Public market debate
Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz characterized Madison's Central Business Improvement District (BID) as lacking the strength to fund his vision of a downtown public market ("Why Madison Needs a Year-Round Public Market," 6/29/2012). In fact, the BID board carefully considered the public market proposal and was excited by the concept.
Our board also evaluated feasibility. We noted, as did city staff, that most public markets have closed or are struggling. Those that are vibrant are either much smaller, require substantial public subsidy (as in Milwaukee), have converted to food courts and/or are in major cities with much larger customer bases. The Madison public market was proposed for high-cost, new downtown development, likely requiring public subsidy to construct plus public subsidy to operate for at least three years, with rental rates too high for most start-up businesses to afford. Our board concluded that was not a viable model.
Madison's Central BID business and property owners invest more than $350,000 per year in the health and vitality of the downtown. The BID fulfills its mission through programs such as the Downtown Map & Guide, ambassadors in the Visitor Center, and cooperative marketing, which support hundreds of shops and restaurants, most locally owned, and touch hundreds of thousands of downtown visitors and Madison residents each year.
Mary Carbine, Executive director, Madison's Central Business Improvement District
I couldn't agree more with Dave Cieslewicz's suggestion regarding a public market. While we're at it, why not combine the market with a public transit center? Some years ago, I spent time in San Jose, Costa Rica, where the public market adjoined the bus station. It was very convenient to arrive in town on the bus, pick up some food or a snack at the market, and then board the local bus for your destination. A public market/transit center might also be a convenient location to transfer between local buses.
I was dismayed that Dave Cieslewicz would refer to the farmers' market as "expensive." Please, Mr. Cieslewicz, don't reinforce this ignorance about the politics of food and food production. The money we spend at the farmers' markets is the best investment we can make in our physical health, the health of our environment and our local economy.
Why not explore the concept of a public market truly funded by and owned by the public? One excellent model for this would be a cooperative. It could be a cooperative with a producer, consumer and worker class. The capital structure could come from equity, membership/ownership, preferred shares (non-ownership investment) and member loans.
Look to Willy Street Co-op for a model of raising significant capital from members in a short period of time. Look to Organic Valley for a great model of raising significant capital through preferred shares. Many in this community would welcome the opportunity to invest in a business that is all about community in its customers, vendors and lenders.
Serious preparation would look at comparable-sized metropolitan areas approximately as far from larger metro centers as we are. Do not compare us with large metro centers that are also the tourist destinations that we cannot be.
I have a vague memory that the estimated cost for the last proposed public market - including a parking facility - was $60 million. The purpose, site and required taxpayer funding for the market are not just stumbling blocks in the "race for coolness." They determine what we want in a market and what we are willing to pay for it.
Path of least resistance
In the few short paragraphs given to the plight of biking on the north side of Madison, Tony Fernandez is passing the buck ("Oscar Mayer Puts the Brakes on Bike-Path Access," Madison.gov, 6/22/2012). He puts the blame for lack of any bike network on this side of town on Union Pacific railroad and Oscar Mayer.
However, if Mr. Fernandez and others within city government truly cared about giving those of us on the north side safe and convenient access to the rest of the city, all they would have to do is paint a few lines. Instead of waiting around indefinitely for huge organizations to get on board with our little city, Fernandez and his colleagues could enact a simple plan to repaint North Sherman to three lanes for automobile traffic - a northbound, a southbound, and a left-hand-turn lane - and accompanying bike lanes. This configuration would continue to handle the daily average traffic that North Sherman carries while encouraging drivers to obey the speed limit. It would make left-hand turns into any of the many local businesses much safer. It would provide a calmer street for pedestrians. And it would give bikers a safe lane for travel.
Phil Busse's article about a city-sponsored pilot program that collects organic wastes and trucks it away for composting ("Honey, Can You Take Out the Compost?" 6/29/12) struck a chord. The Sun Prairie Educational Foundation awarded my Go Global Club at Patrick Marsh Middle School a grant to purchase 6,000 red wiggler worms and three multi-tray worm bins for vermicomposting, the process of using worms and microorganisms to turn food waste into nutrient-rich humus.
Students learned how to set up and maintain vermicomposting bins. They have found worm composting to be fun and educational, as well as an environmentally sound practice.
Our ultimate goal is to expand the project and eliminate the need for any school-generated organic waste to be hauled away to landfill sites through a combination of vermicomposting and traditional composting on our school grounds.
Sandra Kowalczyk, Patrick Marsh Middle School, Sun Prairie