Statement on the Madison Public Market Proposal

Monday, September 22, 2008 - 3:34am

Alder Tim Gruber, District 11

The Madison Public Market is a great idea that I strongly support. I am adamantly opposed to the proposed location on East Washington Avenue at the Brayton Lot, and suggest an alternative location on South Pinckney Street where the Government East parking ramp is, between Doty and Wilson Streets. I support all of the goals and recommendations in the Madison Public Market report to the Common Council, with the exception of the recommended site.

When in Seattle a few years ago, we visited the Pike Place Market. It was a really fun place, a place that was clearly a draw to tourists. As presented in the study, the Madison Public Market will be a vibrant mix of year round farmer's market stalls, shops, and restaurants serving locally grown food. I would add to this the idea that Mayor Dave brought back from Obihiro, Japan, for a restaurant incubator. The Obihiro Idea is to have small start up restaurants, one step up from a food cart, that can get a restaurant operation going so that they can eventually move up and out to a full scale restaurant. This idea could be expanded to include shops and art galleries. The idea of small restaurants and shops at the sidewalk is very exciting in that it would create a vibrant street for pedestrians. The Market will be a great draw for tourists coming to Madison and a great amenity for the residents of downtown and the entire city.

Building the Madison Public Market on East Washington Avenue at the Brayton Lot will be a colossal mistake similar to the mistake made 100 years ago when the city opened a market at Blount and East Mifflin Streets. Building the market away from the Capital Square, and away from where the commercial activity was at that time, led to the market floundering and eventually closing. (Reference from "Madison, the Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Volume 1" by Stuart Levitan, page 189)

The GEF 1 State Office Building is like a wall, a barrier to pedestrian activity that would be between the Capital Square and the proposed Public Market location on East Washington Avenue at the Brayton Lot. The GEF 1 building creates a "dead zone" where there is no activity for pedestrians. The GEF 1 building presents blank walls to pedestrians on all four sides. Walking down either East Washington St or East Main St from the Capital Square, those blank walls are what you will see. It would be like building the market and then putting up large signs that say, "Go away. You are not welcome here!" The ideas that lead me to reject a site for the market in the shadow of the GEF 1 building are not my own, but come from planning ideas including New Urbanism and the ideas of Jane Jacobs in her book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities."

Don't get me wrong: I really value the presence of the State of Wisconsin and the jobs located in the GEF buildings. I don't even mind the architecture of the GEF 1 building, which is in a style known as "brutalism." One of the features of this style is its honesty. But we should also be honest about its failings. Having blank walls along the sidewalk stifles pedestrian activity.

I do support a mixed-use project for the Brayton Lot site, with retail on the ground floor, a parking ramp, and offices and/or apartments above. Certainly there can be a better land use than a surface parking lot at this location. Selling the portion of the Brayton lot not used for a parking ramp, the exterior of the block, will move property back into our tax base. Perhaps this could be a good location for the new Central Library.

The S. Pinckney Street location, at the site of Government East Ramp, is a much better location for the Madison Public Market for many reasons. It is more centrally located, two blocks from the Capital Square as opposed to three blocks for the Brayton site. It will be located near the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center and the Hilton Hotel. It will be located near a new hotel proposed for that location. It will be near a train station for commuter rail as proposed in the Transport 2020 plan and for intercity rail. The market will be a big draw for city residents, downtown workers, and visitors. The market will help create a vibrant pedestrian street on S. Pinckney Street. The market will work well in conjunction with the Saturday Farmer's Market on the Square and the Wednesday Farmer's Market on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Wide sidewalks should be part of plans, so that farmers can set up stalls on S. Pinckney Street on Wednesdays and Saturdays during warm months. The market will help restaurants and shops on King St, Mifflin St, Pinckney Street, Doty St, and Wilson St. The market at the S. Pinckney Street site will be part of a great mixed-use project that will include a new hotel to serve the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center and a new parking structure.

Ideally, the Market would be located on State Street, where it would get the most foot traffic. However, there is not a suitable location on State Street. I suggest that we "create State Street" on S. Pinckney Street, in other words create a vibrant, pedestrian oriented street, with small shops and restaurants close to a wide sidewalk.

In order for the market to succeed, it will have to attract customers that are city residents (downtown and city wide), downtown workers, and visitors (tourists and visitors to the convention center). The S. Pinckney Street location will be ideal for attracting all these customers. Imagine how convenient this central location will be for people who live downtown to walk to, for people leaving work and walking to the train station, for visitors staying at one of the nearby hotels, for visitors arriving by train, for people riding the bus, for people driving a car, and for people on bikes. We need to set up the Madison Public Market for success.

If the Madison Public Market is a success, it will lead to economic development and vitality in the City of Madison. If it is a failure, it will be a waste of taxpayer money. We only have one chance (every 100 years) to get this right. It is very important that we do get it right and ensure the success of the market.

My proposal is:
1. Sell the balance of Brayton lot on East Washington Avenue that is not needed for a parking ramp, to a private developer for a mixed-use project that could include public parking, through a Request For Proposals (RFP).
2. Sell the land behind the Madison Municipal Building for a new hotel to serve Monona Terrace, with ground floor retail.
3. Use the proceeds from the land sales to demolish the Government East parking ramp on S. Pinckney Street and construct the market, parking, ground floor retail, and other mixed uses.


  • Ald. Tim Gruber, District 11663-5264