Madison mayor reprioritizes city budget, leaves Public Market project up in the air

Published: Aug. 8, 2020 at 6:48 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As the City of Madison faces major strains on its budget, mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she is re-prioritizing, putting plans for the Madison Public Market up in the air.

“I love the idea of the Public Market, but I think that in terms of being a responsible executive, that it can’t be very high on the priority list,” the mayor said. “It would be a lovely thing to have, but it’s a want not a need.”

Mayor Rhodes-Conway explained that she told members of the Madison Public Market Foundation, which would oversee the market’s operations, that the city needs to pull back on staff time spent on the project and “may need to reconsider the budget and how the funding was running.”

She continued, the move was due to the coronavirus and its rippling effects. The city’s operating budget next year faces a $20-25 million gap.

Though not a “full stop,” according to the mayor, Laura Heisler, a foundation member, told NBC15 that the groundbreaking set for this fall has been postponed, without a new date.

According to the foundation, the project is nearly 20 years in the making. Its future location on 200 N. First Street would provide a permanent space for up to 45 vendors and even more opportunities for pop-up businesses.

“It was just so close,” Heisler said. “It’s incredibly frustrating, and yet we think more than ever the market has a role to play in the [economic] recovery. That’s what we’re really excited about. We certainly recognize the city has challenges. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to identify additional sources of funding.”

Carmell Jackson, owner of catering company Melly Mell’s, said she spent the last two years developing recipes and creating a new business plan—preparing to be a vendor at the market.

“I feel that we have been-- as minorities, small businesses, everything-- we’re always in the back,” she said.

Through its MarketReady program, the foundation said it is “prioritizing service to populations facing historic barriers to entrepreneurship including: women, people of color, immigrants, low income populations, veterans, displaced workers, and LGBTQ individuals.”

Now playing the waiting game, Jackson said the mayor’s update felt “almost like a slap in the face.”

“I don’t know what the city’s going to do with the money, if they do,” she said. “So many disappointing things, ‘we’re going to put the money here, were going to put the money here.’ And then when it happens, it doesn’t go there. I don’t have any trust. I don’t have any trust in what she says at all. It seems like she’s back-stepping.”

With the public market not “very high” on her list of priorities, Mayor Rhodes-Conway explained that public health is at the very top right now.

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