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Madison Public Market rendering

A preliminary design concept of the Madison Public Market shows a three story structure near the intersection of East Washington Avenue and First Street.

The city’s preliminary site map for the Madison Public Market on the East Side was met with opposition and disappointment Thursday from the committee overseeing the project.

As architects presented the layout, members of the Public Market Development Committee raised concerns about the priority of space they said was given to the private aspects of the development rather than the Public Market.

The development is a mix of the Public Market as well as private retail, office and residential space. The property for the development — which is currently the Washington Plaza shopping center, bounded by East Washington Avenue, First Street and Burr Jones Field — is owned by Steve Doran and Todd Waller.

The site map looked significantly different from a previous layout the committee saw. In this iteration, the Public Market would sit on East Washington Avenue’s corner with First Street instead of next to Burr Jones Park, where the committee had planned for the market to be.

“You got the wrong end of the ham,” committee member Topf Wells said.

The design details two sections of the project made of two separate buildings. To the east, a three-story public market and retail and office space at the street corner, with the retail space abutting East Washington Avenue. To the west along the railroad tracks and park, the second structure would be a five- to eight-story, mixed-use building of retail and residential units.

Committee members said the height and placement of the mixed-use residential building would create a wall separating the Public Market from Burr Jones Park.

The city’s original plan for the property had the Public Market to the west with easy access to Burr Jones Park, which committee members agreed was important to the mission of providing a community-based destination that integrates public space instead of a standalone entity.

Committee member Lindsey Day Farnsworth has supported the public market, but was concerned about the prominence of the private spaces overshadowing the Public Market.

“I think I’m going to have a hard time going out and advocating for this (project) with this layout,” Day Farnsworth said. “It looks like a private development.”

Representatives from Graham Baba Architects of Seattle, one of the firms hired to assist in the planning and design process, said the architects hired by Doran and Waller proposed that layout in their first negotiation. The layout also includes private retail locations facing East Washington Avenue.

The building plan for the Public Market itself was not debated as thoroughly as the property map. Graham Baba representatives showed the committee ideas for what the market could look like, with an entry plaza, a market with two-floor ceiling and market support on the first floor. A second floor would have spaces for a food incubator and nonprofit office.

The publicly run portion of the building would have the market with a two-floor ceiling, and an adjacent wing with market support and a food incubator space. The third floor would be a rooftop deck with seating, space for outdoor events, possible rooftop gardens and skylights flooding light to the market below.

Attached to the Public Market would be the privately owned portion facing East Washington, which would have three floors: two housing retail space and another floor for offices.

Committee member Ald. Larry Palm said he was not as against the proposal as he felt some others were. He noted the give and take involved in working with private owners.

“There are things that we can get out of them, like a more monumental structure, without having to pay for it all,” Palm said.

Committee Chairwoman Anne Reynolds emphasized the site map is not set in stone and that the property owners and the city will continue to negotiate the development. She said she wasn’t discouraged by the meeting.

“I feel like everybody is working in good faith,” Reynolds said of the committee and property owners. “We’re attempting to reach an agreement that works for everyone.”

More work to do

The city and the private developers must still forge a formal development agreement on land ownership. The city could buy land from Doran and Waller for the market, enter a ground lease or condominium deal with them or do a land swap that would provide city land to the developers for the second phase of the project, city Office of Business Resources manager Dan Kennelly said.

The plan for the Public Market as a whole comes in multiple phases, with the Washington Plaza development first. This phase, in cooperation with the property owners, would raze a half-century-old strip mall and deliver substantial new construction to transform property.

Future phases would include repurposing the city-owned land abutting Washington Plaza at First and East Johnson streets, which is currently used by the city’s Fleet Services. The city also hopes to reuse the Fleet Services Building, bringing potential for more food-related uses, commercial space and housing.

The city and Doran and Waller are working closely on plans to create a cohesive redevelopment on the adjacent private and public properties.

“We have a good relationship with the property owners,” Kennelly said.

The city budget envisions construction of the market to begin in 2018.

As site design proceeds, the city is also making other preparations for the market, which is projected to have more than $12 million annually in food sales, incubate 35 businesses, create 265 full-time jobs across the region, and deliver a $22 million annual economic impact.

So far, the city has received 97 responses from a wide variety of vendors looking for a range of different spaces in the market, Kennelly said.

Meanwhile, the Madison Public Market Foundation has been formed, with Latino Chamber of Commerce president Mayra Medrano serving as its first president. The nonprofit foundation, which will have a board of directors, initially will do private fundraising for the market and could later become the operator, Kennelly said.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a quote by Public Market Development Committee member Topf Wells. Wells' comment was: “You got the wrong end of the ham."]


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

Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.