Wherever it lands, Madison Public Market will be shaped by its geography

UPDATE: The Local Food Committee has recommended the E. Washington location as the best site for the Madison Public Market.

The City and Local Food Committee narrowed down the potential Madison Public Market locationsMaps by Natalie Amend (click to expand)Maps by Natalie Amend (click to expand) to three at a meeting in June:

  • East Washington Street and First Street
  • North Sherman and Northgate
  • South Park Street and Wingra.

Those involved with the process say each site would bring different attributes to the market.  The choice of location, which could happen as soon as today, will shape what the new market will look like.

The committee will review the sites and a report from Project for Public Spaces, the consultancy that has worked on the project, and could pick a location on a meeting today in Room 300 at the Madison Municipal Building.

The team narrowed the sites down to three in June, looking at factors such as usability of the site, traffic count, bike paths, bus access, geographic diversity, and accessibility, said Dan Kennelly, project manager for the Market.

Though he does not have a favorite, Kennelly, said all the sites had something different to offer.

He said the South Park Street site, which is bordered by Wingra Creek, is a “gateway to the city,” with an emerging health care sector along with ethnic food corridors, in a neighborhood that’s “relatively diverse that could benefit from an investment like this that could improve food access.”

The east side location is in a neighborhood interested in local and regional food and with plenty of potential vendors in the area, Kennelly said. It is also very high trafficked with a lot of visibility, and near a bike trail and river.

The north side shopping center location has “its own interesting local food scene,” said Kennelly, with its community gardens, food kitchens, and food-related businesses. “The site itself with the former Kohl’s grocery store presents an interesting opportunity to use that space.” he said.

In the end, the Market is for the city of Madison, not an individual neighborhood.

“Our hope that it truly is a city wide public market district, not just for one neighborhood or another, but a city wide amenity,” Kennelly said. “The one thing we all need to keep in mind is the emphasis needs to be on selecting the site that gives Madison Public Market the best opportunity to succeed and it can’t be a neighborhood popularity contest.”

Opening and expansion

Alder Larry Palm (District 12), whose district contains both the East Washington and North Sherman locations, said the north side site could open more quickly than the other two sites because of the use of the former Kohl’s grocery store.

The East Washington is a well-traveled area and has the ability to expand into a larger market district with, said Palm.

Alder John Strasser of the District 14 said a major attribute of the potential south site is its location.

“Its proximity to downtown is still considered part of the central city, still easily bikeable for university,” he said. “That part of Park Street used to be the place where university students would come to do their shopping, so it has a history of being a major food center for central Madison anyway.”


The East Washington location also has the largest population within a half mile according to a site analysis, but the south side has the most residents within a ten-minute drive. At the same time, some have questioned whether it is better to have people within walking or driving distance of the site.

Palm said the East Washington site contains a population supportive of locally grown, organic foods, and is close to downtown, which is “certainly one of the fundamental areas where people would be engaging in shopping.”

In Strasser’s eyes, proximity to the Beltline will drive the most traffic to the Market and allow access from trucks bringing in products.

“If this program becomes fully realized and the 500-some food producers we’ve already identified as being interested in using this market to take their products to market, the amount of vehicle traffic coming in and out of the wholesale/back end of this business is significant,” he said.

In addition, he believes the south side’s central location is an advantage.

“If you also want to take into account that this is a market for the entire city, not just a neighborhood, then you have to think of a location where no one area of the city is put at a greater disadvantage than other for access,” Strasser said. “South Park is considered central city, and that is something the other locations don’t have.”

The north side location is near I-90/94, so many of the access issues would be solved.

Economic impact

Regardless of the site chosen, the organizers expect the market will bring economic benefits to the neighborhood where the market is located.

“Lots of people excited about this really neat place with neat mix of food vendors and other products in their neighborhood,” Kennelly said. “For businesses, the public market will become a center of gravity in the city. It will be a place where people will want to be, where vendors will want to be, and will create opportunities for other business in the area.”

Strasser said the South Park location could provide valuable economic and employment benefits for the surrounding community, as it is “located in an area of town that has some of the most need for the economic spinoff and employment needs it will bring to south Madison,” which he said serves public policy goals.

Palm believes that if the Market is located in either the North Sherman or East Washington sites in his district it would “would really help the city grow."

However, both can agree on the benefits of the Market.

“Dane County and Madison have been working towards this for dozens of years. This would be the crowning achievement of why Dane County is what it is today. That’s because of our prime agricultural land and our ingenuity of creation,” Palm said. “Local food producers will able to bundle and share, so some have the components for a recipe and can coordinate with someone who makes the other half. Now instead of marketing pieces of the puzzle you’re marketing the whole puzzle.”

Strasser believes the success of the Market could bring great things to Madison.

“Hopefully the success of a local market will spin off the success of other markets. The whole city could potentially get their own markets just for convenience, as an extension of what we’re creating with this market,” he said.