Market Seeks Manager

Posted July 18, 2008 at 3:55pm

Despite months of complaints from Eastern Market merchants, the D.C. Office of Property Management has missed a self-imposed deadline for seeking a new management team for the market.

“We expect to issue the [request for proposal] early next month,” OPM spokesman Bill Rice said. “We wanted to make sure it was fully reviewed by the community and it was written so it attracts as many qualified bidders as possible.”

Because of the delay, Eastern Market Ventures, the market’s longtime and long-criticized manager, recently had its contract extended through December, despite an OPM-commissioned report earlier this

year that stated new management should be in place by July 1. This is not the first time the management has had its contract extended — to the merchants’ dismay.

“The current management company is not really helpful and not really very sensitive, and they get paid a hell of a lot of money to do it,” said Larry Gallo, who represents outdoor vendors on the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee. “Money that could be used for other things like advertising and outreach.”

OPM commissioned the Project for Public Spaces, a New York-based firm, to conduct surveys to determine what type of management would be best for the market. The final report said if OPM could not find a new manager by July 1, it should take on the management responsibilities for an interim period. The RFP process was delayed, and OPM chose to extend Eastern Market Ventures’ contract for another six months — a move that angered some merchants.

“I’m incredibly pissed off, incredibly disappointed,” Gallo said. “Personally, I thought that having new market management that was committed and knowledgeable by July 1 would give us an excellent structure to try to get through the rest of the year. Now we’re stuck with the same old crap from the same old management company that has never been satisfactory and has actually gotten worse since the building burned.”

Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee chairwoman Donna Scheeder says finding good management is a lengthy process.

“The merchants are, of course, part of this discussion and we all feel that we would rather have a document that everybody understands, that we know the consequences of, because we’re in this for the long haul,” Scheeder said. The committee will review the RFP later this week.

Despite the management troubles, renovations to the market have been slow but steady. The135-year-old market, gutted by a fire in April 2007, is covered in scaffolding as a construction team works to repair the building while maintaining its historic integrity. The $14 million project is expected to be completed by next summer.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of renovation progress on South Hall. The roof is nearly complete, the windows are new and refurbished. It’s still totally fenced in with scaffolding all around it,” Gallo said. “There’s now trenching being done all around the building to put in new utilities. So, it’s really, really a construction site more than anything else.”

The roof repair was extended to the North Hall earlier this week, costing the city an additional $1 million.

“The slate is over 100 years old; the better course is just to replace it,” Edwards said. “It’s about the same amount of manpower anyway.”

Even with strong community support after the fire, outdoor vendors continue to struggle as business slows through the summer months, according to Gallo. Profits are typically down because of the weather and Congress’ schedule, though Gallo says merchants are especially suffering this year.

“I would say it’s the usual summer slowdown, but in a year when business has been so challenging because of the fire and because of all the renovation work that’s going on,” he said. “It’s still a question of if the market will survive.”

Market renovations and a streetscape project have made it difficult for merchants to set up their stands. The scaffolding reduces the amount of outdoor space and vendors had to relocate in a tighter space.