Madison Public Market: Re-visioning our twenty-first century Food Economy

By Meghan Blake-Horst —A dream of an inclusive and equitable Madison is in the forefront of many Madisonians’ minds. We have seen the studies and see these disparities in our food pantries, our schools, on the streets, in our jails and in the job market. We are in a crisis, and it is imperative that we work collaboratively and think of innovate ways to retool our community for the real needs of our 21st century workforce needs.

Public Markets have historically highlighted the diverse makeup of their communities and helped provide jobs and livelihoods for many facing poverty, are under employed, or unemployed. It is estimated that the Madison Public Market will inject $22 million into our economy annually and create 265 permanent well-paying jobs and temporary construction jobs. According to the website Next City, “Markets lower the rungs of economic opportunity for huge classes of entrepreneurs who have been boxed out and priced out of traditional retail.”

With the pending closure of Oscar Mayer, a devastating loss of Madison’s most iconic company, the Public Market is about retooling and growing our unique food system assets to create new jobs and businesses. Our food system will always be part of Madison’s economy. The Public Market represents the next generation of Madison’s food industry and how we Reposition Madison’s food economy for the 21st century.


The idea of bringing a Public Market back to Madison has been around for over a decade. Over the last few years this idea has become a reality. The vision is to “create a multi-use market district featuring a mix of food retail, wholesale, and processing where we can celebrate the abundance of our region’s food system, support farmers and create businesses to build a stronger regional food economy and create platform for economic opportunity and a welcoming community destination for all of Madison.” Until now, the Madison Public Market has been nothing more than a vision.


Making reality of the vision


In 2012 the City of Madison took the initiative by hiring a consulting team from Project for Public Spaces out of New York City to create a business plan. This included research, analysis, and planning. Through this outreach, community and stakeholder conversations, as well as working in collaboration with city staff and the city’s Local Food Committee the next step in bringing the Madison Public Market to reality is complete.

The current business plan pulled this vision into tighter focus, assessed the financial viability and laid out next steps to bring the market to reality. The plan was shaped by extensive public input throughout the process from hundreds of prospective market vendors and over a thousand community members.

After adoption of the business plan by the Common Council in October of 2015, the next step was to create an implementation plan. This project was the first major city project to use the new equity tool created by the Madison Equity Team to address our community’s racial disparities.

It is important to note that this business plan is just focused on the Public Market building. The city’s long term vision is for the public market to foster a “market district” with related businesses co-located in the area. Moreover, the Public Market is part of a city economic development strategy focused on supporting the creation of jobs and businesses by building on Madison’s strong and growing food-based economic activity.

The Madison Public Market is one of the prime ways we can engage our community, address racial inequities and grow well-paying jobs in our community. Hundreds of vendors are interested in being permanent vendors in the Public Market, with even more vendors hoping to have a booth on a limited or pop-up basis.   

The implementation plan has been adopted by council and consists of five key areas of work. Please note that the time line is only an estimate at this time.

Governance and Operation Organization:  The City and Local Food Committee are currently working on the formation of a Public Market Operator (PMO), cultivating the founders and initial board of directors, fall of 2016.

Financial Plan and Fundraising: Consultants to be announced in June of 2016 with the planning to take place in July 2016-July 2017

Design: The RFP currently open for proposal applications with the scope of work to be completed in August –October 2016

MarketReady Program: The RFP to be released in summer of 2016, implementation of the two year program to begin in 2017-2018

Momentum Building (ongoing until the market opens — estimated timeline is in 2018 or 2019)

Proposed Budget: city capital $4.25 million; state/federal grant support $3 million; New Markets Tax Credit equity $3.25 million; private foundation support $2 million; local individual donors $500,000; total $14 million.


Community planning


Recently Friends of the Madison Public Market has been organized to help support the momentum built for the market. The Friends group recognizes that a first order of business is to organize volunteer committees that provide meaningful ways for all interested community members to participate in the planning, development and operation of the Market District. The mission of Friends is to support the creation of the Madison Public Market through vendor development, community engagement, fundraising and momentum building.

The vision of the Friends of the Madison Public Market District is to support a public market that reflects the energy and vibrancy of the cultures and economies represented in our community. Through guidance, supporting fundraising, volunteer coordination, vendor development and public awareness, the Friends will assure that the planned Madison Public Market District develops to its full potential and earns the patronage of the larger community and region.

Guiding principles are to: showcase the region’s bounty and creativity; support local and regional agricultural businesses; expand access to healthy food options; grow entrepreneurial opportunities for vendors producing and selling the food we eat, the beverages we drink and the products we use; highlight the talents, creativity and stories of the regional community, and to encourage and stimulate the creation of new businesses owned and operated by women, persons of color, the economically disadvantaged and others in need of a new career path.


There is much to be done before the doors open on the Madison Public Market, but momentum is moving the project along.  The next months and years will be exciting to watch this project build and we look forward to the day the ribbon is cut and we can enjoy the fruits of the labor of the countless people and agencies involved in making this vision come to life.


Resources and references


Dan Kennelly, Economic Development Specialist, City of Madison and Public Market Project Manager,, 608-267-1968

Meghan Blake-Horst, Co-Founder and Market Manager, MadCity Bazaar

City of Madison Public Market Site:

Madison Public Market Business Plan:

Madison Public Market Equity Analysis and Tool:

Friends of the Madison Public Market Facebook Page: