Where should Salt Lake City’s year-round public market be built – downtown near the Rio Grande Depot or the Utah State Fairpark?

Salt Lake City is ready for a year-round public market – similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle or Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia – where farmers and producers can sell fresh tomatoes, baked bread or specialty coffee every day.

The question is: Where to build it? Downtown near the Rio Grande Depot? Or several blocks north at the Utah State Fairpark.

The Redevelopment Agency (RDA) has conducted two studies – one about nine years ago and another last year – that looked at putting the market at Station Center, a proposed project area at 300 South and 500 West, west of the historic depot. Named because it’s near Utah Transit Authority’s intermodal hub, it is expected to be a walkable community with both commercial space and housing affordable to residents of all incomes.

The Fairpark also has plenty of space for a market and parking, and it is easily accessible by TRAX. But it has had less study and consideration – a clear frustration for City Councilman James Rogers, who represents that area.

Rogers said the Fairpark neighborhood also has a desperate need for a market, as the area has been identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a “food desert,” or a place where residents don’t have easy access to fresh, healthy and affordable food from nearby supermarkets or grocery stores.

Residents living in food deserts often rely on convenience stores or fast food outlets, which have fewer nutritious options which, in turn, can led to poor diet and health issues.

Rogers said before deciding where to put a public market, the City Council, which acts as the RDA, needs at least one other proposal.

That may come by the end of the year, as the RDA set aside $175,000 to determine – among other issues – if a year-round market would be better suited for the state-owned Fairgrounds at 155 N. 1000 West.

But momentum is clearly in favor of the Rio Grande location, as GSBS Architects of Salt Lake City already has developed a site plan and come up with a cost estimate of about $31 million.

The Rio Grande site also is the preferred location for the Downtown Alliance, which for 27 years as operated Salt Lake City’s annual summer market at Pioneer Park. In the past five years, the Alliance also has run a Winter Market at the Rio Grande Depot.

“We’ve operated one of the largest farmers markets in the west and helped to create more than two dozen businesses,” market manager Alison Einerson told the RDA. “We have a track record of getting people to visit a neighborhood they are not confident about and we serve as an incubator for business and create jobs.”

The site also looks more attractive as two private developers – Boyer and Cowboy Partners – recently have offered to partner with the Downtown Alliance on the project.

“It would help to have their expertise,” said alliance executive director Jason Mathis. “We know how to run a market and we know how to identify vendors, but we don’t know how to create a development.”

Mathis also said working with private developers could possibly decrease the overall cost of the market project.

“The ball is now in our court to put together something,” said Dan Lofgren, President and CEO of Cowboy Partners, adding that could come within in the next few weeks. “Getting a cool site plan that is feasible, that is the challenge. But we hope to be sitting with the RDA staff within the next two weeks.”

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