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Explainer: What's going on with the Madison Public Market?

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Madison Public Market design rendering (copy)

A design rendering of the Madison Public Market showing the view from the corner of North First and East Johnson streets. 

It’s 2020, and the Madison Public Market is expected to open late next year.

Last year brought a sneak peek at the market site in the current Fleet Services building, a first look at designs, fundraising and continued training for 30 entrepreneurs in the city’s MarketReady Program.

“We made a lot of progress over the last year,” said Dan Kennelly, manager of the city’s Office of Business Resources.

The project has been years in the making, spanning multiple mayoral administrations.

The possible location has changed from a parking lot near the Capitol on East Washington Avenue, to the future Judge Doyle Square development, and now to the current project site in the Fleet Services building at 200 N. First St.

The city anticipates starting construction late this year and expects the market to open in late 2021. What’s left on the project’s to-do list?

How much does the project need in funding?

The total cost to complete the public market is $13 million. Capital costs will be funded through several sources, including city funds, private donations, tax credits and possibly state or federal grants.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s 2020 budget changed how the Madison Public Market is funded.

Instead of allocating $7.5 million from the city's general fund for the project, the mayor's budget uses proceeds from a tax incremental financing district that runs along East Washington Avenue. While the 2020 budget has been approved, the city will be required to amend the tax increment district’s project plan to create the authority to use it as a source of funding for the market.

Approximately $3 million in capital costs will be contributed by the Madison Public Market Foundation, which the city selected to be the fundraising entity and the market's eventual operator. The foundation plans to raise an additional $1 million as a reserve fund to cover costs during the market’s first years of operation.

The total $4 million the market plans to raise is $500,000 more than previously planned. Rhodes-Conway's 2020 budget required the project use more in private contributions. 

“The key is fundraising,” Madison Public Market Foundation Board President Jamaal Stricklin said. “We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire — a lot of good, positive reactions.”

So far, the foundation has raised $1.5 million in dollars and pledges toward its total $4 million goal, according to the city. Because some donations are in the form of multi-year pledges, the foundation is in the process of securing a “bridge loan” to cover the foundation's portion of funding.

“The big important piece of the puzzle we still need is for the community to step up and support the foundation on the fundraising effort,” Kennelly said.

The city estimates another $3 million will come from New Markets Tax Credits, which is a federal program that uses tax credits to encourage investment in lower income communities. The allocation awards will be announced in the spring of 2020.

Approvals from the Finance Committee, Community Development Authority and City Council will be needed to approve the final tax credit transaction.

What if the foundation does not raise enough money to cover capital or operating costs?

The Madison Public Market Foundation expects to generate revenue from the rents that individual vendors in the market will pay, in addition to miscellaneous revenue from events. Kennelly said the foundation will be responsible for the financial viability of the project.

“If they get to a point where they are unable to do that, I think the message has been clear that the city is not going to step in and solve this problem for them,” Kennelly said at a Finance Committee meeting Jan. 13.

If the foundation does not raise enough money to close on the project’s financing, Assistant City Attorney Kevin Ramakrishna said the city does not have to complete the transaction. The city would not be responsible for the foundation’s bridge loan.

“If, for some reason, the foundation is unable to raise those funds by the fall, that would put the project on hold until they can,” Kennelly said.

If the project receives tax credits for the project, the market will have to remain in compliance and operate for seven years. Ramakrishna said the city would likely take over if the public market fails to operate during that time frame.

“If the Public Market Foundation cannot operate during those seven years, the city is going to have to step in and keep the project moving forward and in compliance, otherwise we’re going to be on the hook for what is owed to the investors,” Ramakrishna said.

Amanda White, community engagement specialist for the Madison Public Market Foundation, said it is on track to raise the $3 million for capital costs needed by October in order to be eligible for the tax credits. 

"The momentum is building quickly, and I am fully confident we will raise the funds needed to make our public market a reality," White said. 

Reiterating the progress the project made last year, Kennelly was positive about the market’s future and emphasized that the foundation and city will remain in close contact as the market launches.  

“We’re all very confident that the Public Market Foundation will be able to successfully operate the Madison Public Market,” Kennelly said.

Is the project designed?

Yes. Minneapolis-based architect MSR has completed the design of the public market and has submitted architecture and engineering documents to the city’s Engineering Facilities group.

Last September, MSR unveiled designs for the market. Plans include a two-floor building, with the upper level featuring a mezzanine area overlooking the main floor. The interior will feature modular and flexible vending areas and focus on the vendors.  

Traci Lesneski, principal at MSR Design, said the “concept is intact” with only some smaller changes to the openings of the market and the stormwater management system. Lesneski said the designs will maintain the aesthetic of the current Fleet Services Building to remind people of its former use.

“We think there's value in a cultural memory of buildings when they’re repurposed,” Lesneski said. “We are trying to retain as much of the visual reminder as possible while cleaning it and getting it ready for its new use.”

Once Engineering gives feedback on the technical design, the architect and engineering team will shift to creating construction documents. Those are expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2020.

Then, the Engineering Division will develop bid documents and seek approval from the Board of Public Works and City Council to seek a contractor.

Who will be at the public market?

The specific vendors are still to be determined by the Public Market Foundation this year, Kennelly said.

Currently, there are 30 entrepreneurs in the city’s MarketReady Program, which aims to prepare local business owners to launch in the market. Also, Kennelly said about 220 other businesses have expressed interest in operating there.

“We want to create that mix of local but a bit more established, well-known Madison favorites combined with cool, new start-ups,” Kennelly said.

What land use and building approvals does the project require?

The public market project will need a number of approvals from city committees, commissions and staff.

The city submitted a land use application for the project on Dec. 18, 2019. The project will go before the Urban Design Commission Feb. 12, the Plan Commission on Feb. 24 and the City Council on March 3.

“It’s exciting and rewarding to be in the position now of actually going for land use approvals,” Kennelly said. “After a lot of hard work by the city and a lot of community partners, we’re nearing the end of the finish line.”

Once the project receives all the approvals and the financing is secured, the city expects to start construction in late 2020 and open in late 2021.

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