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Location, funding issues delay Colorado Springs Public Market yet again

September 2, 2016 Updated: September 6, 2016 at 3:35 pm
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Public Markets, like this one in Seattle, have done well in some areas.

Plans for a downtown Colorado Springs Public Market are on hold until at least next year as organizers regroup, the board's chairman said Friday.

Jon Khoury, chairman of the market's board, said plans to open by Monday in the historic Payne Chapel building were scrapped after a partnership of the Local Relic brewery and Common Cause Catering agreed to buy the 6,500-square-foot building at 320 S. Weber St. that once housed the city's first black church.

The Public Market's board didn't want to be a tenant in the building and wasn't in a financial position to be a partner in the transaction, so it is focusing on raising money through grants, loans and potential vendors to buy or build a facility for the market.

"It makes no sense to walk into a situation where we are a tenant and need to find another location in the future as our permanent home. We hope to soon have the funds to realistically look at a property of the size that would be our permanent location," said Khoury, who took over as chairman of the market's board a few months ago. "Ideally we are looking at 30,000- to 50,000-square-foot building that is generally in walking distance from the center of downtown and we would prefer to be a little east of downtown."

Khoury estimates $3 million to $6 million would be needed to buy or build the facility the board envisions.

"The vision is to be as local as we can have, focusing on food scarcity," he said. "We want to get the market open and build toward that goal. Right now we want to reboot and put a group together with funding and active board members that will go after that goal with a fresh start."

The concept of a public market has been discussed for four years and a 2013 study showed the market would be a good way to revitalize downtown. The project has struggled since, with three potential sites and two previous leaders and an inability to raise enough money to get started.

John Egan, a retail specialist with Colorado Springs brokerage NAI Highland, said the Public Market concept could work locally - under the right conditions.

Location is key, and the Public Market probably should be in or near downtown, Egan said. The area's foot traffic - shoppers, visitors and employees - would be a plus, while the area also is home to activities and events and a growing number of apartment projects. The Public Market, he said, would add to downtown's hub of activity.

"It's a good idea to be downtown," Egan said. "Downtown is becoming a lot more user friendly, and so I see more people coming down here."

The types of products sold at the Public Market also would help determine its success, Egan said. Fresh produce stands that operate in a shopping center parking lot southeast of Powers and Palmer Park boulevards, for example, seem to do well because they sell a variety of items, he said.

But fresh food concepts such as Whole Foods also do well, Egan said.

The Public Market isn't just about fruits and produce, however; Ranch Foods Direct, a Colorado Springs-based beef provider, also has said it wants to be part of the project.

"It depends on what's there, and what you get when you go there," Egan said.

And while it might take time for area residents to understand the Public Market concept, similar venues in Colorado cities such as Breckenridge and Frisco, and in other places like Seattle, have done well.

"You can see it here and there," Egan said. "Sometimes it flourishes. But I think it's something that would have to be warmed up to."

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