Public market board changing hands

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A lot can happen in six months.

Perhaps no group understands that better than the board working to open a public market in downtown Colorado Springs.

Reports early this year indicated the market could open this summer at the restored Payne Chapel on South Weber Street. In the months since, however, two board members have resigned and others are scheduled to be replaced. Business management consultant and former chairman Chris Cipoletti and board member and City Councilor Jill Gaebler are out, while Cottonwood Center for the Arts Executive Director Jon Khoury has taken over as new board chairman.

Cipoletti said in February the biggest issue hindering the market’s opening was funding — the group needs $1.75 million to purchase and renovate Payne Chapel. The location would provide locally sourced, fresh food to an area described by some as a food desert.

According to Gaebler and Cipoletti, an unnamed local investor would have purchased the building and allowed the market to operate in exchange for a share of the profits. That offer meant broadening the market’s scope beyond the comfort level of the founding board, Cipoletti said.

“We had some money on the table and, ultimately, because of the principals wanting things to be a certain way, the current board declined the money from an angel investor,” Khoury said. “Another thing I’ve learned is opening public markets in many cases … from idea to fruition, can take five to 10 years. These things take a long time and there are a lot of reasons for that. One predominant reason is: Typically founders of public markets have a real vision of keeping it as un-corporate as possible.”

In order to open the market this summer, Cipoletti said he was in favor of considering other concepts.

“The board tried to do things as locally as possible, because that’s what a public market should be,” Cipoletti said. “But I viewed part of that discussion as being too focused on local only.

“To me a public market is more than food. It’s not just a local grocer with locally sourced food. It’s entertainment and artists and music and place making. The core group that got this market started, and I give them lots of credit, was about local food. They carried that vision forward, but I think the market needs to be more than about local food.”

Cottonwood Executive Director Jon Khoury is the public market’s new board chairman.

A MARKET INCUBATOR

Khoury agreed the goal should be keeping the market as local as possible, but that may require some flexibility.

“If there’s a one-sentence way to describe what we don’t want, it’s a Sysco [food distribution] truck pulling up to the market for deliveries,” he said, while also admitting that the market can’t rely solely on local contributors, considering Colorado’s weather and short growing season.

“There are in-betweens, smaller companies that do these deliveries. … We may end up getting products not made or grown here, but instead delivering them from as local a level as possible,” Khoury said, without naming specific vendors.

He said the building could be purchased by an unnamed restaurateur who would occupy a portion of the property and sell food while incubating the market until it is self-sustaining and able to move to a larger location.

“This is likely,” Khoury said. “The market would go on for several years as tenants with the goal of raising capital over next few years to move into a larger space by themselves. In that case, we would be thinking about Carter Payne as a starter home.”

He said the previous board hoped to get the market open by Labor Day, which might still be possible.

“That’s a date we’re still shooting for, but because of this potential real estate transaction, it may end up being a little later than that,” he said. “Until all the pieces are in place and we have the support from current and previous board members and stakeholders, we’re not opening the doors.”

Khoury, who has directed Cottonwood Center for the Arts for four years, has only been the market’s board chairman for about six weeks. There are four original board members and, in two months, they will be replaced.

“That’s important. A lot of founders, thank goodness for those people, got us this far,” he said. “But the best thing they can do now is step off … let us build a new board to make this happen and find the funds.”

Khoury said he is looking within certain sectors of the community for diverse expertise — including those with finance, legal and “serious” market backgrounds.

He added that the $1.75 million estimate to purchase and renovate might be too low — $2 million is a more likely amount.

“This is all contingent on angel investors coming back into the picture,” Khoury said.

The market has six verbal commitments from vendors and could open today if all the other pieces were in place.

“Since the story [of the market] has percolated in the media, I’ve been getting calls from people interested in space,” he said. “That’s not an issue. In fact, finding vendors might be the easiest thing we’ve done.”

‘FIRST IN LINE’

Cipoletti said he served as chairman of the board with hopes of moving the market forward.

“I came in and tried to get things done,” he said. “My goal was to be more of an action person. … One thing I thought I’d bring to the board was an ability to move things forward.

“There were lots of fits and starts with the market in terms of its location and the board publicly stating it would be open by ‘so-and-so’. Not making that goal happened several times.”

Cipoletti said the market could have opened already.

“If we’d been able to pursue what I saw as our opportunities, and hadn’t run into philosophical conflict about what a public market is and should be in Colorado Springs, I truly believe we could have had a presence operating right now,” he said. “It may not have been in a permanent location, but we’d be open and could begin to talk about where we were moving.”

Cipoletti said there is no animosity and he plans to offer any assistance he can.

“If anyone from the board needs or wants information from me, I will be happy to provide it. … There are no harsh feelings. If I can do anything to help move the market forward, I will.”

When asked if he thought the market would open this year, Cipoletti was reserved.

“I never made a commitment as to when it would open, so you can’t get a comment from me on that,” he said.

“But I hope it does. I’ll be first in line.”