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Students collaborate on Latino Public Market

Each year, as part of the Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program, students complete a community-based capstone project. These projects span two academic terms in which students work for community clients, with expectations to produce a professional product to be implemented in the Portland region. Several of these workshop projects have won state and national awards, and created lasting partnerships between the school and local organizations.

This past spring a group of four students, Bridger Wineman, Ellen Wyoming, Abigail Cermak, and David Ruelas, worked with the Hacienda Community Development Corporation to create a feasibility study to gauge the viability of a Latino public market in Portland.  Their project received local attention and has since won the American Institute of Certified Planners Student Project Award in the category of Application of the planning process from the American Planning Association.  Bridger, Ellen and Abigail shared with us their reflections on the experience.

 


 

Q: What role did Hacienda play in your process?

Ellen Wyoming: Definitely our client. We look at it as a consultant-client relationship. They needed to approve our decisions but they listened to our advice because we provided information they didn’t have. It was interesting to approach a real estate development project through a planning perspective because unlike private development projects this is a nonprofit public sector development. We were able to identify public involvement challenges early enough in the process because of our training and knew how to win support for the project.  From our perspective, we were able to create a much higher sense of viability and feasibility than if you just assembled straight numbers.  This is not a traditional economic development project and there was no direct comparison.

 

Q. What challenges did you see entering into the project?

Bridger Wineman: A major challenge for our team, which we recognized from the beginning, was a lack of development experience among our team members.  If Hacienda had the resources to hire a professional consultant team, then one of the major tasks would probably have been to identify funding components and prepare a financial pro forma for development - things which we weren't especially prepared to take on.  We were determined to find a way, though.  Our team had good access to development experts who were gracious enough to walk us through the process of assembling capital, tax credits and loans to make a Mercado development feasible.  We also got help from a MURP colleague, Neil Riordan, with experience in this area to develop a preliminary pro forma.  

Ellen Wyoming: We also didn’t know how to do a feasibility study. We were coming at it from a planning perspective instead of a real estate development perspective.  So we were challenged at looking at feasibility in terms of a community economic development initiative to benefit the Latino population and to identify their needs, assets and skills in the community that are currently underutilized.

From the beginning, our biggest task was organizing the community around this project. Similar endeavors in other cities, such as the Mercado Central in Minneapolis that served as our case study, were community-led initiatives that started with a group of vendors that wanted to build a market. Here in Portland it was a nonprofit recognizing the potential in our city.  Our immediate planning challenge was the public involvement piece.

Abigail Cermak: For me, I knew that language would be a challenge.  Although we had two fluent Spanish speakers on our team, David and Ellen, I didn’t want to feel the need to rely on them for translation services and outreach.  During our survey implementation, I really tested my own limited Spanish speaking abilities and tossed out the notion of being embarrassed from making mistakes while speaking.  And the response was great!  The Latino community proved to be really patient and grateful that I was coming into the community as someone trying to speak their language instead of asking them to speak mine.  Bridger, who has no Spanish speaking background, also embraced this attitude and I think that is certainly one of the reasons why we were so successful at reaching a large group of survey respondents.  Working with Hacienda CDC also proved to be the saving grace of this project.  If it was just our team going into the community I don’t think we would have had the same response.  Hacienda really opened doors to community champions and other organizations working with the Latino population that we may not have been able to engage ourselves. 

 

Q.  What was surprising working on this project?

Bridger Wineman: The most overwhelming surprise was the extent to which nearly all the communities and contacts we accessed for the project understood the potential of the project and were prepared to help. There is so much love for this project!  There is a really diverse and deep pool of project proponents who have come together with a largely shared vision of a successful Mercado.  This included Latino folks we met at flea markets in Gresham, Hacienda’s board, PSU students and faculty, planning and development professionals in Portland and Minneapolis, and Latino community advocates.  Nearly everyone we spoke to shared our passion to take up the grassroots advancement opportunity the Mercado model could provide and make it a reality.  

Ellen Wyoming: Also, our team got along really well. By having such clear objectives and immediate and visible need, as well as feedback from the work we were doing, it was incredibly fluid.  We were able to divide and conquer everything we needed to work on in terms of public involvement, outreach, economic analysis research, and layout design and graphics.  In addition we had to manage the overall project

Abigail Cermak: As Bridger said, we were surprised most by the overwhelming support received from the community, planners, economic developers, and professors at PSU.  It was certainly not what we anticipated.  There is clearly a need for this type of community-oriented business model for minority and ESL communities.  The fact that this is becoming a tangible reality still makes me smile every day.  I’m so proud to have been a part of this.

 

Q. What was the most memorable part of the experience?

Ellen Wyoming: The Latino entrepreneur community workshop in March was our major public involvement event. We had six months to put it together, no budget, and had to collect donated resources in order to run it.  We needed to identify what vendor mixes would be in a market and what that would that look like. What needs to be in a market to succeed? We wanted to identify the amenities and site selection criteria for a location. In order to figure out how to build the market, we created a board game.  We arbitrarily picked 24 market stalls for a one story design and printed out 64 different business services and site selection amenities- access to transit, parking lots, parks nearby, cultural center, all those considerations.   Then everyone at the workshop, about 30 people, split up into small groups of about 4 or 5 and each of them built a market using the board game. It was a very tangible hands-on project where everyone had direct input and we were able to, with that one activity, accomplish all our objectives of getting the vendors excited, to get them invested in feeling like this was something they would want to build, and to identify from them what needed to be in a market.  They didn’t use all of the pieces, only the ones they felt were viable. All the end products were slightly different, but shared enough similarities and fundamentals for us to follow as a guide.  A lot of the basis for the information we’re still working from today, a year later, came from that workshop. 

Bridger Wineman: Our public involvement events were very memorable.  As Ellen mentioned, we held an open house for community leaders and advocates where we explained the project potential alongside Latino entrepreneurs.  In the context of the culturally and racially inequitable economic opportunities in the Portland metro, hearing people explain how this project can give them a starting point to achieve what the rest of us take for granted was really powerful.  I think we were all motivated by a love for Portland and desire to make it better.  

Successfully addressing the blatant injustice faced by some of our neighbors is fundamental to achieving a strong and prosperous society in the long term.  That is the heart of sustainability.  But process matters.  It’s not a simple task that can be engineered from above.  These realities really came into focus at those events.  

Abigail Cermak: Again, Bridger really hit on some of the best experiences.  Also, visiting “las pulgas” (the flea markets) in Gresham really made an impression on me and I think the rest of the group.  Just being able to experience a little slice of a growing culture in Portland really put things into perspective, that this project would hugely benefit the Latino community

 

Q: What is the current status of the Market?

Ellen Wyoming: The project has recently received a Development Opportunity Services grant from the Portland Development Commission to do a market study and additional development. We’ve engaged a consultant to do a market analysis of a potential site for the market because we need that for our business plan to start attracting lenders and investors. We have already raised a significant amount, although not enough, to pay for planning and development help from different organizations.  After we completed the workshop, I was hired as half-time support to help manage the project from grant funding.  We also have a graduate assistant from the Toulan School who works with us, which is a great continuation of PSU’s involvement.

 

Q: What will be the impact of the Market on the Portland region?

Ellen Wyoming: One of the greatest impacts of the market will be creating a small business incubation vehicle for over 30 people and increasing capital in a low-income community. There is additional potential to reduce aspects of gentrification by revitalizing neighborhoods and enabling people that live and work in those neighborhoods to stay and benefit from that prosperity.  ‘People impact’ is a tagline of all the mayoral campaigns now.  This market is going to create jobs and enable a population who don’t have traditional access to capital, due to significant barriers of linguistic and cultural aspects, to be able to start a business and contribute to the economy.  That is huge and will put more of the ownership of development into the hands of those who traditionally haven’t had access to that growth. It’s an important part of equity-centered efforts to level the playing field.

 

For more information about the Portland Mercado Project, please visit: 
https://portlandmercado.wordpress.com/