South Park site for Public Market still has support

Despite the Local Food Committee’s recommendation that East Washington Street serve as the location for the Madison Public Market, discussion surrounding the potential site -- especially the South Park Street location -- remains open and alive ahead of today’s vote by the Common Council.

The council will take up a resolution to direct city staff to move forward with negotiations with property owners at both sites.

In August, the Local Food Committee reviewed the analysis by the consulting team that looked at the three finalist potential sites - one on South Park Street and two on the East Side. According to Madison Public Market project manager Dan Kennelly, the team voted to recommend the East Washington site based on factors such as potential sales and vendor support.

However, residents of both Madison’s South and East Sides have said that the Market would better serve the South Park Street’s neighborhood and the city as a whole.

Chris Rickert of the Wisconsin State Journal, an eastsider, wrote that market could do more than just make money for the vendors, but would help revitalize South Madison, which is in the most need of development and job opportunities.

Michael Jacob, president of the influential group Marquette Neighborhood Association on Madison’s Near East Side, also believes the Market would do the most good at the Park Street location because the east side already has its share of development.

“I perhaps as much as anyone else would be thrilled to have the Market a few blocks from where I live,” said Jacob. “It’s not a matter of which is viable or most important, but where the most positives occur, and I think that'd be on the South Side.”

District 12 Alder John Strasser believes the South Side is a better location for the Market for reasons that include neighborhood revitalization and ease of creating a dedicated district.

“I’ve been criticized for my advocacy simply because I’m a South Side Alder, but anybody who can look at this holistically can come to a decision in the South Park location along the Beltline would be a better location than East Washington,” he said.

Strasser said the Market could not only bring economic benefits but neighborhood enhancement as well, and believes South Madison is in special need of investment and the jobs that would come with the Market.

“There’s no place that needs it more than the south side of Madison,” he said.

While Kennelly agrees that the Market could do a lot for South Park Street, he argues that the East Side of Madison could use the investment as well.

“A false narrative has emerged that East Wash site would serve the wealthy and privileged while the Park Street site would serve a neighborhood that’s more in need. The reality is more complicated than that,” he said, again stressing that it was a city-wide project, not a neighborhood’s.

Other factors go into the support for the South Park location. Strasser said the Local Food Committee’s consultant did not fully take into account important factors like future economic potential and civic responsibility of public investment. Additionally, he said the consultants used a model of analysis used for grocery store market feasibility drawing on factors such as residents within a five or ten minute driving range, which Strasser said should not be applied to the Market.

“This is not supposed to be a neighborhood market. It’s not supposed to rise or fall based on ability of nearby residents to sustain it. This is supposed to be, in my mind,  a destination market for the city or the county, just like the farmers market doesn’t rely just on those who live on the Isthmus,” Strasser said. “As long as you don’t put it in an area that people can’t get to, if you do it right, any location in the city is viable because it’s a city market.”

Jacob believes the Market could make the South Side into a destination just like the East Side.

“I think the Public Market would help make the South Side a place to go to, a place to linger, a place to feel like it’s a great part of a great city,” he said.

Strasser argues that the South Side location is easier to get to and has greater potential than the East Washington location, and would therefore work better as a city-wide, rather than neighborhood, market.

“In South Madison it’s a seed market that can grow into many other things,” he said.

Kennelly also pointed out that markets such as this can be fragile and the success depends largely on the prospective vendors, who he said largely support the East Side site.

“First and foremost it has to work with them, or else we won’t have a project at all.”

Despite the committee’s recommendation, the ultimate determination regarding the location of the Market may rest with the current owners of proposed sites. The next step will be acquiring the land for the market, Kennelly said.

“The question of site selection really just an interim step,” Kennelly said. “Most of the work on the business plan is still ahead of us, and that’s what’s most interesting to me. Moving forward and planning and creating a market that’s successful no matter what the location is.”