The city of Madison has long been working on a plan for a public market, and the city has recently taken a few more steps towards realizing those plans.
With a goal to begin construction in 2018, the year-round, indoor public market is slated for First Street, between East Washington and Johnson Street. The market plans to include homegrown food from small-scale farmers, specialty gifts, wholesale opportunities, culturally diverse food and community events.
Recent developments aim to set the city on a path for an active, adaptable market.
The city’s Market Ready program was approved by the Madison City Council and will be kicking off next month, said Dan Kennelly, manager of the office of businesses resources for the city.
The Market Ready program would provide training, technical assistance, and grants of up to $14,000 for potential market vendors.
Mayra Medrano, the president of the Latino Chamber of Business, is on the Public Market Development Committee and is particularly enthused about the Market Ready program.
“I have, from day one, been excited about the Market Ready programs,” she said.
Part of her role involves engaging with potential vendors, including Latino-owned businesses. She hopes that by the time the ribbon is cut on the new public market, all those potential vendors will be as excited as she is.
The program needs to be fine-tuned, and will then begin recruiting interested entrepreneurs, Kennelly said.
The site design has not yet been finalized, but currently contains five designated areas, including the public market, a mixed-use private development project, a Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District pump, a private development project and a regional food system hub.
According to the current site design, the public market will face East Washington and will include a “Food works” space, which is slated for features like food-related job training, events, classrooms and a food lab.
Kennelly had previously stated that he hoped to have a finalized site design by the Feb. 2 meeting of the committee, but said the committee is making progress towards a final draft of the site.
The last Public Market Development Committee meeting involved a conversation with the architect about the look and feel of the market, Kennelly said, and included discussion on how equity and inclusion can be incorporated into the physical design.
“We want the Public Market to be very inviting, very open and welcoming,” Medrano said. “Most importantly, the space has to be flexible, has to be adaptable to an ever-changing public market.”
She said the space should be able to change in relation to what’s happening in the community or to culturally relevant events. As an example, she said that during Hispanic heritage month, the market could potentially host Latino art.
An “adaptable” market could also mean that square footage of a vending spot could be changed to meet a particular vendor’s needs, she said.
“It’s being able to adapt to the constant need of vendors so that it’s easy for them to be brought into the public market, versus the public market being set in its structure and having them adapt to it,” she said.
Medrano was also impressed by design suggestions to create an active market, incorporating ideas like a slide or jungle gym in the market.
"I was really happy to see that there was such an engagement with kids," she said. "How do community members engage with each other and how do you ensure that every space at the public market gets used?"
The $15 million project will be funded by the city’s capital budget, as well as a mix of private donations, state and federal grants and tax credits.
Medrano is also heading up the Public Market Foundation, which she expects will start a capital funding drive to provide necessary funding for the project in the next three to six months.
The formation of the foundation was inevitable, Medrano said, as the business plan for the market called for a non-profit entity to oversee its funding and operations.
Forming it now lets the foundation get a jump start on a capital campaign and vendor outreach, Medrano said.
A recent survey of community leaders showed that a capital campaign goal of $2 million to $3 million is currently feasible, but steps like launching a public relations campaign and engaging community leaders from diverse backgrounds in the project could make a $4 million to $5 million fundraising goal possible.
The owners of the Washington Plaza shopping center currently located on the site at 1858 E. Washington Ave. are working with the city to redevelop the property and have expressed interest in involvement with the entirety of the project.