Earlier this month, the Cornelius City Council debated whether to spend as much as $20,000 to support the creation of a farmers market.
There was no consensus among councilors, who agreed only on the idea of pushing back a scheduled vote so they could debate it further. One argued that Cornelius hasn't changed enough since a short-lived farmers market more than a decade ago fizzled out, and the city shouldn't involve itself in trying it again. Another argued that Cornelius has changed dramatically, and the city shouldn't be scared off the idea by a cautionary tale from around the turn of the millennium.
The others were somewhere in the middle, wary of spending money on an idea that might not pan out but open to the concept of working with Forest Grove-based nonprofit Adelante Mujeres on an outdoor market in Cornelius.
We want to preface this by saying that we appreciate that the Cornelius City Council has these debates out in the open — just as Oregon's public meetings law intends it should — and we appreciate the spectrum of thought on the five-member council. Members of the City Council are taking this seriously, asking the right questions and considering all the possible outcomes.
With that being said, we hope they choose to support a farmers market in Cornelius.
Our thinking on this is relatively straightforward: Cornelius has been working hard to improve its image, both in the literal sense — fixing up its dilapidated commercial corridor, putting in sidewalks and upgraded signals, adding attractive new developments — and the figurative sense. A city that has long been regarded as one of the greater Portland area's backwaters just beat out hundreds of other communities across the United States to win All-America City honors from the National Civic League. That didn't happen by accident.
The initial concept for the market is that it would set up outside Cornelius Place, the beautiful mixed-use building that opened earlier this year as the new home of the Cornelius Public Library. It would operate on a day to be decided, but officials don't want it to conflict with the Wednesday market in neighboring Forest Grove. It hopefully wouldn't conflict with market days in nearby Hillsboro, either.
Cornelius is an emerging suburban city in its own right, surrounded to its north and south by wineries, nurseries and family farms.
For years regarded as an annex of Forest Grove, Hillsboro or both, Cornelius is now on track to have a population approaching that of Forest Grove by 2030. The city is likely to get its fourth public school, probably a new Hillsboro elementary, middle or mixed school campus, sometime in the 2020s or early 2030s.
The largest planned development west of Hillsboro is currently under construction in the southeastern corner of Cornelius. Homes are already going up for sale in Laurel Woods, out of sight of the thousands of motorists who pass through town every day on Highway 8. If you haven't seen it yet, take a drive through when you get a chance.
On its way to winning the All-America City Award, Cornelius worked with Washington County and Metro to improve streetscapes on 10th Avenue, Adair Street and Baseline Street; it worked with nonprofits BRIDGE Housing and Bienestar to create Oregon's first combination library and affordable housing development; it threw out the dregs of a corrupt and dysfunctional police department, contracting with the county sheriff in what has been a highly successful partnership; and it created long-range plans, including an urban renewal district to collect money for public works projects, to further spruce up its commercial corridor.
We appreciate that city officials aren't in a hurry to throw taxpayer money at any idea that comes along. Due diligence is a good thing. And it could be that, upon careful examination, city leaders conclude that this particular farmers market proposal isn't quite right for Cornelius, and they need to go back to the drawing board to come up with a plan that works.
But a farmers market would be another step in the right direction for a city that's been, through hard work and vision, going in the right direction for years. It would put a stamp on a blighted downtown that city officials have been trying to turn into a destination instead of just a pass-through. It would give people — city residents and those from outlying areas alike — a reason to come downtown, check out the new library, and see what their local growers and makers have to offer.
There's no guarantee of success. But we like the idea of Cornelius working with Adelante Mujeres, the same group that puts on the popular Forest Grove Farmers Market every Wednesday in the summer months.
Adelante Mujeres knows how to run a successful outdoor market, and it knows the community in western Washington County. Critically, it has roots in the Latino community, which makes up a narrow majority of the population in Cornelius but hasn't had the same kind of representation in city government that Cornelius' white majority enjoys. If any attraction or event in Cornelius is to succeed, it will need to draw Spanish speakers, too.
Cornelius is on the rise because of the ambition and dedication of the people who work for and lead the city. We'd like to see them take a chance on an outdoor market. It feels like the logical "next step," and if it helps build a connection between people and their downtown area, it could help provide part of the foundation for the heavy lifting that's still to come for Cornelius as it continues its metamorphosis.
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