonoma County. And, lots of outdoor patio and plaza spaces for dining, displays and families.


16 thoughts on “Sonoma Market Hall update

  1. This project sounds perfect for the location. I am sure that the developer realizes that the City plans to open a whole new residential and commercial area very close-by with the future extension of Farmers Lane. It will certainly upgrade the current look of the area as the merchants will realize that extensive landscaping and decorative elements such as colorful umbrellas will draw people to the location. Look at Montgomery Village and the ambiance they have created with benches and pavement lush landscaping. It will tie in perfectly and enhance the entire area. We will be watching carefully to make sure the City does not put roadblocks infront of this amazing project. We wish them the very best and welcome to the neighborhood!

  2. Its gonna fail, bad location, why would you drive to the Fairgrounds area? Theres nothing else there. You need a site with foot traffic, offices, etc..convenient for people. Build it downtown. Nobodys going to drive 10 minutes to the site, then have to drive around the fairgrounds to just get a cheese or a lettuce.
    Maybe convert the old vets building instead, you already have a farmers market with clients and vendors.- but thats still in the middle of no where…slightly closer to downtown but still no easy access or foot traffic.
    Its all about the location, and thats a bad one…atmosphere, you buy some carrrots then wander around the empty race tracks or paddocks…livestock areas? lots of empty space and buildings? ghost towns are more fun.

  3. I hope it doesn’t become the walmart of farmers markets –driving out the regional seasonal markets and ending up the only game in town.

  4. Santa Rosa needs these movers and doers like codding and what not. people with vision and doers who dont take years to make a reasonably simple decision like a lot of old schoolers who make decisions around here and never actually come up with one and the idea gets lost. Codding envisioned high rises and growth. Fresh ideas and pissed a lot of people off for this. I say do it. Santa Rosa will NEVER be like downtown healdsburg because we dont have the ambiance or as many wealthy as they do. We need something fresh.

  5. I hope it flys because it seems like a great idea. However….
    1) The location is, not to put too fine a point on it, not pretty. Atmosphere is as large a part of such a project’s success as what they’re selling. Significant landscaping will help because otherwise it’s just another block of concrete in the middle of a parking lot.
    2) They really should look closer at access. Yeah, there are buses but anyone who has tried to get around town by bus knows how few and far between they are. A regular shuttle from at least the downtown area should be considered.

  6. not sure if this will fly or not, I’m on a fixed income and can’t afford the high price cheese and food so I will look someplace else for the stuff that I can afford and I think Farmers will need to up the cost just to pay for the rent.

  7. This sounds fantastic! I know I and my family would definitely make use of this establishment! I agree with Vince, this area of Santa Rosa has been long overdue for something great sounding like this! Let’s hope it can be delivered and doesn’t just end up as a speculation of what could be.

  8. The “anchors” at Pike Market are the awesome seafood purveyors & florists. Mark and team: this will really fly if a) you can convince the wonderful Santa Rosa Seafood folks (the Farmer’s Market guys) to locate there permanently, b) get our killer wholesale florist (Sequoia Supply) to also take-up residency at the fairgrounds, and c) pry Sur La Table out of Montgomery Village. Just promise that they won’t throw whole fish at customers. Are those good enough permanent anchor tenants?

  9. Very excited and supportive. We’ve met with Rivers on a couple of occasions and, he is earnest, smart, capable and really gets it. This has nothing to do with allegiance or Railroad Square — that’s nonsense. This is a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime project that can take our bounty and pride to another level. We’ll be there as vendors and shoppers and diners and lovers of the food life!

  10. I think this is a great idea and the developer seems interested in bringing all the stakeholders into it–which is crucial for its success. If it is modeled somewhat after Pike’s, it could become a destination point, create new jobs and boost tourism.

  11. I’m all for this. The artisan and locavore movements are just beginning to explode and this will be a great place to consolidate them in Santa Rosa. I hope the city gets on board too and works on bike lanes in the fair area. It’s ridiculous that there is not good bike access already. Finally, it’s in my neighborhood, the most under served area in Santa Rosa, [healthy] food-wise (thank goodness for Lola’s Market). I spent a lot of time at pike’s Place Market when I lived near Seattle and it was great to have a one-stop shop for fresh produce/meats, artisan foods, cuisine and wine/beer.

  12. Wow, this sounds really exiting. I do hope that this will be a cooperative venture for the sake of the Farmer’s Market at the Vet’s building. But adding a permanence to it really allows for some added consumer flexibility (which I’m happy about).
    And extra jobs is a nice little bonus to, eh?
    Well done!

  13. What’s the status of the Barlow building in Sebastopol as a permanent farmers market? That’s been on and off again, now I heard back on track.
    I do like the idea of mini-kitchen spaces for chefs to rotate thru, chance to experiment seasonally, instead of making a big investment in a restaurant. A continuation of the taco truck theme.

  14. I like the idea of the Market Hall. In my travels and through my culinary experience I have always enjoyed the more open format and local influence of such public markets. The vision of making it a bit more low key than the Ferry Building or other such markets is nice too. I am anxious to see what comes.

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