#4: Permanent Farmer’s Market

This is an easy one, and is somewhat related to the previous two items on the Top 10 list: Downtown Denver needs a permanent farmer’s market. The once-a-week temporary markets we’ve had in Civic Center Park and elsewhere in Downtown over the years are better than nothing, but a permanent farmer’s market like Pike Place in Seattle would be a major positive addition to our Downtown scene. (Of course, Pike Place has a patina of authenticity that took decades to establish, but we could at least use it as a model and hope that, in time, ours could begin to offer the same vibe as Pike Place.)

An ideal permanent farmer’s market facility for Denver would include an enclosed interior corridor that would be lined with vendors throughout the year, as well as exterior-facing vendor spaces that would open on nice days any time of the year and allow the market to spill out onto a public plaza. Successful farmer’s markets serve as much as great public spaces as they do retail establishments.

Location is key. The top two places I’ve heard discussed is at Union Station (how about the ground floor of the proposed 16th & Wynkoop “wing” building?) or at Market Street Station once it’s redeveloped after RTD moves their bus terminal to Union Station. What do you think?

EDIT: Sorry, I meant to call this a “Public Market” (like Pike Place) since I envision it would sell meat and fish, flowers, wine, cheese, arts and crafts, etc. in addition to fruits and vegetables—which would allow it to remain open all year long.

By | 2009-12-30T07:52:47+00:00 January 26, 2009|Categories: Public Spaces, Retail|40 Comments


  1. pizzuti January 26, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    The space occupied by Market Street Station is probably better. Union station is going to be full of commuters and we want a transit center to flow smoothly without everyone getting tangled over each other.

    The nice thing about Market Street is that there are two levels – there's an indoor ground floor currently part of the station, and there is the outdoor ground space above the station extending all the way to the edge of the block. It would be nice to see a smaller winter-months market space and a large summer market that expands to incorporate outdoor booths, with easy, stroll-in access from the 16th Street Mall. Think of all the great photo-ops for Denver the outdoor area would generate!

    Besides, the station is going to be there, unused, someday, and we may as well come up with something to do with it rather than tear it down. I want to focus on parking lots and empty lots for infill, not already-developed blocks that could be used for some other kind of public space. The trees are already grown and mature and its in a great location with respect to the mall.

  2. Anonymous January 26, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Amen! I've always thought this should be one of the #1 priorities for downtown! How can we make this happen?

    – holygrail33

  3. Beth Partin January 26, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    What about in the Tabor Center, if the second tower ever gets built? Or in one of the retail spaces on the mall like Ross? There are some big stores on the mall that are rather ugly; putting a market in one of those spaces might improve the aesthetics of the mall.

    I guess foot traffic would be the major issue–would having a farmer's market farther up the mall bring too many people to the area?

    Another alternative would be to put a farmer's market in a space off-mall that isn't very pedestrian friendly at the moment. So the market could serve two purposes.

    I would love to have a really good farmer's market in Denver. I've been to the one on the Esplanade, but it pales in comparison to the Boulder Farmer's Market. And that takes up only a block and a half, if you count the food court, so a huge amount of space really isn't needed, as long as the flow is good.

  4. FrancoRey January 26, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    The choice is quite clear here, Kenneth. Union Station, or the area that is currently known as MARKET Street Station? 🙂

    Seriously though, Market and 16th offers much more in the way of development potential, and is a great location on the Mall. It would be also a much more attractive area for spur development of other projects in the area up the street a bit on 18th, IMO. Union Station, however, is already a point of focus as a transportation hub. Keep two such important entities separate so that both have their own areas of focus. This will balance out DT better as well.

  5. BS January 26, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    hmmmm … I like the idea of a farmers market at market with a green redesign into a park. It would be nice at civic center or riverfront park, but I like the fact that these parks are not incredibly bright at night, because they are more peaceful. I also predict they are going to be taken over by dogs (riverfront already has), which wouldn't mix as well with a market. A market at Market could be kept brighter and be open later, and designed around what I think should be number one on this list, the laugter of children. Are there any public schools planned in the core to support this new density? Find some way to make a warm section for cold days in denver, to have an outdoor oasis on winter days. Some days I wish there was a heat lamp every three blocks to stand around before walking another three blocks. Convention Center tourists could then spend their money at the market.

    This would change the grocery store discussion. To prevent a grocery store from putting the market out of business, I think a higher end grocery store at an empty lot on 18th/lincoln or behind the pavillions at 15th next to a department store, either of which has great car access and the future 18th/19th circulator or existing 16th street mall circulator could service (I looked on 18th and 19th and didnt see anything non-corporate you would use it for).This would have to be higher end because it doesn't want to attract the not so safe element from the nearby not so safeway. Then I like the 2011 king soopers proposal in union station for commuters, and the high density population. Those two grocery stores would service the highest density. Im not impressed with the barren arapahoe square developments right now, it looks like people living there are signing up for driving a car until infrastructure and density catches up.

  6. BruceQ January 26, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Market Street Station seems perfect. Indoor and outdoor spaces, truck access already in place for the indoor part, great location, already perfectly named… They could even add some more DIA-like "tent" structures for permanent open air shelters.

    It would be competition for any grocery store, though. I suspect even the Kings at Speer would feel a little pinch.

  7. blizzo January 26, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    The last thing I want to do is try to park a car in that area to do a big shopping trip. I live in Whittier, and there is a ton of development opportunity on the Welton corridor between Downing St. Station and downtown. It is still on easily accessible transportation routes and close to the center of downtown. I, for one, don't want to pay $8 to go grocery shopping.

    I'm still waiting for someone to realize that they could make a mint by repurposing the site that is currently home to the Downing Supermarket.

  8. Anonymous January 26, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    I could be wrong, but wasn't the Market Street Station land sold to the Union Station developers as a part of the bid to build the station? I assume they'd want to build on the land, but I suppose an indoor-outdoor farmers market could be built on the ground floor/plaza.

    I feel like Union Station would be an awesome place for it if it was able to stay out of the way of main pedestrian areas to and from transit. If it was accessible via park-n-rides and a short light rail trip, it would probably be a bigger draw to people who live outside the city center too.

  9. Todd Bradley January 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    I agree 100% with your sentiment, Ken. But what are vendors going to sell at this market in the winter months? Pike Place in Seattle is nice because the fish market is a year-round anchor.

    But "Farmer's Market" implies locally-grown goods, and – let's face it – nobody's out harvesting anything within hundreds of miles of Denver for several months out of the year. I doubt you could sustain a farmer's market on dried beans, gourds, soap, and frozen meat. (If you could, the Boulder Farmer's Market would be open year round)

  10. Ken January 26, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Todd and everyone… I should have called this a Public Market, not Farmer's market, as I'm envisioning it would sell not only produce, but meats and fish, flowers, wine, cheese, etc.–just like in Seattle.

  11. Aaron Bailey January 26, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    A similar idea would be Chelsea Market in Manhattan (http://www.chelseamarket.com). It's housed in a massive warehouse and has indoor corridors as well as street-facing retail, selling everything from tea, meats, bread, flowers, and sweets.

  12. Anonymous January 26, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Other sources of inspiration… Reading Terminal Market in Philly and the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco. There's also Union Station in DC. All either used to or are currently in a public transit terminal. Reading Terminal used to be a major train station (now convention center) but the Market thrives. The SF Ferry is abuzz with commuters and is high quality. So… the best place for this in Denver is Union Station. The more reason's you have to go there the more alive it will be.

  13. Anonymous January 26, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    I agree, the scope of farmers market seemed to thin. thanks for clarifying. lot's of cities have great urban markets – there's a cool one in over-the-rhine, Cincinnati (the Findlay Market) and old slave-trading market in Charleston, SC that has been converted (although it's more touristy than practical). You also wouldn't have to limit it to just food and beverage – they sell lot's of junk and trinkets at most of these public markets…

  14. Glenn January 26, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    It's ridiculous that we don't have a big public market, for as active as downtown Denver has become. This is easily my number one issue for the city. My time is spent in two regions – the Midwest and Northwest. Seattle and Portland have great markets (Portland's Saturday Market isn't quite the public market envisioned here, but still a lively place). In Ohio, Cincinnati and Columbus – two cities with far less urban density and less of a locavore ethos as Denver – have excellent urban markets. It's time.

  15. Anonymous January 26, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    The best idea yet, and the chorus that started with Matt Pizzuti is right: the old Market Street Station is the absolute best location.

    Regarding competition with grocery stores: I think a public market and a grocery store could easily exist, even on the same block, because they would be complementary. A public market is not going to be filled with national brands like Coca-Cola and Tide; a supermarket is not going to be home to interesting vendors with unusual wares.

    Also, the most famous farmer's (as opposed to public) market in the country is the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. A few years ago a 3-level Whole Foods opened on the south edge of the square on 14th Street, and everyone was afraid the individual vendors in the farmer's market would be devastated. The opposite has happened–they continue to thrive and grow, the Whole Foods is extremely popular, and the whole area is so competitive for New Yorkers' food dollars that Trader Joe's decided to open their first Manhattan location very nearby, and it too is incredibly busy.

    Another thing: even though it has become fashionable to bash Starbucks (and some of the bashing, particularly their tendency to target successful local shops, is deserved), keep in mind that we wouldn't have it to complain about had it not had the Pike Place Market to give it birth way back in the 1970s. The Sur la Table cookware chain also started at Pike Place. A Denver Public Market could be a great incubator of future empires.

  16. Anonymous January 26, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    please no touristy souvenir stands a la faneuil hall in boston. New York has a nice market at Grand Central. Essex Street Market is great also-

  17. Anonymous January 27, 2009 at 12:00 am


    I want to ask you about a subject unrelated to the current top ten, though I certainly enjoy following along. My question relates to one of my favorite items on the website: The Big Picture. I remember sometime ago that you said you were working on updating that to include newly proposed buildings. Is that still in the works? The one I am using for my desktop is dated 2006 and some of the proposed buildings are either completed or currently being built and others will never be built. Look forward to the new one! And thanks!

    Also, a small language lesson for those who may have forgotten: just because a word is pluralized does not mean it requires an apostrophe. It's just "reasons" and "lots", for example.

  18. Fidel Castrobot January 27, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Anyone been to the "River Market" in Kansas City? The place is Amazing! Its got everything and adds a ton of Character to their downtown area. I really like that its not all Nice and new also. Its got this old seedy in a good way(for lack of a better term) authenticity thats great! All the standard fare (cheeses, flowers, wine, viggies) but then strange ethnic offerings too. Like live frogs chopped and wrapped fresh for you to take home.

  19. Scott Bennett January 27, 2009 at 11:22 am

    I like the Market St. Station location. Another big component could be a concentration of food carts clustered around seating- not just hot dogs, but good cheap food. That's always a core of the big markets in Asia, and here it would attract all the office workers for lunch. And the food is always in the center so you have to walk past the vendors to get to it.

    A market like this to me is more important than a grocery store or Target, and I think would do much better.

  20. Anonymous January 27, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    I think the public market in Cleveland is the best execution I've seen of such a concept in the US. It consists of a large warehouse-type building in which meat, cheese, spice, wine, and other non-produce vendors can locate. Two sides of the building are lined with a covered, but outdoor, corridor in which produce vendors are located in the warmer months. The site is near both abundant, cheap parking (and so attracts visitors from the suburbs) and access to the light rail system.

    I think such a development would be perfect for Denver, in either the Union Station or Market Street Station areas. Parking may be easier to provide near Union Station though.

  21. MikeE January 27, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Great Question Ken!

    I think that the better location would be Market Street Station, if not for the name alone. I could see a relatively simple tent-like structure at the center to provide a warm Winter public market space, with walls that can be removed to allow the larger warm-weather market to spill throughout the entire site. Someone else suggested leaving the existing underground bus terminal as a truck loading/unloading area which is a great idea! The current passenger waiting area could be used for refrigeration units and other storage for the vendors.

    – Michael

  22. Anonymous January 27, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    This is a great idea. Creating a space like the San Francisco Ferry building (http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/) at Union Station would be perfect!

  23. Anonymous January 27, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    I really like Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, but I've been impressed with Public Markets in most other cities as well (San Fran, NYC, KC, Seattle). I think what distinguishes all these places are the architectural relevance of the location. It isn't just food being sold in an open parking lot or under a tent. It's more than that. It's historic buildings, naves, wood and brick construction, cobble floors, and a connection to the heart of the city. In addition to the food, the place should draw people on it's own merit.

    For that reason – I think the Market Street location is most ideally suited, but the lot needs to be modified in order to become a distinctive landmark. Possibly make a 2-story structure with patios overhanging the street so that people can eat a floor above and watch pedestrians below. It would be great to make a building that mimics some of the architecture from the surrounding area.

  24. Genny January 27, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    now this is something we really need- it will draw people in from around the metroplex.

  25. Anonymous January 27, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    With the current downturn in construction, which I believe will last several years, the Market Street location is perfect as what else would you do with the site once Union Station build out is completed? Benefits: Don't have to change the name, lower level for deliveries, bus awning site on 16th could be carried around the perimeter to cover outdoor stalls. Most important, the current historic RTD building could be converted to indoor restaurants and off season stalls. Perfect site, close to LODO housing, and accessable on the mall shuttle.
    Big question- is it available for conversion after the Union Station project is completed?

  26. Anonymous January 28, 2009 at 1:05 am

    Anonymous 1/26 9PM, thank's for the tip.

    Now lets do this. It will be a destination.

  27. Steve Croix January 28, 2009 at 11:22 am

    There have been several attempts to establish a permanent Farmer's Market type scenario in the old brick warehouse along Arapahoe between 21st and 22nd. Perfect building great location, decent parking (except for baseball games).

    The problem is the State of Colorado is the worst landlord. They won't sign longer than a 12-month lease and who wants to improve a property with those terms. They don't keep up or clean up their properties. I have heard a lot of the warehouse properties north of downtown and are owned by the state, seized for taxes. I've also heard ADT burglar alarm owns many.

    I think Ballpark and Arapahoe Square would be an excellent area for a supermarket. Land exists, access is easy, most areas have parking.

  28. Steve Croix January 28, 2009 at 11:24 am

    I was just reading Beth's comment. The enormous food court at 16th & California is on the Light Rail and has been vacant for years, except for Chipotle on the California side and the Denver Info office on the corner.

  29. J from Arapahoe Square January 28, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    I agree entirely that market street station is perfect! Minimal work would be required to convert this space to an incredible public market; I can envision it now… WOW!!!

    The biggest question that would face any location for this market is this: how many goods would the average customer purchase each time visiting the market? If the number of goods are high, car accesibility would be mandatory, as even public transit would make it difficult or uncomfortable to move these goods.

    Another important question would obviously be target market; if the majority of paying customers come from the surroundings, then car accessibility would again be top priority.

    Hopefully though, the majority of well paying customers would only purchase a bag full of items at once and either live in the area or use public transit.

    One last idea about Market st. station though, is that there could be a temporary place to check-in all purchase goods and have a brief loading area below ground for customers to come pick up their goods or have a friend come get them.

  30. Beth Partin January 28, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    A lot of people have said they like Market Street Station as a possibility, but what's the timeline on that?

  31. Ian Harwick January 28, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I could not agree more about setting up a permanent public market. It would be a great boon to local business all around. Within the market their would be opportunities for restaurants, urban farmers and also recent immigrants.

    Having these located centrally would be great for workers and people that live downtown giving them access to great food, spices, veggies and lots of other local products.

  32. Mymilehi January 29, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Here's another great location for the public market: the old Tabor Opera house on 16th and Curtis.

    Oh wait! Thats right….;-P

  33. beyonddc January 30, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Some other examples to look at might include Eastern Market in DC and Italian Market in Philly.

    I'm not crazy about the Market Street Station idea because I think for such a market to work it has to be above ground, and fairly quaint. Nobody will want to do this sort of shopping in an underground bunker. Partly for aesthetic reasons, but also because these types of spaces get dirty, so you want a building like a bus station that contributes to the dirty feeling.

    We could build a new structure on top of Market Square, but then we'd lose the only sizable square in downtown. Bad idea IMO.

    One option might be to build a smaller market on top of Writer's Square. I think that could work.

    But I think the most ideal option might actually be to close one block of a cross street, put an atrium over it, and make that the market. Sort of like Curtis Street at the Performing Arts Center, or the old 6th Street Marketplace in Richmond (which no longer exists).

  34. Andy January 30, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Ditto on the all the support for a Public Market. As for location, I think Union Station would be more practical and feasible. A public market could maximize the public spaces of the Union Station Redevelopment and be a natural draw to ensure those spaces are filled (at least during weekends). And while we wish everyone would take public transportation, union station will provide more parking opportunities.

    At this point…just having a public market anywhere would be great!!

  35. Mymilehi January 30, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    If only the older D&F department store that used to be attached to the D&F tower was saved…..tsk tsk


    Now wouldnt that have been a fantastic and iconic venue for a Public Market?

    Sorry to spoil the fun guys, but good markets start with preservation-not the other way around.

    Nuff said!

  36. raf January 30, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    The right spot is actually where Centenial Gardens is, between Speer and Elitch's. Or the northern Pepsi Center parking lot. Walkable city or not, you need parking lot space, for customers, seasonal offerings, and vendor trucks. This site is easily accessed by car and bikes…and it's a few extra steps, but very walkable, and near future light rail. Denver can do this, Montreal has been doing it for 100s of years, and their size and weather ain't that different. Yes the culture is different, but if done right, you could change some minds here. The model I would use is the 75 year old Atwater Market (Marche Atwater) google it. Isolated by high speed avenue, and canal, blocks away from the nearest metro line, but accessible to vendors with great offerings, goes stong year round, and must be experienced.

  37. beyonddc January 30, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Between Speer and Elitch's? Half the point is that the market becomes a neighborhood gathering spot.

    Any location that's not immediately accessible on foot from the bulk of downtown residences would be a gigantic missed opportunity.

  38. charles February 3, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    I love this idea and think the market should focus on regional foods (goat cheese, colorado lamb, olathe sweet corn, green chile) as well as capture aspects of the various cultures living around denver including hispanic, greek, jewish, ethiopian, middle eastern, korean, japanese, chinese, vietnamese populations. I don't care where its at but it needs to be the heart beat of the city where chefs buy food and where people go to discover new tastes etc. Bring it on I've been waiting years for something like this.

  39. Anonymous February 4, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    One EXTREMELY important factor that has yet to be brought up and/or considered, is the presence of the 16th Street Mall Shuttle itself. In 2007, RTD logged nearly 60,000 boardings A DAY on the Shuttle. This is is one-of-a-kind service. It is unique. There is no service like it anywhere in North America. I know. I drove it for nearly seven years. Every time I had seen a map labelling 16th Street as a "Pedestrian Mall", I cringed.
    It isn't.
    It was never conceived, financed, engineered, or built, as one. It is a "Transit Mall" with "Pedestrian Amenities" like shade trees and benches.
    RTD Shuttle Drivers are trained with the understanding, that, "When the Mall Shuttle is in motion, the Mall Shuttle has the right of way."
    True; the shuttles travel at only 15 mph. However, it has been shown that as low as 45% and as high as 75% of the occupants of any given shuttle are not hanging onto anything (despite automated messages to the contrary) to prevent their fall in the event of a sudden, and immediate stop (such as as one from a market shopper, or child, or teen-ager, dashing out into the street). MUCH public education would be needed to remind said public that, contrary to popular belief, "Pedestrians DO NOT (automatically) ALWAYS have the right of way."
    Don't get me wrong. I would love to see some sort of full-time, fresh market, somewhere DT. Then again, I know how RTD drivers get treated (from first-hand experience) by both the masses and management, and would not wish the complications that this sort of endeavor would pile upon the collective heads of my former co-workers.

  40. Glenn February 16, 2009 at 2:03 am

    I travel quite a bit, and this happens to be my personal obsession. I try to go to the public markets in every city I visit, whether Cincinnati or Budapest. Denver is ripe for a public market. Just for the hell of it, and because it seems to be the way most people communicate, I put up a Facebook page – Denver Public Market – to facilitate additional discussion. If you're so inclined, please join in…..

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