The Madison Public Market is planned to be a year-round public market where small businesses and minority business owners can get their start. According to the project’s website, it would hold fresh produce, food stands, merchant space for local artists, and community rooms.
“This is a market that’s built to enhance the economic opportunity for people of all types in Madison. The mission is very all about supporting the BIPOC community, and helping them become independent business people,” Shulkin says.
That’s Jim Shulkin, a board member of the Madison Public Market Foundation, the group that would run the market slated to be built at the First Street Fleet Building. He says the market is envisioned as a public space to uplift underrepresented business owners.
But construction on the project has been pushed from this fall to, at the soonest, next spring. And because the project is now more than $5 million over budget, tough choices may be ahead.
The idea for a Madison Public Market has been around for over 15 years, but the Madison Common Council finally approved the plan for the market back in 2015 with a budget of around $14 million. But as the pandemic hit in 2020, and the price of labor and material skyrocketed, the market, like many other city and county projects, quickly found itself outgrowing its budget.
According to a memo sent to the Public Market Development Committee by Matthew Mikolajewski, Director of the city’s Economic Development Division, inflation only accounts for around $1.7 million.
Another reason for the rising price tag is the loss of over $3 million in federal funds.
The city of Madison had been working to secure a grant with the Federal Economic Development Administration, or EDA, to help cover the costs of the project. But it was forced to withdraw its grant application after failing to commit to covering the inflated costs for the project.
This means that, unless the city can find a way to cover that $5 million, they cannot go forward with the project this year. Alder Patrick Heck, who sits on the Public Market Development Committee, says that if they can’t find the fund, it could tank the whole project.
“There are several options (available), none of which, in my mind, are particularly attractive. That doesn’t mean that those options, or some combination of those options can’t be fenagle. It’s not going to be easy, but there certainly are paths forward,” Heck says.
The city could use more tax money from the district where the market will sit, but that would mean taking money away from other priorities in the area. Alternatively, the city could borrow more money, but alder Heck says that taking out more loans could impact interest rates on future projects.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who could not be reached for comment today, is expected to release a draft of her 2023 budget next week. Alder Heck says that he does not know what the future of the project will look like.
“It’s a tough problem. It could be that the mayor lets the Common Council figure out how to handle this, but I don’t really know. It’s tough because so many people are in favor of a public market, from what I’ve seen. It has the potential to be a fantastic facility and people are extremely in support of the Market Ready Program and other components of the public market, but it is increasingly expensive, so it’s a tough tough calculation both for the mayor, and for the council,” Heck says.
While the project team behind the market estimates that up to around $1 million can be cut without negatively affecting the market, that won’t be enough to save the project. That means that the city will have to find at least $4 million in funding to keep the project afloat. But Jim Shulkin says that even these cuts could bring negative impacts down the road.
“There are a few things that we want to have in the final construction budget that would make a former Fleet building, a garage, a much nicer space for the public to be using. A lot of it has to do with renovations, replacing windows, and putting in a solar heating system. It would be a place where we would save money because of the solar heating system and also would be the kind of place where people want to come and have special events,” Shulkin says.
Shulkin says that, while getting rid of some of these features would save money up front, it could affect the bottom line going forward. And Shulkin says that those responsibilities would ultimately fall on the Public Market Foundation, and not the city of Madison.
Shulkin says that he hopes that the city adds the needed funding in the next budget, and if the mayor doesn’t include the $5 million next week, the foundation intends to ask the finance committee to include it instead.
The city’s Finance Committee will discuss the budget shortfalls for the Madison Public Market on September 12.
Photo courtesy: Peter Wendt / UNSPLASH