The North Market in Columbus, Ohio, could serve as a model for efforts in Colorado Springs.
The North Market in Columbus, Ohio, could serve as a model for efforts in Colorado Springs.

Among the many learning experiences during the recent regional leaders trip to Ohio, this one was purely personal.

After checking into the downtown Columbus hotel, I wanted to find a local place for a late lunch. Several other early arrivals offered the perfect solution.

Go to the North Market, they said, giving high marks to the city’s historic public market about four blocks away.

I’ve always had a weakness for public markets, so I jumped at the opportunity. As it turns out, the “North Market” in Columbus dates to 1876, and for decades the Ohio state capital had similar markets in every direction — north, south, east and west. This is the lone survivor, but it’s doing just fine, housing about 35 businesses within a short walk of much downtown residential development, hotels and businesses, including Progressive Insurance’s corporate headquarters.

North Market was easy to find, and the large parking lot was virtually empty, since the lunch crowd had cleared. The variety of food offerings was highly impressive, from sushi and pasta to barbecue, Mexican, Polish, Middle Eastern, deli, ice cream and more, even a Belgian place serving fresh-made crepes.

It was also fascinating to check out the North Market’s floral shop, cookware store and souvenir spot, not to mention a place with plenty of fresh produce. Along the way, I found out the market has more than 1 million visitors a year and a popular farmers market.

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Two days later, we saw a similar but larger place in Cleveland called the West Side Market, with a history tracing to 1840 and more than 100 vendors.

Those markets, but especially the North Market in Columbus with its more modest size, drove home a point. I’ve thought all along that Colorado Springs will have to make a public market happen at some point — it’s a critical ingredient in revitalizing our downtown’s residential appeal and to serve the needs of a growing center-city workforce.

But for Colorado Springs, that effort has encountered several obstacles, mostly tied to the uncertainty of the market’s location and finances. It looked to be heading for the former Gazette building east of downtown, but that didn’t work. More recently, the old Payne Chapel on South Weber Street has been the site.

After seeing that market in Columbus, I started thinking about the public market issue in a different way.

Just having a public market is important, but its location probably means more. It has to be in the true downtown area, not on the fringes. And if it can be in a recognizable, even historic building, all the better.

I thought about it at great length, trying to come up with an option that would have some of the attributes I’ve seen in Ohio and other cities.

Then, suddenly, a new idea came to mind. Perhaps we have the perfect location for the Colorado Springs Public Market, right under our noses.

That would be none other than our classic City Auditorium, at the corner of 221 E. Kiowa St., with its east side facing Weber. Sure, the City Aud is still capable of hosting different events, and it still has that big stage, not to mention the adjacent Lon Chaney Theatre.

The building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1995. And without doubt, the Lon Chaney is worth saving, no matter what happens.

But why not at least consider turning the rest of the City Auditorium into the Public Market?

It’s just a block from the main bus terminal, it has ample parking and it’s convenient to anyone working or living in the heart of downtown. If the city would be willing to make a favorable deal, especially considering the potential impact of developing several dozen new small businesses, it could happen more quickly than you think.

And instead of just housing events, many with limited and/or fading appeal, the City Aud/Public Market could become a regular gathering place for thousands of people, perhaps eventually seven days a week.

Why not? Let’s at least talk about it — and see what happens.