Third Ward is ready to blossom
The location is selected, the sign is up, the design is drawn, a contractor has hammer in hand and retailers are clamoring to fill the stalls of the future Milwaukee Public Market.
Meanwhile, organizers of the Public Market are negotiating with a local corporation interested in purchasing the $3 million naming rights for the main section of project, which would be located in the northeast corner of the intersection of Water Street and St. Paul Avenue.
At the moment, there’s just one hang-up in the grand plan, but it’s a $2.5 million hang-up.
The Historic Third Ward Association, the sponsoring agency for the Milwaukee Public Market, is awaiting word on whether or not it will receive a $2.5 million grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) of the US Department of Commerce.
That grant is critical to the viability of the project, according to Einar Tangen, president of the Public Market and chairman of the Third Ward Business Improvement District.
The nonprofit Third Ward Association has made a proposal to the EDA for the federal funding.
The EDA staff is reviewing that proposal and soon plans to decide if they will recommend that the project merits a full application, according to C. Robert Sawyer, director of the EDA’s Chicago Region, which covers Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.
Sawyer expects a decision this fall on whether Milwaukee will receive the funds.
At the same time, Sawyer and the EDA are awaiting word from Congress about how much money they will have to dole out for projects throughout the region. The regional office funded 25 public works projects in fiscal 2003, he said.
"We’re hoping that it will at least maintain the status quo, but in this environment, that’s even hard to expect," Sawyer said.
Sawyer said the staff is "working" with the applicants from Milwaukee to make sure their proposal meets seven EDA public works grant guidelines (see accompanying chart).
"If the proposal passes muster, then we will work with them on an application," Sawyer said.
At a moment’s notice during a reporter’s phone call, Sawyer was keenly aware of the details of the Milwaukee project.
"One thing I can speak to is the local support and the quality of the people involved," Sawyer said. "It has extraordinarily strong local support, and the people involved are committed to doing this. It’s an impressive effort."
Tangen is optimistic the Public Market will secure the federal grant.
"We have been working with them (the EDA staff) for roughly three and a half years," Tangen said. "They have been very encouraging. We expect to have funds in hand by November or December this year, and that’s when we would have our groundbreaking".
The Third Ward Association has raised $5.5 million of the $10 million needed for the structure, including $1 million grants from the Richard and Ethel Herzfeld Foundation, the Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation and an anonymous donor.
The federal grant would set off a series of financial dominoes to ensure the viability of the project, Tangen said, including a $700,000 brownfield redevelopment grant from the state and a $3 million corporate naming sponsor for the market hall of the structure.
"Everything hinges on the EDA," Tangen said. "We have an ongoing discussion with a group in town that is very interested in naming rights as a community gift. A lot of those discussions hinge on getting the EDA grant. If that is in hand, we know this group is very much interested in having their name on a civic project of this nature."
Tangen said local retailers are "beating down the door" to let him know they want to set up shop in the Public Market.
"Everyone in town has called me," Tangen said. "We’ve had a tremendous response from retailers who would like to be in the market and a tremendous amount of response from people who are already locating near the market."
The Public Market will include a year-round market area, which will include 22 to 25 "stalls" that will house businesses such as a coffee shop, a bakery, a grocer, a flower shop and a cheese shop.
Tangen said he has declined to commit to any of the interested parties and instead will hire a marketing manager for the Public Market to negotiate contracts with the retailers.
The Public Market will benefit the community on several different levels, Tangen said, aside from its role as a destination point and a source of fresh produce for Milwaukee’s rebounding residential population.
The project will partner with the Howard Fuller Foundation to identify qualified minority vendors and launch a food literacy program. In addition, excess food generated by the market each day will be donated and delivered to the city’s food pantries, Tangen said.
The Public Market also will be a conduit between the Third Ward and downtown, he said.
"It will be a very important linkage," Tangen said. "It will work in tandem with the Riverwalk, which will be linked up to downtown this fall and will allow people to, without crossing a bridge, get down into the downtown and get down right into the market. The Public Market will be directly across the street from a park which is connected to the Riverwalk."
Aug. 22, 2003 Small Business Times, by Steve Jagler of SBT