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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Terminal 1 marketplace plan grand and risky

The Columbian
Published: April 24, 2024, 6:03am

Will it work? Are there enough local residents and is Vancouver an attractive enough destination to sustain a vast public market that is envisioned for the waterfront?

Those are the questions surrounding the Port of Vancouver’s ambitious plans for the Terminal 1 site along the Columbia River. And while the economy, public transportation and parking availability will impact the future of the site, a recent experiment by the Vancouver Farmers Market provides a small bit of assurance.

Terminal 1 sits immediately west of the Interstate 5 Bridge, between that monolithic structure and the burgeoning Waterfront Vancouver development. The port, which owns the site, has grand — and, therefore, risky — plans for the site.

The long-standing Red Lion Inn at the Quay has been razed, and a century-old pier is being rebuilt. The eventual goal is for a marketplace that likely will include produce stands, boutiques and specialty shops, restaurants, brewpubs and whatever else entrepreneurs can conceive. The most common analogy is something akin to Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

As a port official told The Columbian last year: “We know the community is ready and eager to add this crown jewel visitor destination to our Terminal 1 location, and we’re excited, too. It will be worth the wait, and we’ll be watching excitedly with everyone else as new life is breathed into the 100-year-old birthplace of the port.”

That might sound Pollyannaish. With the Waterfront Vancouver development nearing completion and with riverfront development immediately east of the I-5 Bridge in the works, it is reasonable to question whether Vancouver has the population density to support an additional enterprise.

That is where the Vancouver Farmers Market comes in. For years, the market has operated during spring and summer weekends on the streets near Esther Short Park. Vendors set up shop to sell produce, food or crafts, creating a vibrant public gathering space.

This year, for the first time, the market has continued operations on Saturdays during winter months. And the early returns are encouraging.

“It went really well,” Kelsey Allan, director of operations for the Vancouver Farmers Market, told The Columbian. “I think better than anyone expected.” One vendor said: “We have tons of regular customers. Having a year-round market has been extra helpful.”

Organizers report that up to 2,000 people would visit the market on a given weekend this winter. That does not compare with the up to 8,000 that check out the wares on a busy summer weekend, but as Allan noted, “The customers who are coming are there to shop.”

Comparing a winter Saturday market with a full-time waterfront market is a bit like apples and oranges. But the site near Esther Short Park has a disconcerting history when it comes to grandiose ideas.

When Esther Short Commons opened on the block immediately west of the park in 2005, the plan was to have a full-time street-level farmers market along Esther Street. It quickly failed, sowing some doubt about the ability of downtown to support such an endeavor. But with a generally strong local economy over the past two decades, other businesses have found success at the site.

All of which might or might not serve as a harbinger for the future of a marketplace at Terminal 1. As with any venture, there is reason for uncertainty and a need to keep fingers crossed. But the winter farmers market provides a modicum of hope.