Columbus public market called guide for fledgling Pittsburgh one
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It took Columbus' restored North Market about a decade to become an overnight success, its executive director says.
North Market executive director Rick Harrison Wolfe's counterpart at the Pittsburgh Public Market, which reopened in a new location a year ago, doesn't want to wait that long.
“We're working hard to make this a hub of activity and a destination rather than just a retail center,” said Pittsburgh Public Market manager Terry Doloughty, who also feels pressure from a redevelopment proposal to place a public market in the Strip District's nearby Produce Terminal.
Wolfe and Doloughty plan to meet this month. Wolfe will stop at Pittsburgh Public Market while visiting in-laws in Martins Ferry, Ohio, about 60 miles west. Doloughty, who became market manager a month ago, said he intends to pick Wolfe's brain for “tips and tricks” that could help his fledgling market a few blocks from the Strip's traditional core.
More than 1 million people visit the North Market a year, and it has become a symbol of downtown Columbus' rebirth.
“People here are proud of the market,” said marketgoer Robert Post, 61, of Lithopolis, Ohio, who visits up to four times a week. “It has a character that's almost like a downtown carnival, and it's very welcoming, very smart, and it has a great mix of food.”
The market opened in a farm machinery warehouse in 1995 after spending the previous six decades in a World War II-era Quonset hut.
“There was little else around us when the new market opened. For a lot of people, there was no reason to come downtown,” Wolfe said.
Explosive development in the surrounding area changed that, starting with the opening of the Greater Columbus Convention Center a couple of blocks to the east in 1993 and its $81 million expansion six years later.
About $1 billion in development occurred since 2000 around an arena primarily used for hockey, a few blocks to the south.
“The market really started to catch on in the mid-2000s,” Wolfe said, noting it remained about half-full in the late 1990s but is now typically at capacity with about three dozen merchants.
Room to grow
The Columbus market is crammed with merchants and customers on the ground level, and there are seating areas outside and on a second-floor mezzanine that includes paintings by local artists and hanging banners of the market's merchants. Wolfe would like to add space about the size of two basketball courts.
Pittsburgh's market is about 30 percent full with 18 merchants, Doloughty said.
Doloughty and others are working to draw attention to the nondescript brick building that houses it, installing marquees and a 20-foot-tall wind power generation tower on the roof, among other things. The North Market's faded red-brick facade gives it a gritty charm, and its large “North Market” signs, featuring the market's distinctive rooster mascot, Roody, are hard to miss.
Wolfe seemed intrigued by the proposal to redevelop part of the URA-owned Produce Terminal for a large public market. That plan is included in a $19.4 million proposal from a development team led by businessman Mike Rubino, president of the McKeesport-based wholesale distribution company Magic Creations.
Rubino declined to comment.
URA Chairman Kevin Acklin, Mayor Bill Peduto's chief of staff, identified the Rubino team as the “potential minority developer” to would-be lead developer McCaffery Interests Inc. of Chicago. McCaffery offered a $46.4 million plan to redevelop the 1,500-foot-long terminal to house loft-style apartments and retail and office space. The developers and URA began negotiations in September that could last as long as 90 days.
“If you have an opportunity to move back to an old building like that, you do it. You have to think about the next 100 years. Architecture and aesthetics are a big part of the experience with public markets,” Wolfe said.
The Pittsburgh Public Market called the Produce Terminal home from 2010 to September 2013. It moved out because of the approaching redevelopment project and reopened at 2401 Penn Ave. last October.
Doloughty said he hasn't been contacted by city or URA officials or Rubino's team about the potential Produce Terminal market, which could take several years to develop. But he said, “I think it would wind up being a second market. The majority of our vendors don't have any inclination to move again at this point.”
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.