Some public markets have been around for decades or even centuries, such as Seattle’s Pike Place Market and Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Many are more recent, such as the Milwaukee Public Market that opened in 2005, and Oxbow Public Market in Napa, Calif., which opened in 2007.
Now the Boise Spectrum is starting work in such a market. Its owners are converting four empty store fronts next to a restaurant called Guang Zhou into the 7,200-square-foot CHOW Public Market & Eateries. They are considering five or six local restaurant vendors and three or four retail vendors, said Dede Schwab, marketing director at D. D. Dunlap Companies, the Huntington Beach, Calif., company that owns Boise Spectrum.
Boise Spectrum is tapping into a national trend. Restaurant growth has been outpacing retail growth since the economy turmoil of the late 2000s, said Matthew Norris, a senior associate at the Urban Land Institute and author of a ULI report about food and real estate. Norris spoke August 29 at a ULI event in Boise that focused on the growing importance of food in the real estate market.
“Developers are increasingly relying on restaurants to anchor their projects due to their success,” Norris said. “Food is one of the more powerful retail formats. Retailers insist on being located next to local specialty restaurants.”
The plan in Boise is for the public market to open in the spring at the entertainment destination at Overland and Cole Roads in Boise. Schwab said tenants won’t be announced until near the opening.
Public markets across the country tend toward local tenants. Such will be the case with Boise Spectrum.
“It will be all local Boise, no national chains whatsoever,” Schwab said. “Ours would be uniquely tailored to the Boise Market. It will be a much smaller and intimate scale. What works in California or other places may not work in Boise.”
The D.D. Dunlap team, including company officer Bill Gage, traveled to 40,000-square-foot Oxbow Public Market while researching concepts for a public market. They discovered there is no blueprint for a public market.
“We go back to the whole idea of the experience,” Gage said. “My idea of going to Oxbow was that Boise needed something like this. The experience, that is what we have at the center of our activities.”
Gage attended the Aug. 29 ULI event. Lloyd Llewelyn, chief operating officer at the company that developed and operates Napa’s Oxbow Market, talked at the event about how the company’s public food market had drawn visitors to a formerly quiet town.
“In the 1980s, Napa was on nobody’s radar except the most sophisticated wine connoisseur,” Llewelyn said.
Llewelyn said Oxbow Market developer Steve Carlin originally bought a 1930’s grocery building in Napa in 1980 and converted it into a gourmet specialty food store. At that time, people scratched their heads.
Even in 2003, as Carlin went on to develop the ground level food hall at San Francisco’s Ferry Building, the building’s owners only cared about the high-rent commercial space on the second floor and third flowers. Carlin did attract the San Francisco Farmers Market as a first tenant, but most of the first tenants were opening their first retail shops, Llewelyn said.
San Franciscans scratched their heads, too, Llewelyn said in Boise.
“Nobody gets it, nobody knows how to use it,” Llewelyn recalled.
That was 2003. As recently as 2010, the Carlin’s Oxbow Public Market still sought an audience.
“For three years, you could roller skate around Oxbow because nobody was there,” Llewelyn said. “About 2011, locals started coming. Wineries have starting moving tasting rooms into town. Oxbow is an economic engine in Napa Valley.”
Food halls give diners a sense of community
Food halls elsewhere have flourished since then. Farmers markets have more than doubled in 10 years. Many Americas became locavores in recent years. What happened?
“We’re increasingly shopping online and working at home,” said Matthew Norris, a senior associate at the Urban Land Institute and author of a ULI report about food and real estate. “People are craving a place to come together. Food really is a social activity.”
The Packing District in Anaheim, Calif., exemplifies this. LAB Holding LLC transformed a 1919 orange packing facility into the 42,000-square-foot Packing House food hall that opened in 2014. At the same time, a former 1923 Packard showroom a few feet away became a brewery and restaurant with a park built between the two buildings.
LAB now is converting several other nearby buildings to expand the culinary district that Visit California describes as “one of the hottest new additions” to downtown Anaheim’s revitalization.
“It’s about community and being around other people,” said Chris Bennett, LAB Holdings’ director of development, also speaking at the ULI event in Boise. “The Packing District has become a community magnet. You don’t feel rushed. Ninety percent of the seating is communal.”
Llewelyn warned, though, that food halls must offer a mix of retail and prepared food to successfully engage local farmers. He said local farmers can’t rely on the food-to-table relationship with restaurants, and that retail food products are necessary for a sustainable income stream.
“It is important that a project has food retail as opposed to prepared food,” he said. “The reason retail is so critical is that fast casual (restaurants) can’t tap into (the local producer to be viable). Fast casual restaurants are not set up (to provide sustainable business for farmers).”
Boise Spectrum’s public market is an outgrowth of the comprehensive overhaul D.D. Dunlap gave Boise Spectrum in 2015 when it replaced the look established in the late 1990s. Robyn Salathe at Robyn Salathe Architecture is the architect. Jordan Yankovich at KovichCo in Boise is the designer.