Madison’s pursuit of a public market will look to the East Side, following a recommendation by a key city committee on Tuesday.
The Local Food Committee recommended the city pursue a public market and food district in the area around East Washington Avenue and First Street that would provide an indoor, year-round center for retail, wholesale and perhaps distribution of produce and other foods.
The site was chosen from a group of three put forward by the committee last month for further study by New York-based consultants Project for Public Spaces (PPS). It beat out a popular South Side option that likely would have included the former Thorstad Automotive site at 1702 S. Park St., as well as a North Side location near the intersection of North Sherman Avenue and Northport Drive.
Consultants said benefits of an East Washington site include visibility to commuters, proximity to Downtown, ease of access from bus and bike routes and Yahara River access. But they were most swayed by results of a study that attempted to determine where people would spend their money based on a potential 50,000-square-foot market.
The model found that the East Washington Avenue location would best combine potential earnings and market share with an estimated $8.7 million in gross annual sales and a 5.1 percent market share. A Park Street site could pull in around $8.2 million, with a 4.3 percent market share.
The study returned bleak prospects for a North Side market. Though the model predicted a 7.7 percent market share, it predicted only $7.5 million in gross sales because it would be much less accessible to people from other parts of the city.
“I know there’s a social justice component,” Larry Lund, who works with PPS and has expertise in public markets said, adding, “We have to make sure the vendors can be successful first.”
Ald. John Strasser, whose 14th District encompasses Madison’s South Side, chided the mostly unanimous acceptance of the consultant’s recommendation. He said city dollars would be better spent on a South Side market district that would deliver jobs and offer food options besides the small, dated Copps grocery store on Park Street.
“What we’re doing is taking the low-hanging fruit, saying this is where it will succeed on day one … If Park Street is viable, then all the other arguments I’ve heard tonight are moot,” he said, noting that East Washington Avenue has already benefited from a flurry of redevelopment .
Committee member Topf Wells agreed that a first priority should be to ensure the success of the vendors and then possibly expand to include a smaller neighborhood market system.
“It’s always great to go for the moral high ground but I think at least part of that high ground should be having a public market that gives these vendors the best chance of succeeding. If these vendors succeed, then I think you’ll get some of the processing and different retail opportunities that we hope will enable the public market to grow into a food district,” he said.
A resolution containing the committee’s site recommendation will be introduced to the City Council next Tuesday and likely voted on Sept. 3. If approved, city staff will work to obtain properties in the area .
The city already controls numerous properties in the area, including Burr Jones Field and the Fleet Services Division building on First Street. The city would likely try to buy properties now occupied by Fiore Shopping Center or Marling Lumber on the 1800 block of East Washington Avenue, said Mark Woulf, the city’s food coordinator.