New idea for the Colorado Springs Public Market

From helping oversee the Colorado Springs Business Journal the past four years, it's been obvious that the CSBJ and Independent audiences don't intersect easily, if at all. Stories and columns that should have appeal to both groups simply don't achieve that outcome.

The purpose here is not to find a solution. It's merely to explain why, after a recent CSBJ column generated interest and response, I realized the topic probably would've been of much more interest to Indy readers — but you never saw it. So let's rework the same idea here and see if it gains added traction.

This happened during the recent Regional Leaders Trip to Ohio, which included more than 40 of us from the Pikes Peak region. After checking into the downtown Columbus hotel, my first thought was to have a late lunch. Several others, just returning from their meal, suggested the historic North Market a few blocks away.

As it turns out, that North Market dates to 1876, because for decades the Ohio state capital had four similar markets across the city: north, south, east and west. This is the lone survivor, but it's thriving with about 35 businesses just a short walk from downtown residential development, hotels and businesses.

North Market's food offerings range from sushi and pasta to barbecue, Mexican, Polish, Middle Eastern, deli, ice cream and even a Belgian place serving fresh-made crepes. I couldn't pass up "The Fish Guys," with sandwiches and soups as well as fresh fish. A bowl of fish chowder became a tasty, inexpensive lunch.

It was also fascinating to check out the North Market's floral shop, cookware store and souvenir spot, not to mention a place with plenty of fresh produce. Along the way, I found out the market and its adjacent farmers market have more than 1 million visitors a year to keep the merchants alive and well.

Two days later, when part of our group went to Cleveland, we saw a similar place called the West Side Market, with a history tracing to 1840. That one has more than 100 vendors with much more ethnic variety, all housed in a well-preserved building with stunning architecture.

Those markets, but especially in Columbus with its more modest size, drove home a familiar point. Colorado Springs must have a public market at some point — not only as a vital element for downtown's increasing residential appeal, but also to serve a growing center-city workforce thanks to such additions as the Catalyst Campus.

Sadly, the Colorado Springs effort has encountered detours and obstacles, mostly tied to uncertainty over location and funding. Organizers looked at southwest downtown, then the former Gazette building. More recently, the old Payne Chapel at Weber and Costilla streets has been the target site, but there's no visible momentum at this point. Internet sites have gone dormant.

After seeing that Columbus market, I concluded that having a public market is important, but location means even more. It needs to be in the true downtown area, and if it's in a recognizable, well-located building, all the better.

Suddenly, a new light came on. We have an ideal location for the Colorado Springs Public Market, already in our midst. That would be the City Auditorium, at the corner of Kiowa and Weber streets. Sure, City Aud still can host different events, and it still has that big stage, not to mention the adjacent Lon Chaney Theatre, which should be preserved.

But why not consider turning the rest of City Auditorium into the Public Market? It's a block from the main bus terminal, it has ample parking, it's near the Catalyst Campus and planned residential projects, and convenient to anyone working or living downtown. Something tells me the city might make a favorable deal, especially considering the potential of cultivating a few dozen small businesses and serving the needs of many residents. It could happen more quickly than you think.

We're hearing the Public Market folks might have another potential site, but why not have alternatives? And instead of just housing events with limited appeal, the City Aud/Public Market instantly could become a gathering place for hundreds if not thousands of people, every day of the week.

It has already happened in other not-so-huge cities, from Columbus to Milwaukee to Santa Barbara.

We need to make it happen in Colorado Springs.