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February 28th, 2007 Mike Thelin | Q & A
 

RON PAUL

The Portland Public Market's biggest fan tells his fellow foodies not to give up their dream project after seven years and counting.

     
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As you read this, Portland's Ron Paul is 8,000 miles away in India

touting a local project that's yet to leave the ground in his hometown.

The 57-year-old restaurateur-turned-bureaucrat's proposed Portland Public Market seemed dead last July when Mayor Tom Potter and City Commissioner Erik Sten decided not to fund the relocation of Old Town's Central Fire Station. That move would have cleared the way for the year-round food market in the iconic but lifeless Ankeny Square.

But Paul and other public-market supporters have regrouped, aiming the market for the inside and outside of Union Station.

Before Paul jetted to India as one of 55 famous food luminaries and architects invited to speak at the Doors of Perception global conference, WW asked him about his seven-year quest to bring a public market to Portland, the only major Pacific Northwest city without one.

WW: After the tram debacle, why would Portland taxpayers support another publicly funded project like a market?

Ron Paul: A public market is not necessarily appropriate to talk about in the same breath. We're suffering from "post-tram-atic" syndrome. But that's not the substantive environment. The market has a very solid purpose in promoting local agriculture, place-making and locally owned commerce.

Opponents of Major League Baseball here have "Bring Major League Education" bumper stickers that mean education trumps frivolities like sports. Why is your project any less of a frivolity?

Whereas we've never had Major League Baseball, we have had a long and rich tradition of public markets. It's time to reconnect with authentic food sold by authentic providers. That is not frivolous; it's pretty core. The city's role in creating the type of public market we envision is only in a capital contribution. And with Union Station, it's a contribution the city acknowledges it needs to make. The operating expenses are covered by rents the vendors pay.

Wouldn't a central market undermine the city's dozens of neighborhood and farmers markets?

Think of local agriculture on a continuum. From a producer's point of view, you have it beginning with U-pick and farm-stand sales, going to community-supported agriculture, farmers markets, public markets and then on to supermarkets that support locally produced goods. The public market fits into that continuum without diminishing other elements along the chain. So in [Vancouver] and in Seattle, research has shown that the shoppers for farmers markets and public markets do not conflict with each other but broaden the spectrum of people who buy fresher, local products.

How much would it cost to renovate Union Station for a market?

Approximately $5 million to $6 million. To take care of the city's responsibility in deferred maintenance and seismic repair is probably $30 million to $35 million. But the increment for the market could actually be raised privately, so that having a market could exist at no additional public expense if the city understands its obligation in restoring Union Station. The city owns it, it's a landmark on the national registry, and the building continues to deteriorate to an intolerable level.

What's the maximum the city should spend on operations?

Except in extraordinary times, zero. Whatever the tab is for the restoration, coupled with private fundraising, will allow the market to open debt-free.

Given that this still hasn't happened and it's been seven years, what is your reason for optimism?

Well...I've yet to turn completely white. There is optimism for all the reasons we've talked about.


Paul was the first Northwest chef to cook at the James Beard House in New York City. He worked as a chef at 2601 Vaughn (now Meriwether's) before starting his own catering company in 1990.

Paul served as chief of staff to then-City Commissioner Charlie Hales from 1999 to 2002.

Paul believes Vancouver, B.C.'s, Granville Island Market is a good model for Portland.

 
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