Washington Plaza

The city of Madison has expanded options for a public market to the Washington Plaza Shopping Center site on the corner of First street and East Washington Avenue.

AMBER ARNOLD — State Journal

Serious options for a $14 million Madison Public Market now include it being part of a potential redevelopment of a shopping plaza at the corner of First Street and East Washington Avenue on the East Side.

So far, the city has envisioned the core market at a renovated Fleet Services Building at 200 N. First St., next to the shopping plaza. But Fleet Services isn’t scheduled to move from the facility until 2017 with building improvements for the public market in 2018 and an opening in early 2019.

A new draft implementation strategy sees the Fleet Services Building as the first option. But it also outlines alternatives under which the city would forge a partnership to build the market as the anchor tenant of a larger private redevelopment of the Washington Plaza shopping center, 1858 E. Washington Ave., or to get the market started as part of the redevelopment and later expand it to the Fleet Services Building.

The four-acre plaza site has far greater visibility, with its main frontage along East Washington Avenue, and new construction “could be faster, better and cheaper,” the 10-page draft strategy says.

“It’s something we ought to explore,” city food and alcohol policy director Mark Woulf said. “We do know we have to figure this out by the end of 2016.”

Todd Waller, who owns the shopping center with Steve Doran, said they want the public market to succeed and are interested in a partnership with the city. But no decisions have been made, no financial analysis has been done, and current shopping center tenants must be respected, he said.

“We’re totally open-minded,” Waller said. “Could we be involved in some capacity? Absolutely.”

The draft strategy, which also addresses organizational structure, capital funding, vendor development, momentum building, equity and planning for a larger public market district, will be discussed by the Madison Local Food Committee on Thursday.

The committee, which asked city staff to prepare the draft, is charged with recommending a strategy to the City Council by March 31.

The shopping plaza, because it’s near the Fleet Services property, has been part of discussions about the public market but Thursday is the first time it will be discussed by the committee as a realistic option to locate all or part of the market, committee chairwoman Anne Reynolds said.

“Let’s keep our options open,” she said. “Everybody is interested in making the right decision here.”

The Fleet Services Building is attractive because it’s owned by the city and its size and layout are well-suited to conversion to a public market, the draft strategy says. A business plan repurposes the garage into a public market with retail, wholesale and food production facilities.

“It’s got that garage feel, open bays,” Woulf said. “It would be a real interesting space.”

The 2016 budget includes $2.2 million to design Fleet Services and a radio shop as part of a larger facility on the 4000 block of Nakoosa Trail on the Far East Side and anticipates spending $19 million more for construction of those facilities in 2017.

The city would use $4.25 million in borrowing, perhaps supported by tax incremental financing, contingent on securing $9.75 million from expected but as yet unsecured outside sources. The city would design the market in 2017 and renovate the Fleet Services garage in 2018 with the market opening in early 2019, Woulf said.

The biggest disadvantage is timing because of when Fleet Services would move, the draft strategy says.

The Washington Plaza site, assessed at $3.6 million, creates options. The 40,050-square-foot shopping center, built as a grocery store in 1962 and later divided into nine storefronts, has 140 surface parking spaces.

The plaza is fully occupied and performing well, but the site, located on the booming East Washington Avenue corridor and next to Burr Jones Park, has strong redevelopment potential, Waller said.

The public market, as part of a larger mixed-use project, could become “more of an iconic development,” he said.

“We’d like to do it,” Waller said. “(But) it has to make financial sense.”

The main advantage is that the shopping plaza site would free the project from the budgetary and timing challenges of accelerating the relocation of Fleet Services, the draft strategy says. New construction could also result in a more efficient, more functional and less expensive project, it says.

The third option, a hybrid approach, could get retail uses of the public market running in a first phase on the shopping plaza site and later bring uses such as food processing and storage to the Fleet Services Building, the draft strategy says.

The three options are all consistent with a business plan already approved by the council, the draft strategy says.

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Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.