Dane Co. to chip in a million dollars more for Madison Public Market

On Thursday, the Dane Co. Board of Supervisors approved upping its $1.5 million contribution for the project.
Published: Oct. 20, 2023 at 10:25 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Madison Public Market project is getting a million dollars more in funding from the county.

On Thursday, the Dane Co. Board of Supervisors approved upping its $1.5 million contribution for the project. The county now plans to spend $2.5 million to help get the market off the ground.

Earlier in the week, the Madison City Council also voted to divert more money to the project. The moves come after the bids to building the market were much higher than expected, threatening to derail the effort altogether.

The city expected to spend $12.5 million on construction for the market, and the lowest bid it got was more than 20% higher than that, city Engineering Division spokesperson Hannah Mohelnitzky explained in a statement released Monday night. Administrators hoped that they could find enough ways to cut costs that a bid of $13.67 million could be manageable by eliminating hoped-for items like new windows, doors for the South Hall, and solar panels, along with some fixtures and furniture.

In the end, the lowest bid was $15.2 million, Mohelnitzky revealed, pointing out that number does not even include a required eight percent contingency allowance for cost overruns. With that added amount, the total price tag would swell to over $16.4 million.

The city’s budgeted figures do not include the bonus eight percent contingency number. Adding those to the original numbers means city leaders planned to spend less than approximately $13.5 million for construction and were only prepared to spend up to $14.76 million, or $1.64 million less than the lowest bid.

If city leaders were to go with the current lowest bid, the Board of Public Works and Common Council would need to give the go-ahead, and they have just over a month to do so, Mohelnitzky continued. Before that Oct. 24 deadline, though, they must find the money.

If that deadline passes, the statement warns, so might this opportunity to build a public market.

The open house will feature 20+ local vendors, including exciting newer businesses and a few...
The open house will feature 20+ local vendors, including exciting newer businesses and a few of Madison’s long-time favorites. Showcased above is a rendering of MPM set to open in 2025.(City of Madison Engineering Division)

The one explicit option laid out by the Planning Division in its news release is ending the project altogether. While it implied council members and the board may still be able to salvage a plan without accepting the current low bid, it does not list them.

The seven-figure gap is not something city planners expect administrators to find in the couch cushions either. Mohelnitzky spelled out a few choices to raise the funds but cautioned that one of them is already off-the-table. There is not enough time for tax increment district dollars to be used to make up the difference, she explained.

According to the Planning Division, the two other potential choices it sees are going to the city’s TIF (tax increment financing) Joint Review Board and seeing if it would approve retroactively using that money. Otherwise, Madison’s leaders would most likely be left with using city debt to pay to build the public market.

The rising cost for the market is already causing some concerns on the Common Council. Back in November, alders approved $4.5 million in extra funding for the project, but some of them argued the money would be better spent on public housing. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway contended at the time that she did not see it as an either/or option.

Madison city officials say a project to bring a public market to the Wisconsin capital moving forward.

“We are going to continue to invest in affordable housing,” she said. “My administration has already doubled the amount of money that goes toward housing.”

District 3 Alder Erik Paulson voted against including the Madison Public Market in the 2023 budget, but said he wasn’t disappointed in being outnumbered.

“What if the event space doesn’t make it? What if this turns out not to be the place where people want to go and there are other competing ones,” Paulson said. “There are a lot of things that could go wrong.”

Paulson said public market vendors may not make enough money to keep their businesses going. He also expressed concerns the project could cost more money than anticipated, a worry that may have been borne out Monday night with the Planning Division’s statement on construction bidding.

In all, the city leaders expected the public market to run approximately $20 million, with that money coming from multiple sources, Madison Economic Development Director Matt Mikolajewski estimated at the time the budget was being approved.

If city administrators agreed on a way to close the gap to the $15.2 million total, they would need to move quickly to meet their deadline, according to a timeline described by the Planning Division.

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