Madison College plans $8 million culinary institute at Downtown campus

April 11, 2012

From “MATC plans $8 million culinary institute at Downtown campus” — Madison Area Technical College officials want to move the school’s culinary and baking institute to a highly visible location Downtown in an effort to give the program one of the best tables in the house.

College officials are expected to ask the district board for approval Wednesday to build a three-story facility at the Downtown campus for culinary, baking and hospitality programs at a cost of $8 million, using money approved in a 2010 building referendum.

The building will contain a retail bakery, a dining room and a demonstration kitchen, all of which will be prominently displayed in a glass building on the corner of West Johnson Street and Wisconsin Avenue. The programs are currently located at the East Side Truax campus.

It will mean students and faculty will be in the epicenter of the city’s restaurants and hotels, as well as Madison’s premier farmers’ market, said Paul Short, program director for the culinary arts program.

“The opportunity for us is tremendous,” he said.

The facility was not specifically identified in the referendum question posed to voters, but Roger Price, senior vice president for administration, said the question was flexible enough to allow for the construction. The referendum calls for up to $133.8 million in spending on projects included in the Campus Master Plan. He said the culinary school project is possible because construction costs for other projects, such as a new health building, are lower than expected.

Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said the building likely meets the letter of the law, but college officials may want to consider whether it’s wise from a public relations perspective because the project wasn’t cited when the college pitched the referendum to voters.

“The bigger question for any district that is trying to proceed with a positive referendum result is to ask, not whether they can do it legally, but rather whether it furthers the trust relationship between the district and the community,” Berry said.

In addition to approval from the MATC District Board, the plans will also need to be approved by the Wisconsin Technical College System board.

The culinary program was located Downtown before the Truax campus was built in the 1980s.

The new facility will be approximately 30,000 square feet and will not be attached to the existing building at the Downtown campus, 211 N. Carroll St. It will take the place of about 37 of 77 parking spots and some green space on the northern corner of the lot.

The culinary, baking and hospitality programs have about 200 students and have a perennial waiting list. It’s the only culinary program in Madison and growing, Short said. The new facility will mean the program may be able to take more students and operate in a less cramped space, he said.

Students currently serve a four-course lunch three times a week at Truax for the public, and Short anticipates the Downtown location may have expanded hours. Eugene Devitt, chairman of the Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association, said he recalls that the MATC dining room was popular in the 1970s when it was located Downtown.

“I think this is going to be great for Downtown and also the community,” he said. “You’ll be able to see people cook when you’re walking by on the sidewalk. It’s a very unique plan.”


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