Market 5 Gallery Lawsuit Settled

Posted July 8, 2003 at 1:49pm

Controversy surrounding Eastern Market’s North Hall may finally be in the past.

Last week the District of Columbia Office of Property Management announced that Market 5, the art gallery occupying the North Hall, will become an official rent-paying tenant to the city as early as August, ending several years of lawsuits with John Harrod, the executive director of Market 5 Gallery Inc. The tentative agreement also will unify the market under singular management, as mandated by a 1998 city law.

In exchange for the gallery paying increased rent to the District, Market 5 Gallery will be able to keep fees that individual vendors pay to the nonprofit gallery.

The increased rent is significant, but it is within the gallery’s means, said Donald Temple, the gallery’s lawyer.

“It is a situation that is OK,” he said.

Although the precise terms of the negotiation will not be released until the agreement is finalized, both parties are hoping the agreement will quicken the arrival of improvements to the North Hall, which houses a multicultural center for visual and performing arts.

Aimee Occhetti, a special assistant of the Office of Property Management, said she believes the settlement will be a success, noting that there were concessions on both sides.

The agreement puts an end to several years of lawsuits resulting from a 1998 law passed by the D.C. City Council to consolidate the market’s management under a single nonprofit entity.

Throughout the legal battles, Temple has charged that the District gave too much power to the Eastern Market Citizen’s Advisory Committee, which he says ignores the accomplishments of the gallery’s current leadership.

Ellen Opper-Weiner, chairwoman of the committee, said everyone could have helped in the planning, but Harrod chose to sue instead of working with the group.

“There’s been this epithet that everything’s going to change, it will be yuppified; but that’s not going to happen,” she said.

Market 5 Gallery has operated in the North Hall since 1973, when the city allowed Harrod to convert what had been a storage facility into the arts center.

There have never been any renovations to the city-owned building, which lacks restrooms, heating and air conditioning, Temple said.

Proponents of the law said it would be easier to make improvements under unified management, but market leaders have felt that they were unfairly being pushed out of the process.

“We are pleased that there is a resolution, but not pleased that the statute is still in place,” said Temple. “But, the Market 5 Gallery did not have the resources to keep up the fight.”