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Friday, October 3, 2008

A Great Idea

posted by on October 3 at 16:28 PM

You know that block and a half of prime Capitol Hill real estate where Sound Transit is building an underground light-rail station? When the station is finished, the entrances will only take up a small part of the above-ground space, and the agency doesn’t know what, exactly, it will do with the rest.

“I don’t want it to be a big frickin’ Walmart or a bunch of condos out of Belltown,” says Carter Kinnier, 48, a Capitol Hill resident. He resents the explosion of boxy condos but he does like the farmers market. So you can imagine his disappointment when he recently heard that his beloved weekly food fair, a block north of the transit station, would be displaced by a four-and-six story apartment building.

Then Kinnier had an idea.

Kinnier wants a new home for the farmers market, one that exists permanently—like a little Pike Place Market—right on top of the light rail station. He envisions a place that supports local vendors, selling everything from butternut squash to local cheeses and ladling out halibut chowder and miso soup. Sound Transit expects 14,000 people a day will board at the station—all potential customers. “Imagine getting a sandwich or a piece of fruit on the way to school or work,” he says.


Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver, B.C. Photo via Matt Jones on Flickr

Reality check number one: Kinnier, wearing a black beret and a lime-green hoodie poking out of a thick brown sweater, acknowledges that his schedule as an IT manager prevents him from personally making this happen. “I am just tossing the idea out there,” he says.

But he’s finding allies. Chris Curtis, director of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, says, “It would be lovely to have a permanent location somewhere.” For example, she would like to join “part of project like with Sound Transit,” she says. She cites the increased popularity of the Capitol Hill Farmers Market—up 30 percent from last year—as evidence that Capitol Hill may support a farmers market more than one day a week. She has started talking to Sound Transit about the idea.

Reality check number two: Regardless of what is eventually built above the transit hub, it must house hundreds, if not thousands, of residents. A one- to three-story, Pike Place Market-esque bazaar will never happen. If this were to manifest, the market will be in the first story and basement of a massive residential building. But is that possible; would Sound Transit even go for it?

“You could potentially see some development pretty quick after the station is finished,” says Bruce Gray, a spokesman for Sound Transit. Sound Transit plans to lease the land, rather than sell it, so the agency would retain some control over how the land is used. “Whether it is a farmers market or is mixed use is unknown,” he says. The agency will hold a series of public meetings to field ideas, modeled after the meetings for the station design.

Reality check number three: Farmers are poor. They can’t pay the going rate for retail space in a new building unless it’s subsidized (for example, the Pike Place market is run by the city and will be asking for more public funding on the general election ballot). The city council would have to allow the developer on Broadway to exceed the 65-foot height limits, give them at least two extra stories, so the additional rents from the apartments above pay for the market below. Would neighbors go for an 85-foot building on Broadway? Would it be different enough from the failed Broadway Market formula—corporate clothing retailers and imports stores—to actually stay busy?

It would require a lot of public support, but Kinnier thinks it would be worth trying between now and when the station is finished in 2016. “There is a lot of potential for a footprint of this size on Capitol Hill,” he says. “We will never have an opportunity to do this again in our lifetime.”

RSS icon Comments


This is a wonderful idea... How do we push this? Do we get a petition going? Hang flyers around town? Contact the Capitol Hill newspaper? Print out this write up and tape some copies onto bricks and throw them through Greg Nickels windows?

Posted by justin | October 3, 2008 4:38 PM

First floor, 12-20 foot ceiling. Lots of overhead lights. No exterior walls.

Most of Pike Place is interior, with a ceiling. No reason a new farmer/craft/artist stall based market on the hill could not have residences above it.

Posted by StC | October 3, 2008 4:38 PM


Posted by Mr. Poe | October 3, 2008 4:38 PM

hundreds, perhaps; THOUSANDS of new yuppies, (or anyone else for that matter) HELL NO!

Posted by michael strangeways | October 3, 2008 4:39 PM

A brilliant idea. An alternative Pike Market, that draws people to a vibrant and weird EXPERIENCE.

Posted by FRUITCAKEpuppet | October 3, 2008 4:41 PM

A wonderful idea. And much better than the example in the photo--the Granville Island market, while cool, is mostly a tourist trap at this point, and is far too out of the way to be of practical use to most of the population of Vancouver.

Kind of like the Pike Place Market, really.

Posted by Cow | October 3, 2008 4:44 PM

omg, what a great idea. I'm sure qfc would fight this to the death, but not if it focused on small, cheap stands with art, crafts, and prepared foods as well (like granville island).

Posted by jrrrl | October 3, 2008 4:44 PM

@4: Why are you guys so hostile towards eachother? Shouldn't yuppies be all huggy and friendly with eachother?

Posted by AJ | October 3, 2008 4:45 PM

Fuck QFC in their mouth hole!

Posted by GroceriesaresogoddamnexpensiveatQFC!!!! | October 3, 2008 4:53 PM

I think it's a splendid idea. And a great draw for ridership on Sounder: Just a few stops away from downtown, perfect for the office worker, or (eventually) the student at the U.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | October 3, 2008 4:53 PM

"Farmers can't pay going rate."

So fuck it- why, exactly, does it have to be "the going rate" anyway? The costs to build it are fixed, and are decreasing every fuckin' day given the current economy.

So why can't the rates be set low to assure that your typical hobby farmer and truck farmer CAN afford it? Why do the rates have to be set to "market rate", given that the "market" has proven to be utterly unsuitable at pricing the actual cost of things?

Posted by dr_awesome | October 3, 2008 4:57 PM

Super cool! I love it!

Posted by Dawgson | October 3, 2008 4:58 PM

anyone have contacts at the madrona company? they seem like an awesome developer with the community's interests at heart. i'm sure only a handful of developers have resources for something like this, though.

ps fresh lunch from hillmarket with cal anderson park right next door makes me cream a little. confidential to sound transit: it would make light rail a HUGE success!

Posted by jrrrl | October 3, 2008 4:59 PM

@11 It needs to be market rate so that the upkeep and property taxes can be paid. And those of us who own in the neighborhood, while grumbling about the high property taxes, like the high home values as well. And it needs to be market rate for the continued upkeep of hte property, 'cause whatever is put in across the street from me better be kept in shape for my own property value.

Posted by Kaz | October 3, 2008 5:02 PM

Beautiful vision. It must happen.

Posted by CP | October 3, 2008 5:04 PM

NYC grand central station has a great market. Yes, a bit pricey and yuppy, but a great, successful market. You are WRONG about farmers not being able to pay market value... the whole idea of a market is that the space is cheap, because you are dividing the rent between 50 very small, unfinished spaces. The issue - as with any venture going for higher quantity tenants at lower cost per tenant - is the management.

Posted by Scott | October 3, 2008 5:15 PM

@11, if you believe the costs to build anything have gone down, you're out of touch with reality.

Costs for anything oil-based (i.e., plastic) are rising with the cost of oil. Anything concrete-based is getting more expensive due to exponentially increasing demand from China and India.

Oh, and most construction costs require the developer to borrow money -- not sure if you've noticed but the cost of borrowing money has skyrocketed recently.

Posted by joykiller | October 3, 2008 5:18 PM

17, the light rail station won't open until 2016. the space above it probably won't be complete until 2018. by then, we'll have 4 recessions, two more real estate bubbles, a web 4.0 bubble, and a robot bubble. look at the difference between now and 1998.

Posted by jrrrl | October 3, 2008 5:36 PM

Sign me up! This is a great idea!

Posted by chris | October 3, 2008 5:36 PM

When I was in England a couple of weeks ago, one of the things I noticed was that there seemed to be a lot of street markets in the various towns I visited, as well as in the neighborhoods of London. Seriously, they were all over the place. And I want that here. We are getting there with the farmers' markets, but I love this idea for Capitol Hill. I would shop there.

But, even sooner, the Beacon Hill station will be open next year, and supposedly people are planning a pedestrian plaza between the station and El Centro de la Raza... why not have a street market there? It would give people a reason to take the train up here. I know people have talked about it, but I haven't heard any recent news.

Posted by litlnemo | October 3, 2008 5:42 PM

There are three ways to do this.

One, everyone who wants it pool your capital into a joint stock corporation go outbid everyone else and succeed because it's so popular you will lmake money.
OK, coming back to reality, no one with actual capital wants to risk that actually.
The 2d way is politically like the Pike MArket, get voters or pols to support it via taxes. I doubt the working folk of Burien or Ballad will go for this. So a variant would be pressuring ST to do it (taking less than market value) in effect making taxpayers in Ballard and Burien subsidize it (via ST sales tax) without that being so visible.

this is how most public works of note are achieved. Through sort of invisible taxes.

The third way is what was suggested, trade the extra stories for a social compact to do something like this at ground level.

But query, why would we have a limit not allowing 6 stories anyway?

What is it with limiting stoires to begin with? DC has a 12 story limit and it is not considered overly dense. It's rather leafy in fact.

But indeed, why not just allow six stories everywhere on Broadway. Are we not a city spending billions on transit? They don't have a six story limit in NYC do they.

Shit even DC is considered low rise and they allow 12 stories.

Posted by PC | October 3, 2008 5:43 PM

This is a really good idea. We should see what we can do to make it work.

@20: The problem with putting a farmer's market on top of the Beacon Hill station is that it's right across the street from the Red Apple grocery store. One or the other could thrive, but probably not both. And I highly doubt that the Red Apple's owners would stand by and let Sound Transit sponsor a competitor right across the street from them.

Posted by Greg | October 3, 2008 5:48 PM

Are they going to be hauling the muck out of that site using trucks while the bore the tunnels? Where are they going to dump the 1.5 million cubic yards of muck dug out of there? The noise and pollution are going to make the areas where they haul out of terrible for years. Will that be at the UW site, or at the DSTT site, or on Cap. Hill?

Posted by you'll love it | October 3, 2008 5:54 PM

Americans will reagrarianize and move beyond the exurbs to farm towns. Now that hydrogen generation is efficient, it's better to be loosely coupled to the grid.

Farmers market? Heck...go for the whole farm.

Posted by John Bailo | October 3, 2008 6:05 PM


Posted by bobcat | October 3, 2008 6:06 PM

@23: Typically, cut-and-cover excavations haul the muck out with a crane on top of the box structure and haul it away from the site on a truck. For TBM bores, the muck goes out on a belt and is trucked from the entry portal.

What this means is that you'll see trucks hauling spoils from both the Capitol Hill site (for a somewhat shorter period of time) and (I think) from under I-5 near the entrance to the DSTT (for a much longer period of time).

Posted by Greg | October 3, 2008 6:08 PM

a farmer's market would draw a lot of produce vendors away from pike place. the PDA is slowly but surely turning the market into a disney attraction for the amusement of cruise ship passengers. i know this because i have owned and run a business there for several years. the planned renovations are going to make the west side of the market - the side that the boat people see first - more inviting. several businesses have been displaced already. if a market on the hill could offer vendors from pike place good rents and a steady non-tourist clientele, i thing they'd bail on the marketin a second.

Posted by uncle stupid | October 3, 2008 6:13 PM

It sounds like a cool idea, but aren't you the same people against having parking spaces available?

A "Pike Place Market" style grocer cannot be sustained by the neighborhood alone. Capitol Hill has three QFCs, 2 (?) Safeways, a PCC, and a Trader Joes already.

Posted by elswinger | October 3, 2008 6:16 PM

That kind of reminds me of a few metro stops in Paris. Some places sold produce so that people could grab something easily on their way home without having to leave the metro.

Posted by gfrancie | October 3, 2008 6:43 PM

I really wish they had demolished Bonney Watson instead...

Posted by Trevor | October 3, 2008 7:10 PM

Grow up.

Posted by StC | October 3, 2008 7:20 PM

Fucking brilliant idea. Maybe we could have one farmer in there who grows vegetable dildos or something. You know, those knobby gourd things might work.

The world is ready for organically-grown, fair trade, sustainable sex toys!

Posted by TVDinner | October 3, 2008 7:35 PM

They should build the embassy for the Socialist Republican Party there ... that will make it easier to firebomb it when they go into exile for the next 40 years.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 3, 2008 7:39 PM

Joykiller: My point was more that real estate values have gone down, not construction costs. The cost to build it is one thing, but the monthly rents, set by the, uh, free market should be lower than, oh, say, a year ago. Rents are set based on what the nominal market will bear, and at least right now the market has tanked and rents should be lower. And I'm aware that the rents must ultimately recoup the construction costs. But I don't give two shits right now if the bank or financier gets repaid in 30 years or 50 but I'd love to see a farmer's market rather than the same generic chain stores that infest every other retail/residential development in the new Seattle.

Posted by dr_awesome | October 3, 2008 8:36 PM

I believe that the highest and best use for that block and a half is cheap condominiums with no parking for developers.

I'm sure Dominic and ECB would agree.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | October 3, 2008 9:28 PM

Capitol Hill loves the Sunday farmers market. Every week it is wall-to-wall people. Vendors get to know their customers--the tomato guy in the corner recognizes me as a regular--it is truly a neighborhood market. I think we may be able to support it year round full time. It may even force QFC and Safeway to improve their quality or prices or both--isn't that how free market capitalism is supposed to work?

Posted by RainMan | October 3, 2008 9:50 PM

...and yet, everyone boo-hoo-hoos when a fast food joint gets run off. What gives?

Posted by AJ | October 4, 2008 12:16 AM

I could get better advice from a cab driver or my hair stylist.

Anti-growth NIMBYs fighting density in the most dense neighborhood in the state deserve nothing more than laughter.

The fact this Carter Kinnear clown mentions Wal Mart as a future potential tenant proves how childish and uninformed his perspective is. We get it: you're a renegade maverick fighting the Wal Mart machine. Unique as shit.

The fact Dominic Holden would entertain the random thoughts of "man with a hoody on the street" seriously illustrates the weakness of handing over the keys to the Slog to anybody who asks.

Talk radio features smarter hosts and callers.

But enough about the idiots: there is an easy answer here: build dense housing around the light rail station with public space / surface parking sufficient for accommodating the farmer's market. A seven day per week market is ridiculous. The Pike Place market features ONE (count him, ONE) real life farmer selling locally grown produce. The rest of that market counts on tourists to buy a lot of that stuff. No such shopper on Punk Rok Hill. Sorry.

Posted by Jeremy | October 4, 2008 12:29 AM

Jeremy @ 38:

You're a fool. This is a *great* idea, and here is the model for it.

Don't believe that? Here is another model.

The Pike Place Market is not the model. The first model is the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, the second is the Lexington Market in Baltimore.

These are wonderful, exciting urban markets that deliver high quality local meat, seafood, dairy products, produce, and locally produced value added food products to urban residents and commuters.

A market like this on Capitol Hill could be a major boost to Wastern Washington's food self-reliance and to the sustainability of local agriculture.

It would force the chains to compete by demanding more locally produced food for *their* customers.

It could work, and work big, right in that very footprint on Capitol Hill -- but only under one condition.

Both markets -- and any such markets -- need parking for vendors and suppliers and customers -- LOTS of parking -- to make this work. All this wonderful stuff doesn't get delivered to market by hipsters on fixies.

Posted by ivan | October 4, 2008 12:50 PM

I'm in, not that I am going to spearhead it. I will check this site for further orders.

Posted by Phoebe | October 4, 2008 2:58 PM

@22, Farmers markets generally help, rather than hurt the grocery store across the street. While it is somewhat counter-intuitive at first glance, when you think about what a farmers market sells (fresh fruit and vegetables) and where a grocery store makes its money (beer and wine, dry goods, pre-packaged food), then it makes sense.

Many grocery stores lose money selling fruits and vegetables, because there is so much spoilage, but they need to offer them, because it gets people in the door to buy higher margin items.

A farmers market across the street from the Red Apple would probably allow the operator to reduce his fruit and veggie losses and increase his profits. In addition, since farmers markets are, by their nature, limited in scope, quantity and selection, they require shoppers to fill out their lists at the grocery store.

Posted by japhet | October 6, 2008 8:51 AM

What Japhet said, sort of.

Also, it doesn't have to be a "farmer's market." It could also be a craft market, etc. The markets we saw in the UK often specialized in things other than produce -- some were fashion-focused, others had books, antiques, etc.

One we went to had a theme the day we were there -- it was all French stuff. French food, French soaps, French spices.

The market doesn't have to compete with Red Apple -- it could quite easily complement it. And I certainly would be likely to stop in at the Red Apple for stuff if I walk to a market at El Centro.

Posted by litlnemo | October 7, 2008 2:59 PM

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