Public market design rendering

A design rendering of the Madison Public Market from the corner of East Washington Avenue and First Street 

Graham Baba Architects

A free Wednesday night event offering a “taste” of the long-promised Madison Public Market raises a question: Where are we on this Public Market thing?

The event at 945 E. Washington Ave. will feature music, kids activities, storytelling, a “mini dance party” and free samples from over 15 vendors from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. It offers a chance to meet potential merchants of the market and witness the variety cultures and communities the market hopes to encompass.

But before construction of the market can begin, it needs to secure funding. Read on to find out how the market will be financed and where fundraising stands today.

What is the public market?

The year-round, indoor public market is slated for First Street, between East Washington Avenue and Johnson Street. The market plans to host tenants selling homegrown food from small-scale farmers, specialty gifts, wholesale opportunities and culturally diverse food.

The city’s MarketReady program provides training, technical assistance and grants of up to $17,000 for 30 potential market vendors, with a focus on populations typically underrepresented in entrepreneurship, like women, people of color and veterans. The MarketReady vendors have already been selected and several will be at Wednesday’s event.

The market site will also host a 15,000 square-foot Food Innovation Center on the site with training programs, test kitchens and food processing space.

The market would be part of a greater public/private development, with about $30 million of private development to bring more retail and restaurants, 20,000 square feet of office space and 96 apartments, according to the business plan.

Who’s paying for the market?

According to Mayor Paul Soglin's proposed 2018 Capital Budget, the project will receive funding from:

  • $2.5 million in private donations
  • $3 million in federal New Markets Tax Credits
  • $7.5 million from the city
    • $1.2 million carried over from 2017 budget for detailed architecture and design work
    • $3.05 million in allied capital reserves (from closing Tax Increment Districts)
    • $3.25 million in transfer from the General Fund

That’s an increase from last year’s budget, which committed a total of $4.25 million in city funding.

These numbers differ slightly from the market business plan, which also includes $2 million in state and federal grants.

What’s the status of all those funding sources?

Private donations: The Madison Public Market Foundation has just begun fundraising for its $5 million capital campaign, and at Wednesday’s event will announce its first matching gift of $10,000 from Trey and Shelly Sprinkman of Sprinkman Real Estate.

“We’re actually talking to variety of foundations, individuals and businesses who have expressed interest in helping be the initial supporters of the campaign,” said Amanda White, a consultant for the Madison Public Market Foundation. “But this is such a community-based project, we’re really looking to involve anyone, no matter what size of gift.”

New Market Tax Credits: The project has “successfully been placed in the pipeline” to receive credits, Dan Kennelly, manager of the office of businesses resources for the city, wrote in an email. The credits will likely be announced towards end of the year.

State and Federal Grants: No grants have yet been secured, but the city is working on a Wisconsin Economic Development Commission grant and federal grant opportunities, Kennelly said.

What happens if the donations, credits and grants don’t come through?

A report to the City Council in July listed conservative and optimistic outcomes for the fundraising campaign, grants and tax credits.

All together, those sources would conservatively bring in $4.5 million and optimistically bring in $10.5 million, the report said.

Ald. David Ahrens is worried about what will happen if the private donations or federal funding falls through, saying that the city’s increasing commitment sets a bad precedent.

“I think that we’re just on the way over to the other side of the curve,” he said. “(If it) then turns out there’s no money from the federal government and donations aren’t what they expected to be, soon we’re in for the whole thing.”

Kennelly said “the goal is to continue to pursue these outside funding sources and we are confident that they will come to fruition.”

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“Allocating additional city funding would be a policy decision made by the Mayor and the Council and would require an amendment to the City’s budget,” he wrote.

Ald. Sara Eskrich had concerns about the amount of city support and last year supported an amendment that placed stipulations on borrowing. Among other conditions, it requires that the design is completed, land use approvals are secured and all sources of capital have been committed before borrowing is appropriated for construction.

“We specifically added language to the approval of this item in the capital budget at Council to provide accountability regarding the public funding,” she wrote in an email. “I expect that to be maintained.”

How much money has the city actually spent so far?

To date, the city has spent about $650,000 on the project, including “outreach efforts, developing the business plan, launching the MarketReady Program, site planning and architecture work, and financial and fundraising consultants,” Kennelly said.

Will the city costs end after construction?

The city will own the public market building, but it will be operated by a community-led nonprofit.

Ahrens pointed to Monona Terrace, where the city has consistently subsidized the operating budget a few million dollars each year. 

“Once it started, it’s hard to stop, and will the city management be in the position to toss out people who can’t pay the rent? That’s a hard one,” he said.

While Kennelly said the goal is to have a self-sustaining market, “as with any new venture, it will likely take 3 to 5 years to reach stabilization and the budget includes funding for working capital in the first few years.”

Kennelly said the project is still hoping to break ground in 2018 and open in 2019, but the schedule is fluid.