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Once again, the city is changing plans for the coming $13.2 million Madison Public Market, shifting the site and returning to renovation over new construction.

The city is dropping its bid to acquire land to build the market next to a private redevelopment on East Washington Avenue, Anne Reynolds, chair of the city’s Public Market Development Committee, said Friday.

Instead, the city will return to an earlier option to re-purpose its nearby Fleet Services building at the corner of North First and East Johnson streets, she said.

Mayor Paul Soglin declined comment. He has scheduled a press conference to discuss “details of a change to the Public Market project” at 11:30 a.m. Monday at the Fleet Services building. City staff also declined comment.

In a release announcing the press conference, Soglin said, “This shift in our plans is exactly what we need to develop one of our country’s best public markets. This change will better enable us to build the dynamic, diverse Public Market that our community wants and deserves.”

The city had initially moved toward reusing the roughly 45,000-square-foot Fleet Services building for the market before pursuing a partnership with developers Steve Doran and Todd Waller, owners of the Washington Plaza shopping center at the corner of East Washington Avenue and First Street.

It was thought the shopping center site had greater visibility and new construction offered the potential to be faster, better and cheaper.

The most recent plans were to demolish the 40,050-square-foot, 56-year-old shopping center and locate a 28,000-square-foot market along East Washington Avenue next to Burr Jones Field, with a private project by Doran and Waller that could have included a hotel, housing and commercial space at the corner of East Washington Avenue and First Street.

But the city and the developers couldn’t agree on a sales price for land for the market, nor come to terms on tax incremental financing (TIF) support for private elements of the redevelopment, Reynolds said.

It’s unclear how the private redevelopment will be impacted. Doran and Waller could not be reached for comment on Friday.

More room for everything

The Fleet Services building, 200 N. First St., was initially seen as attractive because it’s owned by the city and its size and layout are well-suited to conversion to a public market. A consultant’s report in 2015 recommended the city preserve the “garageness” of the facility while making food products and food-related activities the star attraction.

“To me, there’s a huge amount of logic in going back to the Fleet Services building,” said Reynolds, an ex-officio member of the nonprofit Madison Public Market Foundation, which is doing private fundraising and will operate the market once it opens.

“It gives a significant increase in square footage,” Reynolds said. “The building is in good condition. It just sort of says, public market, when you walk into it.”

The biggest disadvantage had been timing because Fleet Services first needed to move to a new facility on Nakoosa Trail on the Far East Side. But now the timing is favorable. The city recently earmarked $29.2 million for construction of the new facility in the 2019 capital budget.

Under the most recent plans, the market would include:

  • Market Hall, a large, central space to house 40 or more permanent merchant booths plus 3,000 square feet of event and temporary vending space.
  • Outdoor Market Plaza, a flexible space next to Market Hall that will allow for outdoor seating, a small stage for live music and other performances, artwork and seasonal food carts.
  • A Food Innovation Center, which will provide space to increase local food production and training.
  • Flexible space for events from weddings to free nutrition classes to community meetings.
  • A children’s area and art spaces.

The uses wouldn’t change, but with roughly 60 percent more space, there’s more room for everything, Reynolds said.

Costs and timing

Reynolds said she has already spoken to advocates and private funders and they are supportive of the change. “It takes a couple of minutes and people say, wow, that’s great,” she said.

But the city will have to revisit a business plan from 2015 with cost options for reusing the Fleet Services building, she said. That plan offered three main options — a basic public market hall, a multi-use market with more production and retail space, and a multi-use market with added rooftop space — with a range of construction costs.

“I think we’ll be reviewing all of that,” Reynolds said.

The city, she said, now won’t have to pay for land acquisition and will be working with a building that’s structurally sound.

The Madison Public Market Foundation has already raised nearly $1 million of the $4 million in private funds needed for the project.

Overall, the market would be funded by $3 million in federal New Market Tax Credits, $2.5 million in private fundraising and $7.7 million in city contributions under the city’s capital budget for 2019. The additional $1.5 million in private fundraising is for pre-opening and initial operating costs and programming.

Recently, city staff recommended MSR Design of Minneapolis to oversee engagement with the community and vendors, complete a final design, secure land use approvals and bring the market to completion.

MSR, recommended over 10 other firms, did the $29.5 million renovation of the Central Library and the recent $30 million makeover of the landmark Madison Municipal Building, and has been chosen to do the $12 million upgrade of Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

The firm will now oversee a renovation rather than new construction for the Public Market.

“It’s kind of perfect timing for the city to pivot to the remodel,” Reynolds said. The city had hoped to begin construction of the market in fall 2019, with an opening in late 2020. The timing may now push back a bit, with an opening in 2021, she said.

The Public Market Development Committee is scheduled to discuss the site change and other topics at 5 p.m. Thursday.

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