Andrew Stubblefield (foreground) and his father Gary Stubblefield of Stubblefield Construction share a laugh as they take some measurements during work at La Grande’s Market Place in the New Town Square building last Thursday. Local contractors are being used exclusively on the massive interior remodel. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
Remodeled building to serve as indoor retail community, business incubator, educational facility
When Al Adelsberger gets to talking about La Grande’s Market Place, his enthusiasm quickly builds to a fever pitch. Big dreams about giving small business owners a hand up, and even bigger dreams about giving the city something to be proud of, come through loud and clear. He’s got a motto, one he repeats often: “Keep it local, think global.”
Since last year, a small army of local builders and artisans have been working on the remodel of Adelsberger’s New Town Square Building at the corner of Washington Avenue and Fourth Street. Together, they’re creating the Market Place, part indoor retail community, part business incubator and part educational facility. Adelsberger plans to fill it up with local businesses, then help those businesses grow.
“If this can be fully occupied by local people, then that part of our story is successful,” he said during a tour of the construction site Thursday. “This is an opportunity for people who want to be in business but don’t know where to go, or don’t have a lot of money.”
When Adelsberger unveiled his vision for the Market Place last year, he talked about providing low-cost start-up opportunities for entrepreneurs and small scale manufacturers, mainly in the New Town Square’s basement area. The principle remains in effect, but by now the project looks far different.
The main floor’s been remodeled, a community room has been built upstairs and a restaurant is going in at the back of the building. Retail spaces currently under construction on the lower level will have facades reminiscent of Europe, and will accommodate businesses ranging from art studios and galleries to jewelry and gift stores, a juice bar, bakery, chocolatier’s shop and more.
“The scale of the job has changed a thousand percent, so this isn’t the same project,” Adelsberger said, adding that his goal is to create a shopping experience attractive enough to bring people in from far away.
“We’re missing a lot of tourism. A lot of people go right by on the freeway,” he said. “It would be neat if people from Pendleton or Boise or Tri-Cities came to La Grande because we have something special to offer.”
With construction still under way, some plans for filling the Market Place are still up in the air. In other cases, though, Adelsberger knows exactly what’s going to happen.
Plans are firm, for instance, for the Alley Door restaurant, situated in the rear of the building and directly across an alley from the back entrance to the historic Liberty Theater. A local group is currently involved in a massive effort to restore the 450-seat Liberty, and recently opened a small entertainment venue in the back called the Stage Door. Adelsberger figures the Alley Door restaurant will tie in nicely with events at the restored theater. As for the Alley Door restaurant itself, there are plans for interactive murder mystery shows along with the dining.
Other businesses with solid plans to move in include a cake shop, a Thai eatery, a juice bar, a store offering smoked meats and cheeses, and more. Adelsberger said most if not all of the businesses are local, and there’s room for others.
“The next step is to allow the community to benefit,” he said. “It’s not about filling space. It’s about finding the right usage and blessing those that are local. The goal is to create franchises, incubated businesses that could go regional or national.”
In tandem with all this, the Market Place will feature the Masters Business Institute, an organization dedicated to helping businesses grow, and also offering educational opportunities. One function of the institute, Adelsberger said, is to offer practicums for students taking business courses at the high school and college levels.
“We’re here to support the educational system. Take business and education and combine them, and what you get is commerce,” he said.
Adelsberger is a developer from California who has a home in Joseph but is spending most of his time in La Grande these days. He owns both the New Town Square building and the Old Town Square building across Fourth Street that formerly housed Blockbuster video.
A couple of years ago, he received some financial assistance from the City of La Grande’s Urban Renewal Agency to help with New Town Square exterior improvements including sidewalks and lighting. Later he applied for and received approval of Urban Renewal money to help with the Market Place, though he said he hasn’t tapped that funding source yet.
Adelsberger said the New Town Square remodel, all the electrical and plumbing work and the carpentry, is being done strictly by local contractors. Local artists like woodworker Steve Arment, wrought iron artist Wyatt Williams, mason Mike Hindel and painter Spring Roberts have made significant contributions to the project as well.
“It’s already creating income for the community. Every contractor and worker is local,” Adelsberger said.
The developer isn’t sure how much more time will be needed to finish the project and open for business, but he said it will be soon.
“We’ve got the infrastructure in, and now it’s time for the fun stuff,” he said.
As the date for completion nears, the Market Place is interested in talking with business people who think they might like to locate there. For information on that, call Terry De Spain, concierge, at 541-398-1152. Information is also available on the web, www.shopinlagrande.com.
“We’re looking to create a synergy in motion, finding out what people need and how to make it happen,” Adelsberger said.