Evansville Living was founded on a question: Why not Evansville? We think it’s a question that can be asked of many ideas we collect from experiences and observations.
Question: Could Evansville develop a Downtown public market, similar to the Milwaukee Public Market in Wisconsin?
Sometimes described as Milwaukee’s version of Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market, the Milwaukee Public Market, established in October 2005, is a glass-filled, two-story indoor market brimming with wine, flowers, cheese, sausages, fresh produce, coffee, olive oils, beer, chocolates, spices, and gourmet take-out or eat-in food.
Just blocks from the downtown business district, the Milwaukee Public Market is the anchor of the city’s Historic Third Ward, a neighborhood of warehouses that now is home to boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and bars. Eighteen vendors populate the market that, according to Paul Schwartz, the market’s operation and communication manager, will produce revenues of $10 million this year.
“The market is responsible for bringing 500 jobs into the Third Ward,” he says, “making it an economic and destination success.”
Schwartz often hears from developers who want a similar public market in their downtowns. The advice he gives: “Maintain a sense of humor and common sense. It is the reality of running this place; it’s what makes the market interesting and fresh. We’re very careful about not taking ourselves too seriously. We want people to come in and have fun and come back. It’s the quirkiness we want.”
Why not Evansville?
Scott Anderson owned, developed, and operated the Evansville Municipal Market from 1999 to 2004, located at the northwest corner of the Lloyd Expressway and First Avenue, where the marketing firm Fire & Rain today is located. The site was the location of the city’s first Municipal Market, opened in 1916, where it served the city for decades.
“It was an ambitious project to try to create a profitable market operation in Evansville along the lines of the Seattle Pike Place Market, St. Louis Soulard Market, or the Milwaukee Public Market,” says Anderson, a computer science instructor at the University of Southern Indiana. “Historically, public markets were subsidized with public monies.”
Anderson points to the business model of the Milwaukee Public Market: To create a large private city market, it must include yearlong revenue-producing operations, like space rentals, table fees, other retail (Milwaukee’s Public Market also sells Milwaukee-branded apparel), and restaurant and bar operations. Local produce sales alone are seasonal and cannot produce yearlong revenue streams. “A successful market,” Anderson adds, “would need to operate more than just one day a week. Soulard (in St. Louis) seems to be successful operating from Wednesday through Saturday.”
“I believe Evansville can and will support another public market,” Anderson says. “The farmer’s market operating Downtown during the summer appears to have a large following of customers seeking a variety of products (fresh local produce, wholesale produce, manufactured or processed food products, desserts, crafts, etc).”
Anderson suggests a project, like the Milwaukee Public Market, may require investment from a combination of stakeholders. Customers should be educated, he says, that local produce would be available only during growing seasons, but wholesale produce could be available all year, in addition to all the market would offer.
We believe Evansville could support a Downtown municipal public market, similar to the Milwaukee Public Market. Officials at Indiana Landmarks, owner of Evansville’s Downtown Greyhound Terminal, say that a city market and restaurant would be an ideal tenant for the old bus station, which the organization is readying for rehabilitation.
“Becoming a destination is key,” Schwarz says. “It makes it exciting and adds traffic and appeal to the city as a whole.”
Scott Anderson and his wife, René, have renovated numerous historic properties throughout Evansville, including the Vanderburgh County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence, Eagle’s Home Building, Old Post Office & Customs House, General Cigar Building (home of Tucker Publishing Group offices), Curtis Building (now known as Landmark Building), Salem Kirche, and Boehne Camp Hospital Administration Building, which Anderson has converted into apartments.
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