Market Focuses on Details

Temporary Structure Is Almost Complete

Posted July 27, 2007 at 2:45pm

On Thursday afternoon, about a dozen Eastern Market merchants drank iced tea (and perhaps a little beer) at Tunnicliff’s Tavern and discussed the logistics of moving their businesses into a large, tent-like building that will be their home for the next two years.

Counters, shelves, phones, scales, meat and produce are all expected to fill the temporary structure — now known as East Hall — by Aug. 18, bringing back several Capitol Hill businesses that have been either dormant or low-profile since an April 30 fire gutted the historic Eastern Market.

Many of the businesses, such as Market Poultry, have been selling their products on Seventh Street Southeast out of refrigerated trucks. But by all accounts, business has been slow and the merchants who once occupied the market’s South Hall are eager to move into a building.

Much of what remains to be addressed for the move are the details. Who will lock the doors at night? When will health inspectors check off the new site? How will phones be installed? What equipment has the city paid for? Is music allowed?

But among those necessary details looms a big question: Who will manage it all?

Eastern Market Ventures has a lease with the city to manage Eastern Market, which strictly includes the South Hall and the North Hall on the west side of Seventh Street. Now the D.C. Office of Property Management and the EMV are discussing who will take over the management of the temporary building that lies on the east side of Seventh Street, across the street from the original market.

“You will have something in place,” OPM Senior Realty Specialist Aimee Occhetti assured the merchants at Tunnicliff’s. “If OPM has to come in and take over for a period of time, that’s what they’ll do.” [IMGCAP(1)]

The temporary market lies on the field of Hines Junior High School, separated by a large fence covered in blue plastic. Costing more than $1 million, it will be the South Hall merchants’ home for about two years and will include air conditioning, heat and bathrooms — more amenities than the original market had before the fire. Most businesses will sit in the same place they did in the market, hopefully prompting residents and visitors to pick up their grocery shopping where they left off following the fire.

But as the merchants eagerly await their move to the temporary building, city officials are working quickly to finish the designs for the original market. Since 1998 legislation requires the city to work with the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee, architects and residents are debating how it should all be done. They agree on most of the plans — which mainly call for recreating the market’s historic roots — but must compromise on others. The design should be finished in September and city officials then will seek a construction company to do the work, said Baird Smith, a Quinn Evans architect who is working on the designs for the city.

But who will oversee this process come Dec. 31, when EMV’s lease expires, is unclear. Currently, the EMCAC and the OPM seem to be handling the bulk of the plans, but EMCAC members envision a market manager who will take an active role in the process. Along with the OPM, they are working on a request for proposal that would open a bidding process for a manager who would oversee all of Eastern Market and take responsibility for some of the future market transitions.

But the OPM also is still in negotiations with the EMV about the possibility of extending the EMV’s lease; its current lease allows for the option of pursuing a five-year extension, but the OPM is negotiating to decrease that time, Occhetti said.

Meanwhile, the EMCAC is drafting a “wish list” of the qualities and responsibilities it wants a unified manager to fill, including experience with a multifaceted market and willingness to be involved in the renovation of Eastern Market. The OPM and the EMCAC hope to bring in a consultant, the nonprofit Project for Public Space, to help write the final specifications.

“We’re at a critical juncture for the market now,” EMCAC Chairwoman Donna Scheeder said, emphasizing that the wish list reflected a vision that has not been realized by the EMV. “We see that as a business plan, as an opportunity to transition from phase one to phase two of the market.”

However, the committee’s expectations seem unrealistic to some. Right now, the EMV subleases the North Hall to Market 5 Gallery, which hosts several artists in the space. Trying to balance the needs of the longtime food merchants of the South Hall with the very different needs of hundreds of outside vendors is daunting, said merchant Richard Glasgow, who co-owns Southern Maryland Seafood.

“I have a great deal of concern,” said Glasgow, whose family once managed the South Hall merchants before being kicked out by the city in 1998. “There are a number of qualifying requirements to do the job. I wonder whether such a person exists.”

But many applaud the city’s effort to get things done quickly. While Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) originally promised to build a temporary structure by July 4 — more than a month earlier than it will be completed — most merchants seemed happy with the fast schedule. And the meeting at Tunnicliff’s relieved some worries, said South Hall merchant Ray Bowers, who owns Bowers Fancy Dairy Products.

“I give it a seven,” Bowers said of the city’s planning for the temporary market. “I couldn’t give it a 10. A 10 is outstanding. There’s always problems.”