Madison Common Council rejects funding for State Street recovery, equity program

MADISON, Wis. — Alders on the Madison Common Council rejected money to help State Street businesses and start an equity program in the city at its meeting on Tuesday.

The Downtown Recovery Program would have made $250,000, taken from other capital projects in the city, available to businesses in the form of grants worth up to $25,000. The grants could then be used to repair damage to the outside of the business that happened during the “rioting” that followed peaceful protests after George Floyd’s death.

Alders amended the proposal to make the grants available to any business in Madison with property assessed under $750,000 that sustained damage after the protests, not just those downtown, but the idea was still rejected by a majority of alders, despite passing through the Finance Committee nearly unanimously, with just one down vote from Ald. Rebecca Kemble, District 18.

“Many people in our community are suffering right now, and the city is working in a myriad of ways to alleviate that suffering – to provide access to food, housing, transit, health care, child care and more,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway in a statement to News 3 Now on Wednesday. “We’re also working to support the people that work in and own local businesses, which provide jobs and build wealth in Madison. The proposals that the Council rejected last night would have added to those efforts.”

Members of the public who spoke at the meeting criticized alders for reallocating public funds to help private businesses.

Alders also rejected a program meant to prop up Black-owned businesses and other businesses owned by people of color in the city.

The Equity Program, also expanded to all businesses in the city and not just those downtown, would set aside $500,000 from leftover capital funds to help business owners build their ideas and underwrite pop-up retail opportunities.

Those selected for part of the program “would be provided with technical assistance and in some cases small cash grants to help prepare their business plans, line-up financing, prepare legal documents, purchase equipment, etc. At the end of the program, a handful of participants would receive a more substantial cash grant to move forward with opening,” according to the resolution text.

The man who presented the plan to Common Council acknowledged more work needed to be done to iron out specifics of the program, but he added Tuesday night would be the authorization to move forward.

Jason Ilstrup, the president of Downtown Madison, Inc., said he is still hopeful the city will continue with these efforts.

“If we don’t have a more diverse downtown we are absolutely not having the economic potential that we need to have for the city,” Ilstrup said. “And so it is in everyone’s interest, morally, economically to have a much more robust, inclusive and equitable downtown.”