Washington, D.C., officials said Wednesday that they will open the bidding process for management of Eastern Market, causing the market’s current manager to threaten to pursue “legal actions.”
The decision means Eastern Market could go to another market manager in January, after Eastern Market Ventures’ lease agreement expires. EMV claims such a move violates the agreement, since it provided “proper written notice” that it wanted to extend the contract and the city didn’t explore the option.
“EMV believes the District’s failure to honor this option, respond to EMV’s notice exercising the option and negotiate in good faith with EMV places the District in default of the existing lease and management agreement,” EMV officials said in a statement. Officials would not comment further.
The Office of Property Management, which oversees the market management, and EMV have been in discussions, said OPM Director Lars Etzkorn, but officials ultimately decided that after the April 30 fire that gutted the South Hall, it was time to “re-examine how the market is managed.”
“The lease that we have certainly does have an opportunity for both sides to exercise with mutability with agreement on both sides. We did enter into negotiations, but we now recognize that as a result of the fire that we have this opportunity,” he said. “This is not done as a reflection of the current management, but we are taking advantage of the closing of the South Hall.”
The lease does state that EMV has “the right to extend the term of the Agreement for an additional five (5) year period,” but that if the city and EMV can’t agree on new terms, “the EMV’s right to extend the term shall terminate.”
While EMV technically manages the entire market under a lease agreement, it subleases the market’s North Hall and Eastern Market Plaza to another manager. Rather than continue along the same lines, D.C. officials have decided to start an open bidding process for a unified market manager who will not only upkeep the entire market plaza, but also will promote and further its development, said Donna Scheeder, chairwoman of the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee.
“We’re very optimistic about this development,” Scheeder said. “We think it recognizes that there is one phase that the market has gone through and now we’re at the point where we’re able to accomplish other objectives in the legislation.”
Scheeder said the decision was made at a meeting on June 14 between her, Etzkorn, OPM Special Assistant Aimee Occhetti, Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells and Wells’ Policy Adviser Linda O’Brien. The decision harks back to the original intent written out in the 1998 bill that created the management system, but a bumpy few years of lawsuits and disagreements created a fractured relationship with the market manager.
“There needs to be a more holistic management that still recognizes and nurtures the unique experience of each of the unique elements, but that looks at the total experience to ensure that it is as efficiently run as possible,” Etzkorn said.
During EMV’s six-year tenure, merchants complained of neglected duties and slow renovations and also disagreed among themselves on what should be done with the market. Meanwhile, EMV received about $10,000 from the city for its management duties, while Market 5 Gallery secured a sublease to manage the North Hall. That sublease has since expired and EMV started a bidding process for another manager. With the decision to issue a new request for proposals — which would outline exactly what the city is looking for in a manager — the city asked EMV to stop its efforts to sublease the North Hall, said EMV market manager Bryan Cook.
Scheeder said the decision marks a new chapter for Eastern Market, where perhaps old arguments can be put to rest and the market can live up to its potential. And with a new OPM director free of the “scars and baggage of the past,” she said the city, residents and merchants should be able to work together.
“Unified management means to me not just the beginning of all of the physical space as envisioned in legislation,” she said, “but it’s also a unified property management and business management with equal emphasis on both.”