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City Council to decide funds for Public Market, budget changes on Wednesday

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Madison Public Market - rendering

The Madison City Council late Tuesday paused its budget meeting before deciding whether to deliver up to $6 million more in tax incremental financing support for the Madison Public Market.

The City Council heard strong support Tuesday for the Madison Public Market but paused its budget meeting near midnight before deciding a proposal to deliver up to $6 million to help close a financing gap for the $20 million project on the East Side.

On its first night of budget deliberations, and after hearing nearly four hours of public testimony, the council by 11:50 had decided just three of eight proposed amendments to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway's proposed capital budget for 2023. The capital budget, as earlier amended by the Finance Committee, already stood at a record $365.6 million, including $181 million in borrowing.

The council will resume deliberations at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on funding for the Public Market, four other capital budget amendments, and 16 proposed amendments to the mayor's operating budget, which the Finance Committee has already adjusted to $273.4 million. 

The city has long planned to convert its former two-story, 45,000-square-foot Fleet Services building, on 3.4 acres at 200 N. First St., into a year-round public market.

Plans call for converting the building into a community destination featuring a diverse group of entrepreneurs offering fresh produce, culturally diverse prepared food, locally made food, and arts and crafts. The city would continue to own the property, while a foundation would operate the market.

The market would also include a Food Innovation Center that would be a flexible small manufacturing venue with services and equipment to boost small entrepreneurs and minority-owned enterprises.

Last week, the Dane County Board approved an amendment to the county's capital budget to borrow $1.5 million to help the city close its $5.2 million funding gap.

Alds. Syed Abbas, Regina Vidaver and Nasra Wehelie are proposing to use up to $6 million from a robust tax incremental financing district on the East Washington Avenue corridor to close the gap. The amendment also supports the county's contribution and directs city staff to continue to seek new sources of funding, as well as trim project costs.

James Shulkin, representing the Public Market Foundation, said the goal is "equity through entrepreneurship" and that the market would be a vibrant gathering space, deliver a significant regional economic impact, and provide sales taxes. 

Carmell Jackson of Melly Mel's Soul Food, which hopes to open in the market, said, "I want to see this come together."

"This is not a food court. This is not a grocery store," said Anne Reynolds, chair of the city's Public Market Development Committee and a foundation board member. "This is really a once-in-a-generation chance."

The council also heard support from many speakers to deliver a $1 million grant to the River Food Pantry, which plans to move from its North Side site, purchase land and develop a new facility. The total project costs $6.7 million. The county's budget also includes $1.5 million for the project. The nonprofit's current lease expires in 2024.

"Food insecurity is real," River Food Pantry executive director Rhonda Adams said.

But the city's Community Development Division hasn't historically delivered grants to nonprofit organizations for capital projects, so the council, after a lengthy debate over processes, voted against the proposed $1 million grant as well as a substitute amendment to increase funding for a loan program from which the River Food Pantry could make a funding request.

The council discussion, however, indicated that city staff would work with the River Food Pantry to identify funds for its project. 

Other major capital budget amendments still to be decided include $3.5 million more for a grocery store on South Park Street and $2.35 million for a housing and commercial project on the East Side.

A series of speakers voiced support Tuesday for environmentally friendly stormwater improvements in the Sauk Creek Greenway and strong opposition for changes that would remove trees and could damage habitat and wildlife. They delivered petitions with more than 375 signatures from residents backing more modest improvements and related petitions with more than 130 signatures opposing a bike path in the greenway.

In 2018, the Engineering Division presented a plan to reconstruct the greenway with a wider channel stabilized with rocks and native grasses while removing more than 80% of the nearly 6,000 trees identified as invasive and undesirable species.

The mayor has included $2.3 million for the project in the 2023 capital budget, but the Engineering Division says it has not committed to any specific design and will begin a "robust" public engagement process next year. But residents allege a lack of input and transparency.

On the operating budget, speakers split on competing proposals, with different funding sources, to expand the Community Alternative Response Emergency Services program, or CARES, which responds to 911 calls for behavioral health emergencies.

One proposal would deliver $200,000 for a midyear expansion of a paramedic position and program manager for the CARES program with annualized cost of $357,000. The competing proposal would deliver the same expansion but would refuse a federal COPS grant that would fund most of the cost of six new community-oriented police officers and use the city's match for the grant to cover the CARES expansion.

Some supported the expansion and adding police, but a greater number said the city doesn't need more police and that resources are better directed to efforts like CARES, public health, homelessness services and housing that support communities and neighborhoods.

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