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Milwaukee Public Market story could be lesson for Green Bay

by Jeff Flynt

Those opposed to a Walmart in Green Bay's Broadway District often wish for something local and organic.  

In an interview with Mike, Matt and the Morning News, Eric Gabrielson of the group "B Local" specifically mentions the Milwaukee Public Market as a venture he could support in the space where Walmart plans to build a large store.

It's nice to think about, but what would it really take to build a "Green Bay Public Market"?

I decided to ask Chair of the Milwaukee Business Improvement District #2 Ron San Felippo.

"It was essentially an 8-year process to build the building," says San Felippo. "Our city, county, state and federal governments were all supportive."

San Felippo told me in the end, their market was about a $10 million project, half of which came from private donations. There was also a major federal EDA grant, a state Brownsfields grant.

"In fact, Governor Walker when he was County Executive was supportive. Some of the land our parking area is on belonged to the county. It's now part of a lease with the state DOT."


What is the Milwaukee Public Market?

It's a two-story building in downtown Milwaukee's historic Third Ward neighborhood. 

According to its website, the approximately 13,500 square foot vendor space features unique, high quality selections of artisan and ethnic products, and freshly-made prepared foods from independent merchants.

The Market’s second floor has a Palm Garden where patrons can eat, along with the ability to showcase cooking classes in The Madame Kuony Demonstration Kitchen.

"It never was intended to be a normal grocery store, or be in competition with Walmarts or anything like that," says San Felippo. "It was always intended to be a number of small, locally-owned specialty vendors. Each have their own business, they lease their areas, but the market as a whole supports them with marketing and additional support services that you wouldn't get from a private landlord."

As for downtown Green Bay, San Felippo says based upon hearing the current issue of Walmart vs. local mom-and-pop businesses, that shouldn't be an either-or situation.

"You're talking about apples and steel dumbbells," says San Felippo. "They're two totally different animals. Our concept of a public market isn't going to compete with, nor provide, 95 percent of the things that's in a Walmart."


There is a future for a public market for Green Bay; at least that's the belief of Ron San Felippo.

"Particularly in this state where we have so many really high-quality, independent, mom-and-pop specialty producers," says San Felippo. "Green Bay has enough mass of potential users; it's a major area of the state."

He says the key is deciding on the size. Something closer to the size of the floor space inside Milwaukee's Public Market would be preferable.

While the idea could work, it's important to have all hands on deck from donors, non-profit organizations and city leaders, along with state and federal lawmakers.

"You start with people that say hey I want to do, then you move on to people who'll say yeah I'm willing to put in the time to do it," says San Felippo.


Another statistic to keep in mind is the fact that San Felippo says 70 percent of the folks who shop at the Milwaukee Public Market Monday through Friday come from within a one-mile radius of the building. That includes people who live, work and play right in the neighborhood.

But on the weekends, 70 percent of the customers to the Milwaukee Public Market come from the suburbs and other areas in town for a visit. 

"You guys get a zillion people in there every year for the Packer games, and I assume there are one or two supporters who come from outside Wisconsin," says San Felippo. "There's another element to potential customers to think about."

Bottom line is that if the Broadway District is serious about building a public market similar to Milwaukee's, it's going to take more than just wishing to make it happen.