Mayor Paul Soglin is enthusiastically supporting plans for a public market in Madison, although, unlike his predecessor, he does not think it is feasible to locate the market downtown.
Soglin spoke Tuesday evening to the Madison Local Food Committee, which has been charged with, among other things, looking at possibilities for a public market. Public markets are similar to farmer's markets, except they are enclosed and operate daily.
Soglin's predecessor, Dave Cieslewicz, champions a public market, but argues it needs to be downtown in order to succeed. Cieslewicz had proposed the old Government East parking garage at Pinckney and Doty Streets as the location. But Soglin put the brakes on that when he took office last year.
In recent weeks, Soglin has visited eight public markets around the country. He waxed nostalgic about them at the meeting, praising their potential to both spur economic development and provide healthy food to the poor.
One market that struck him the most is located in York, Pennsylvania. York has two public markets, one is located downtown in an old building. But Soglin was taken with the New Eastern Market, which is located on the east side of the city in "one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen."
"Then I went inside and was absolutely amazed," Soglin says. He praised the diversity of the market and its offerings.
While Soglin praised Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market as perhaps the "perfect" market, he said Madison doesn't have a "grand old existing or refurbishable site" as many other cities do. And locating a market outside of downtown could provide cheaper rents and simpler access.
Cieslewicz has argued that a public market needs to be located downtown, to capitalize on patronage by both tourists and office workers, who could go there for lunch and stop by after work.
While agreeing a downtown market would be great, Soglin is skeptical that office workers would support it. "The average office worker on a cold winter's day, they'll call a State Street restaurant and get delivery."
But Soglin does see great potential in using a public market to spur development in one of the city's poor neighborhoods. He told the committee his staff is looking for possible sites on South Park Street, Sherman Avenue, and near the proposed Central Park on the near east side.
"We're hoping in part this will inspire someone to go into one of those abandoned buildings in Meadowood and put in a sit down restaurant," he told the committee.
A public market also has the potential to be a community space, spurring economic development and teaching people "how to eat."
He also told the committee, "I see absolutely no reason there can't be more than one public market in the city."
Soglin said after the meeting that he wasn't able to tackle the proposal for a public market in his first year in office. "It's something that I wanted to get to, and really couldn't until this year."