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Funding, Delays Plague Eastern Market Renovations

Four months after the discovery that $1 million had been mysteriously slashed from Eastern Market’s capital improvement budget, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) has restored the funds in his fiscal 2005 budget proposal, according to the Office of Property Management official who first uncovered the cut.

If approved, the move would bring the total available funds in the capital account for renovations at the historic Capitol Hill market to $2.054 million, said Aimee Occhetti, a special assistant at OPM.

Although the $1 million was cut in September 2003, Occhetti, the city’s point person on the market, said she did not learn of the actual funding reduction until December while preparing a status report on the structure. (The decrease was not initially discovered because it had been classified under the budget for the Office of Planning and Economic Development rather than OPM, which oversees the property.)

The roughly $1 million remaining in the account was also considered for elimination, but ultimately was left untouched, Occhetti said.

Residents and vendors, who have lobbied the city to expedite long-delayed renovations to the market, were surprised — and some even skeptical — when informed of the decision to restore the money last week.

“That’s been a secret to me,” said Ellen Opper-Weiner, chairwoman of the Eastern Market Citizens’ Advisory Committee, a panel which aims to improve the preservation and operation of the city-owned market. “I’m very happy to hear that.”

“Seeing is believing,” added Bill Glasgow Jr., owner of the Union Meat Co., which has operated out of the market for the past 57 years. “But of course, they should have known when it was taken out and they didn’t.”

At the same time, the city has taken heat for delays in the construction of the market’s new outdoor farmers’ shed, which runs along Seventh Street Southeast and houses about three dozen farmers on Saturdays, and vendors selling produce, arts and crafts and flea market-style goods on Sundays. First slated for completion at the end of February, work is now expected to wrap up around Sept. 1.

“There have been many different things that have delayed the process,” Occhetti said.

Just last week, the city was informed that the shed would have to be shortened to accommodate a vault containing Pepco transformers, a move which could mean that some vendors would no longer be covered by the shed.

Underground plumbing and electrical work was recently finished, but no further progress is expected on the actual shed until June, when the first of two phases is slated to kick off, Occhetti said. The contractor is now waiting for the steel — needed to construct the $580,000 structure — to be galvanized.

After the larger North Hall shed is erected, work will begin on the smaller South Hall shed, which will take about half as much time to complete, Occhetti said.

During the construction, displaced vendors will be moved to swing space in the natatorium plaza directly behind the market on the south side of North Carolina Avenue, said South and Center Hall co-manager Stuart Smith.

“It’s not the preferred alternative. But we are talking about moving people within 100 feet of where they are,” said Smith. He added that there will be “lots of signage” to direct customers to the merchants during construction.

But outdoor vendors who display their work in the area adjacent to the shed, such as jeweler Larry Gallo, said that any dislocation would seriously disrupt business, especially given that the construction is slated for the peak summer months.

“The construction out there affects everybody. One displaced vendor results in a domino effect of other people being displaced,” said Gallo. “To take nine months to do a simple little construction job is worse than ridiculous. It’s outrageous.”

Meanwhile, the city plans to complete a variety of other renovations at the market in the coming months, including repairs to the Center Hall skylight and upgrades to the electrical, plumbing and sewage systems. Occhetti said the city would soon put out a request for proposals to design the bulk of the renovations. A list of draft priorities for the market renovations was transmitted to EMCAC earlier last month.

“We are debating on whether or not to install an HVAC system,” Occhetti added.

But some vendors, such as Glasgow, were critical of the city’s priorities.

“The first priority for the merchants is air conditioning, the second priority for the merchants is air conditioning, and the third priority for the merchants is air conditioning,” he said.

A public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. tonight at the Old Naval Hospital at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E., to discuss improvements and operational issues related to the market.

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