Another East Sider for a South-Side Public Market

It’s probably too late to say it, but let’s spread the prosperity around a bit more.

It’s probably too late to say it, but let’s spread the prosperity around a bit more.

A map of the current proposed East Side Public Market site.


A map of the current proposed East Side Public Market site.

As a resident of Madison’s East Side, a person who feels more at home on the East Side than I’ve ever felt anywhere else, and a first-time homeowner on the East Side, I am zealous about where the Madison Public Market should go.

South Park Street.

It’s all but certain that the city will put the Public Market near the intersection of East Washington Avenue and First Street. I find that frustrating and short-sighted. I realize that it’s probably too late to change things now (and I realize that frequently embarrassing Wisconsin State Journal columnist and guy-who-somehow-survived-last-week’s-layoffs Chris Rickert has already made a similar argument, which makes me vaguely uncomfortable), but if nothing else this needs to be a lesson in the assumptions and imperatives that Madison brings to public projects like this in the future.

An East Side Public Market would be an investment in a part of town that already enjoys disproportionate access to great food, great small retailers, and great public spaces. My part of town has literally an embarrassment of riches. We should be making that investment in other areas of Madison, to build on what those areas have to offer and perhaps even spread around the quality of life that we east-siders so enjoy.

Other planned developments already are slated to bring two new grocery stores—a Festival Foods store on the 800 block of East Wash, a Fresh Thyme store at East Wash and Milwaukee Street—and a diverse food-production center to the east side. That’s in addition to the Willy Street Co-op and several other full-service grocery options within a short drive (HyVee, Woodman’s, Metro Market). On the South Side, the city is trying to incentivize a new grocery store, in addition to the Copps on South Park Street and some small family groceries, but even if that store is built, there will still be a clear disparity. Is this not glaring?

My fellow east-siders and Mayor Paul Soglin should have gotten behind this, vocally and adamantly, if they want to show they’re serious about making Madison more than just a great place for affluent white people. I agree with those who’ve said we shouldn’t reduce the whole issue to another “screw the poor” move on the city’s part. Yet I still think that putting it on the East Side contributes to an imbalance in how we serve different areas of the city.

I realize there are reasonable, fact-based economic arguments for putting the market on the East Side. Dan Kennelly, an economic development specialist with the city, has pointed out that an East Side location might actually serve more low-income people in terms of pure numbers, even though median income near the South Park Street location is lower. This is a fair argument, but again, it doesn’t take into account other grocery and retail options that East Siders already do have and will have in the future, nor does it take into account how rapid development on the East Side will impact the ability of low-income residents to live in that area at all. And in any case, this doesn’t outweigh the need to spread the benefits around when we make a public investment in something like the Public Market.

Studies have also shown that the East Side site has higher sales potential than the South Side site. Again, this is a valid concern, but I’d argue that we have to consider the long-term and less readily measurable benefits of a different location—on balance, might that make slightly lower sales numbers worth it? Might it help bring greater economic strength to the South Side, making our city more balanced as a whole, improving quality of life for people who already live and run businesses on the South Side, and making it more attractive to potential new residents and business operators?

It’s also been implied that vendors who support an East Side site would balk at a South Side site. I’m not entirely convinced. Any way you cut it, this is a multimillion dollar investment on the city’s part, it will attract a great deal of attention and interest, and there will be businesses wanting to follow that opportunity. And even without that, there are plenty of businesses, non profits and other organizations who’ve seen potential on the South Side, from Barriques to the Mason Lounge to the UW Space Place—and, most importantly, the glorious risen-from-the-ashes Taqueria Guadalajara.

We know that an East Side Public Market would be a success, and we know how that neighborhood would turn out in support of it. That’s great. But I would be curious, and optimistic, about how the market could shape the South Side, and how the South Side would shape it.

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