A proposal to relocate the Madison Area Technical College culinary program to the downtown area boasts benefits for both its students and the community, MATC officials said Tuesday.

According to Culinary Arts Program Director Paul Short, MATC is proposing an $8 million institute for the program that would move it to the college’s downtown campus. The institute would comprise a three-story facility that would house MATC’s culinary, baking, food service production and other hospitality programs.

Short said relocating the programs to the downtown area would bring culinary students closer to the heart of Madison’s restaurant scene and provide relationships vital to the success of the program.

“Being in the center of a very vibrant restaurant and hospitality community downtown, to be geographically in close proximity to the farmers’ market and other resources, to have those connections would just be a natural fit for the program, and I think it has the potential to become a pretty significant center for culinary trainings in the Midwest as well as Madison,” Short said.

He added Madison’s downtown community would also benefit from the program’s relocation, because it would provide a facility with the capacity and space to offer public culinary classes to interested citizens in the downtown neighborhood.

The program, currently housed at MATC’s Truax location on the east side, has faced space constraints for several years because of its popularity with students, Short said.

“There is a tremendous opportunity for community outreach in the form of these types of classes,” Short said. “I can’t tell you how many requests we’ve had over the years for community cooking classes, but we just don’t have the space to get it done.”

Short suggested providing classes in junction with Madison’s weekly farmers’ market as a way to facilitate increased community outreach.

He added the proposed downtown culinary facility would provide networking opportunities with area businesses for students, who would in turn provide businesses with innovative ideas.

“Working closely with businesses, from hotels to restaurants to catering services, can help our students find somewhere to go,” Short said. “[The businesses’] success is extremely important to us. When they have success, our students find success.”

MATC’s culinary program currently houses nearly 200 students, with upward of 100 students on the waiting list at any given time. MATC’s is the only culinary program provided in Madison, according to Short.

MATC Senior Vice President of Administration Roger Price said the institute would be built with money approved in a 2010 referendum.

He added the proposal has not been finalized and is still in its planning stages.

“We’re just getting pieces together and listening to people’s reactions before we do a formal presentation of the project,” Price said.

Price said the project will be debated at MATC’s District Board of Directors meeting Wednesday evening, and will potentially proceed on to city and state committees for final approval.

The project has a tentative schedule to be constructed by December 2013.