Public Market to go on the market?
Cutbacks fuel speculation of sale; Libra undecided
By Chris Busby
Recent developments at the Portland Public Market are fueling speculation that the philanthropic Libra Foundation intends to sell the landmark building it built in the late 1990s. Foundation President Owen Wells said he’s “quite pleased” with the state of the market these days, but asked if Libra plans to sell it, he didn’t rule out that option.
“We haven’t made any decision on that,” said Wells. Libra owns several prominent properties in Portland and elsewhere, including the Maine Bank & Trust Building on Congress Street and the office towers of Canal Plaza. “It’s like all of our properties,” Wells said. “We’re constantly balancing our portfolio.”
Wells acknowledged that the market has cut back the number of events it hosts to bring people into the building. “It takes a great deal of effort to do those, and it costs a lot of money,” he said.
Wells also confirmed that the market is no longer offering vendors three-year leases. Lease terms have been cut to one year. “We can be more flexible with year leases,” said Wells.
A series of changes in the market’s management and the recent departure of some long-time vendors has fed anxiety that a major change is imminent, say some current and former vendors and employees.
Market Director Greg Dove resigned last April after four years at the helm, and his position has not, technically, been filled since. Office manager Cathy Rothrock — like Dove, a longtime liaison between market vendors and management – resigned last summer.
Boulos Property Management is now in charge of the market’s day-to-day operations, and assistant property manager Lynn Greene has assumed many of Dove’s duties, sources say. Greene did not return a call seeking comment.
The market’s Marketing Director, Cory Morrissey, also left early last year. That position has likewise gone unfilled, though Greene is apparently taking over some of Morrissey’s duties, as well.
The market’s January e-mail newsletter has no events to announce. Its author, presumably Greene, apologizes for not providing a new schedule of cooking classes. “I am pushing the powers that be to get me the schedule as soon as possible,” the unnamed author wrote. “I’m hoping they will start again in March.”
Two long-time tenants are either gone or leaving soon. El Mirador Mexican Delicatessen closed Dec. 31. Stone Soup will close at the end of February.
El Mirador owner Scott Rehart said his business grew “in small yearly increments” since it opened at the market in June 2000, “but never reached a sustainable level.” Sales peaked last summer, he said in an e-mail message, by which time his business had grown to occupy two vendor stalls. But sales fell so quickly afterward that he came to believe “continuing would be an exercise in futility.”
A project of the Preble Street Resource Center, Stone Soup is an original tenant of the market, which opened in the fall of 1998. It employs clients of the social service center, and its proceeds benefit the center’s programs. Employees confirmed the closure, but directed inquiries to Preble Street Director Mark Swann, who could not be reached for comment.
Last spring, observers cheered Libra’s decision to re-open the butcher stall formerly occupied by Forbes Meat Market. Maurice Bonneau, a highly respected butcher from Lisbon Falls who’d operated a temporary “day table” at the market for over a year, was brought in to manage the new shop, renamed Maverick’s Butcher Shop.
Bonneau left at the end of last year, but expressed no hard feelings about his short stint running the stall. He said his experience at the market was “very good,” but at 68, the long hours persuaded him to go back to Lisbon Falls and concentrate on sausage-making.
Maverick’s Butcher Shop — like Maverick’s Family Steakhouse, a restaurant in the market — is operated by Farm to Market, Inc., a nonprofit entity backed by Libra that has taken over stalls in the past when vendors have departed. Other than the restaurant and butcher shop, the remaining stalls all appear to be privately run.
“We’re really quite comfortable with the way things are going,” said Wells. He noted that a Vietnamese restaurant is soon opening in the market, and said he’s already had interest in the space Stone Soup is vacating.
The market has “suffered no vacancies for very long,” said Wells. “We’re really pleased with that.”