Features & Columns

San Pedro Square Public Market

Can former Mayor Tom McEnery turn a squandered corner of downtown San Jose into a future market bonanza?
WORK IN PROGRESS: What was once Taste Ultra Lounge will be part of the new San Pedro Square Public Market.

STILL EXALTED from his midconstruction tour of the San Jose Civic Auditorium last week, the author recently explored a similar project with similar potential in a similar state of construction: the San Pedro Square Public Market, the ambitious enterprise launched by former Mayor Tom McEnery, projected to transform a heretofore squandered intersection into a thriving urban market and public space.

The idea is to establish the area of St. John between San Pedro and Almaden Avenue as the main central hangout for just about everyone, locals and travelers alike. Only independent and/or eclectic food vendors, restaurants, retailers, kiosks and other ideas will be considered. The website says: "Wanted: Compelling ideas. Wild Characters."

Scheduled to open in late summer, the 50,000-square-foot project will comprise the outdoor plaza area surrounding the Peralta Adobe, plus three buildings: (1) The old El Dorado building on San Pedro (formerly the Laundryworks), currently being retrofitted; (2) The now-gutted building at the southeast corner of St. John Street and Almaden Avenue, formerly the San Jose Earthquakes office; and (3) a new building to be erected at the southwest corner of St. John and San Pedro, formerly the location of several nightclubs.

As of right now, plans are to even have a stage outside the Peralta Adobe for daily entertainment when weather permits. An artist's rendering is on the website: http://sanpedrosquaremarket.com.

Steve Borkenhagen of Eulipia fame is the point dude for those wanting to lease a space, so he recently took the author on a walk-through of the entire locality. Many major cities have urban public markets, but this one, says Borkenhagen, will draw heavy inspiration from the Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Now, the author has been to Vancouver six times in the last six years, and he will vouch for Granville Island's allure. The market is chock-full of a splendid hodgepodge of local vendors—meats, fish, vegetables, breads, teas, chocolate, desserts, curries, noodles, wines, beers, crafts, fabrics, jewelry and other delights—all in a relaxed open-air atmosphere where everyone is welcome.

Seemingly every day there's something going on, whether it's cooking lessons, tastings or filmings of some sort. You don't even have to be looking for anything in particular—you can just show up and wander around amid all the goods. In fact, many people do just that.

"We thought it had more of a funky casual approachability that some of the other markets don't," Borkenhagen said. "The Ferry Market [in San Francisco] is more upscale, whereas Granville is everything—you've got the suits there, you've got casual people off the street. ... We're not trying to be Valley Fair or Santana Row. We're trying for more of the opposite." Hallelujah.

So there we were—the author and Borkenhagen—sashaying our way through the rubble inside the old Laundryworks building, right next door to the Old Wagon Saloon. Retrofitting procedures were in full force. Outside on the corner parcel formerly occupied by ultralounges, concrete was being poured. With a sweeping gesture of his hand, Borkenhagen explained how much of that particular corner of St. John and San Pedro, come late summer, will be another building, with additional public space on the actual corner. The sidewalk will be extended out into St. John, facilitating even more room for outdoor tables and public interaction.

Over in the patio outside the much-underused Peralta Adobe, he told me, there will be still more public gathering space, possibly for dinner cocktails, a breakfast coffee or essentially anything. About a dozen tenants have already signed leases with several more letters of intent in the works. Again, this is not going to be a place for yet one more strip-mall Jamba Juice franchise or yet another Subway sandwich dump. It is a project designed to be uniquely San Jose. As with last week, I will take the glass half-full on this one.