Thursday, March 8, 2007

Sidebar: This one won't fail

Published in the Portland Phoenix

When he’s describing Ocean Properties’ plans for a public market at the end of a 1000-foot pier off Commercial Street, Bob Baldacci, the governor’s oldest sibling, sounds a heck of a lot like someone promoting the old Portland Public Market, which closed in 2006 after years of charging tenants elevated rent for low-traffic space.

He talks about an emphasis on local sources of food, how attractive it will be to residents and visitors, how much support for local merchants there is in Portland, how handy the nearby parking will make it as a stop for people shopping downtown. All of which were true at the previous market, but the attractiveness never outweighed the hassle — it was a block off Congress Street, the free parking was always empty, and nobody ever stopped down there just for fun.

But Baldacci's picture changes right at the end: fishermen will be able to unload the day’s catch right at the market, supplying both the restaurant and the merchants. Those merchants will be wholesalers as well as retailers, meaning their sales volume could be far higher than the Public Market’s pedestrian-dependent vendors. (The slow demise of the Portland Fish Exchange could even cause some businesses to move to the new space.)

It might be just the ticket. Or it might be just like its predecessor, doomed to fail from the beginning.