Committee chooses East Washington Ave. location for public market

Recommendation will go to city council next week
Committee chooses East Washington Ave. location for public market
Possible location of Madison's Public Market on east side

After some passionate arguments for each option, Madison’s Local Food Committee unanimously recommended the city start a public market on the east side.

In a vote Tuesday night, committee members passed a resolution asking the council to move forward with the public market planning process on the site at East Washington Avenue and First Street.

Alder Marsha Rummel said market development would likely start with the city-owned fleet service garage behind the shopping center that faces East Washington Avenue.

“We spent 10 years planning, talking about food and all of the other synergies of the Capitol east district,” Rummel said. “And it does take a long time to get these things in place so something like this then seems obvious.”

The recommendation stressed to city officials this is just the first step in creating a greater food district, and urged those people to keep locations on the south and north sides of Madison under consideration for future markets.

“We don’t see a public market district as a one-stop retail shop. We’re hoping it can be something that grows,” Rummel said.

The committee had narrowed down possible locations for a public market before Tuesday’s meeting.

Project for Public Spaces, a consultant hired by the city to help with market planning, analyzed the final three sites.

The consultant evaluated the following three sites: East Washington and First Street, around a strip mall and next to the Yahara River; South Park Street and Wingra Drive, where the former Thordstad’s car dealership building still stands; and Northport Drive and North Sherman Avenue, where the Northside Town Center Shopping Center used to run.

The analysis looks at various factors favorable for a market location, such as traffic, bus routes and paths, space availability, and neighborhood diversity.

Overall, the analysis concludes the East Washington Avenue location would be best for a public market. Bus access and traffic were the highest at that site, and its proximity to downtown was seen as an advantage.

In addition, the study says there’s “a great opportunity to create an appealing public space” at that location, with it being close to parks and the Yahara River Parkway.

However, the analysis pointed out that the communities around the East Washington Avenue site are already well-served with food available in the area.

In his presentation to the committee, Larry Lund with Project For Public Spaces said the east side location would likely bring in the most money. He stressed to the committee members how important that is to attract and keep quality vendors at a permanent market, especially with the fragile nature of this kind of market structure.

“We’re dealing with small businesses, the livelihoods of people who are going to make commitments,” Lund said.

The analysis praised the South Park Street site for its proximity to the Beltline. The report also said, “The location is among Madison’s most diverse populations and the opportunity to create jobs and spawn new business is a plus.”

With only one property owner to deal with at the north side shopping center location, the analysis points out the positive of having that kind of partnership for the city. That said, the consultant had concerns about the area that is reportedly struggling as a food retail location. The study also called the site somewhat remote for many Madison residents.

The recommendation will be passed along for the city council to consider at its Aug. 5 meeting.

During the next phase of planning, the city will move forward with acquiring any private properties needed for market development and finalize the design and business plans needed to start building. Staff and the Local Food Committee expect to be working on that through the end of the year.