The Market Place’s downstairs is called the Underground International Tour, where the 18,000 square feet is divided into countries — England, Germany, France and Italy — and features small spaces for businesses. (LISA BRITTON photo)
When you enter The Market Place, you forget time and place as you stand beneath a moon-lit sky and stroll down a German street.
by LISA BRITTON / for The Baker City Herald
This place, located in downtown La Grande, is a project started three years ago by Al Adelsberger.
He is so passionate about The Market Place that he doesn’t want to describe it — he’d rather you experience it for yourself.
The Market Place building is about 100 years old, and once housed Montgomery Ward’s.
Although still under construction, the building’s new personality is taking shape and varies from space to space.
The main floor, with brick beneath your feet and a shiny pressed tin ceiling above your head, offers rooms for special events and meetings. Everywhere you look is specialty iron work and intricate wood carvings, all created by Eastern Oregon talent.
Other than the brick, which came from San Francisco, and the tin ceiling, which came from Florida, all materials and labor have been from local sources.
“It’s creating energy around local talent,” said Spring Roberts, who is the resident artist.
For now, the business spaces are conceptual — for instance, a space is designed for a bakery, and Roberts said the plan is to recruit local bakers who will come make their specialty once or twice a week.
Art is a big piece of The Market Place — it’s everywhere, from the musical notes carved into wood to the iron work that twines down the main staircase.
“We knew art would be a huge part of this. The artists are leading the way,” Roberts said.
(The Market Place catch phrase is “The Art of Keeping it Local.”)
And those stairs take you away — to England, to Germany, France and Italy.
Downstairs is the Underground International Walk, with each section designed to resemble a different country.
Within each “country” are small spaces for retail shops.
There are several goals wrapped up in this design — described as a “business incubator” and a “student practicum.”
First, a small space provides an affordable place for a new start-up business.
Second, the business plan includes a program for students pursing a master’s in business — students will be partnered with a business owner. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship — the owner gets help developing a business plan and the student obtains work experience.
It is called the Marketplace Business Institute (MBI) and is an accredited program in partnership with Eastern Oregon University.
“They get real-world experience that gives them a cutting edge in the competitive business world,” Roberts said.
There is space for 32 retailers, and each section is labeled with conceptual businesses — mens wear in England, pottery and art in Germany, wine and women’s fashion in France, fine art in Italy.
There will also be four restaurants, all offering a different style of food.
As you exit Italy and return to the entry staircase, Roberts points out a newsstand, designed from a historic photograph of the La Grande Evening Observer.
Also in this space will be a box office, where people can purchase tickets for all the local events and attractions.
The Market Place’s final touch will come about with community help — a floor paved with pennies.
“We’d like their two cents,” Roberts says with a smile.
As in thoughts and suggestions, but also in change.
“When we’re ready, people can actually come lay their pennies out,” she said.
When asked about a possible opening date, Roberts said they hope it will be in 2013.
“We need to be open 100 percent,” she said. “We’re going to open full and right and ready.”
For more information, visit the website www.lagrandesmarketplace.com, or search for “La Grande’s Market Place” on Facebook for the latest updates.