Council allocates money to move forward with public market

The City Council voted Tuesday to retain funding for the Madison Public Market District as part of the 2015 budget, after two alders had introduced a plan to delay it for year.

Alds. David Ahrens and Lauren Cnare authored the amendment, which initially would have pushed back funding until 2016. During the hearing, however, Ahrens and Cnare revised their amendment to limit expenditures to “planning and development to a comprehensive business plan.  Council approval of a business plan is required prior to site acquisition and other capital expenditures.” 

Before the meeting, Ahrens said he was concerned about the long-term operating budget, and in particular the potential costs for vendors.

“As for many of the people who are strong advocates for this project, I think once they get the bill that says 'this is what it's going to cost per square foot,' they may have second thoughts about this,” he said.

Ahrens said that it is imperative that vendors pay the majority of operating costs instead of relying on government subsidies. 

Ald. Scott Resnick, who spoke before the meeting, said he, too, was greatly concerned about the operating budget.

The measure passed through a voice vote. 

“I see no problems with [the amendment] in terms of continuing to move forward with the business plan,” said Economic Development Specialist Dan Kennelly.

Kennelly said that the city council would have needed to approve the business plan and purchases anyway, but perhaps this revised amendment provides “comfort” to some council members who can be reassured that their approval is necessary.

Kennelly said that he agrees that the operating budget will be the most important issue moving forward, but said he is confident that city planners as well as Project for Public Spaces—the non-profit organization hired by the city to consult on the project—to implement an effective business plan.

“As far as our PPS folks, that's religion to them, that public markets should be operationally sustainable, and not require ongoing subsidies,” Kennelly said.  “And I think from the city's perspective, we want to try and achieve that as well.”

A number of citizens spoke in favor of the public market district in front of the city council. 

Sarah Lloyd represented the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, an organization that facilitates relationships between local producers and retailers.  She said that the project could be an asset to local farmers. It would allow them to bring their goods in large quantities to the market, which could then  “be distributed out to restaurants, nursing homes, schools, and hospitals in smaller amounts.”

“For us it's a very E-aggregation infrastructure opportunity and this is what's been a challenge right now, to bring local food...up to the next level,” Lloyd said.

Stepanie Kaat also voiced her support for maintaining funds in the 2015 budget.  She said that she makes bite-sized cheesecakes, and that the public market is an ideal location to start a business.  After the meeting, Kaat said that a public market generally imposes less risk as opposed to retail space because of lower costs.  Additionally, she said a permanent spot at the public market would allow her to establish herself and her business in the community.

Deciding which vendors will be allowed to sell their goods at the public market will be a difficult decision as the project moves forward, Kennelly said.  He said that it is important that the public market includes both established vendors who can “kill it” after opening up shop, and also provide opportunities for vendors who may have encountered discrimination in the private sector as well.

“I think having a mix of those is going to be one of the things that gives the place a great atmosphere,” Kennelly said.

Kennelly said the business plan for the public market district will be complete in early 2015.