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The 66-year-old building with sweeping interior open spaces and 20-foot ceilings, huge bay doors, and expansive rows of windows is poised for new life.

Already, there is a sense of big things ahead for the two-story industrial space, currently the city’s Fleet Services building on the East Side, which has been chosen as the future home of the $13.2 million Madison Public Market.

The Public Market, advocates and city officials say, will be a year-round, inclusive and welcoming community destination featuring a diverse group of entrepreneurs offering fresh produce, culturally diverse prepared food, locally made food products, and handcrafted arts and crafts.

On Wednesday, for the first time, the public will be able to step into the space and give input on the emerging plan for the structure at 200 N. First St., sample foods, meet vendors and take tours of the building.

Public Market rendering

Schematic showing the various uses of the planned Madison Public Market.

So far, the focus has been on the interior, although there is already discussion about some sort of “beacon” exterior architectural element that would create a sense of arrival at the market, said Dan Kennelly, city Office of Business Resources manager.

“We’ve made great progress in the design of the building,” he said. “We’re hoping people will come out to share their input and take a look.”

Big open spaces

The Fleet Services building, located on 3.4 acres of city-owned land at the corner of North First and East Johnson streets, offers 45,000 square feet of space. The structure has three vast service bays, all with tall ceilings, lots of windows and tall service doors.

Each bay will be converted to a specific use, Kennelly said:

  • The bay closest to First and East Johnson streets will serve as the Entry Hall, which will feature an anchor restaurant and/or a cafe and public space.
  • The center Main Hall will be the hub of the market with spaces for permanent vendors ranging from 100 to 600 square feet each. It will offer fresh produce, a butcher shop, bakery, cheese, ice cream, diverse and specialty food products, and arts and crafts.
  • The Event Hall, closest to East Washington Avenue, will be a space for weddings, banquets and community events with seating for 300, and also host pop-up markets and a rolling mix of activities.

Between the Main and Event halls will be a ground-floor kitchen for vendor food preparation and cooking, catering and offerings like community nutrition classes, Kennelly said. Above it is a 5,600-square-foot mezzanine that overlooks those two bays and can be used for neighborhood meetings, seating for diners and staff offices, he said.

Public Market mezzanine

A second-floor mezzanine looks out over one of three large bays at the city's Fleet Services building on the East Side. The 5,600-square-foot mezzanine could be used for neighborhood meetings and dining after the structure is converted to be the home of the Madison Public Market.

Currently, large swaths of the exterior windows are covered with a translucent material, but the interior spaces are still well-lit. The city intends to retain the large window openings but improve them with modern finishes and new glass, said Brent Pauba of the city Engineering Division, adding, “The spaces will be bathed in natural light.”

The structure’s large bay doors will allow some larger vendors to spill onto outdoor spaces on First Street, Kennelly said.

In all, there will be 35 to 45 permanent merchants in the market, plus a rotating mix of pop-up and temporary vendors.

The city’s MarketReady program is already supporting 30 entrepreneurs selected from 83 applicants as they seek to start or expand businesses at the market. The participants include 33% first-generation immigrants, 63% women and 83% people of color.

The building itself is structurally sound, with exterior walls of 12-inch concrete blocks and 6-foot concrete floor slabs throughout, Pauba said.

“It’s really well built,” he said. “It can last a very long time.”

A long effort

Advocates have been trying to create a public market for at least 14 years. The site has bounced from the Brayton parking lot on East Washington Avenue two blocks east of Capitol Square, to what would become the Judge Doyle Square project south of Capitol Square, to the current area between East Washington and East Johnson just east of the Yahara River.

In 2014-15, the city was focused on the Fleet Services building but the site shifted amid uncertainty about the timing of relocating Fleet Services to Nakoosa Trail on the Far East Side and opportunities presented by the owners of the adjacent Washington Square shopping plaza site. But after months of discussion and joint planning efforts, the city and shopping center owners hit an impasse late last year, and the market site reverted back to the Fleet Services building.

Public Market exterior

Dan Kennelly, manager of Madison's Office of Business Resources, surveys windows Monday at the city's Fleet Services building, future home of the Madison Public Market. The windows will be modernized to pour natural light into the structure.

Now, Fleet Services, which maintains the city’s vehicles, will move to a new facility at 4141 Nakoosa Trail in 2020 with a groundbreaking for the market that fall and an opening of the market in fall 2021.

The nonprofit Madison Public Market Foundation will manage and operate the facility and the city will keep ownership of the building.

The city has included $7.5 million for the market in the capital budget, with the foundation raising $4 million, including $2.5 million for the building project and $1.5 million for future market operations. The foundation expects $3 million in federal new market tax credits, and state and federal grants and tax incremental financing (TIF) may also be used to support the project.

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