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Public market money should stay private

By Chris Thompson

Somebody at some point decided Madison’s public market project gets to play by a different set of development rules.

If a shovel ever successfully hits the dirt to turn the proposal into a building, the finished product will be a private operation. Yet the city is funneling a lot of public money toward planning the project.

Madison has kicked in $160,000 since 2008 so the project team of Common Wealth Development Inc., Blue Planet Partners LLC and NorthStar Economics Inc. can scout potential sites and determine the viability of a public market downtown. They found a candidate with the Government East property, and city planners now want to give the project team $100,000 more to plan the project.

Alderman Michael Schumacher called it a sales job and wondered if the city somehow has taken on the task of keeping the nonprofit Common Wealth afloat. It’s hard to argue with his skepticism.

Generally, it’s the developer that pays for project planning. It’s the developer that pays for project designs and property selection. And it’s the developer that pays to assemble a proposal and pitch a project to the city.

The roles are reversed for Common Wealth’s team. Mark Olinger, director of Madison’s Department of Planning & Community & Economic Development, said the city never put out a request for public market proposals and maintained its relationship with Common Wealth because the developer essentially volunteered for the project.

That doesn’t justify spending more than a quarter of a million dollars of public money on what should be a private project.

Chris Thompson is the editor of The Daily Reporter. If the public market ever gets built, he’ll spend his private money there.

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