Eastern Market merchants restarted their businesses in a temporary building on Aug. 25, leaving behind four months of uncertainty after an April 30 fire gutted the market’s South Hall. [IMGCAP(1)]
The changes are just beginning: Plans for the renovation of the original market are almost finished,
the adjacent street is slated for an eventual makeover and the city is looking into a different management system. But one thing will stay the same for at least another 10 months: the market manager.
Eastern Market Ventures has managed the market since 2001, gaining a reputation for faulty communication and ineffective leadership. EMV’s lease is up at the end of December, and some merchants hoped that would be the end of the company’s tenure. But city officials recently decided to extend the lease until June 2008.
The extension was necessary because city officials won’t be able to rework the management system by December, said Bill Rice, spokesman for the D.C. Office of Property Management.
“It doesn’t signal any indication of a change in plans,” said Donna Scheeder, chairwoman of the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee. “We would not be able to get the [bidding] process done in time.”
Some merchants and residents were hoping the December deadline meant the end of a manager they perceive as impersonal and ineffective. In June, city officials announced that they would redefine the manager’s role and put a call out for applicants. That is still the plan, Scheeder said, and she is meeting with Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit consulting group, in October to help write the specifications.
“It seems clear to me that the District’s intention is to use us as a gap filler,” said EMV’s Richard Cohen, adding that he couldn’t say whether EMV would apply to be the manager after June. The company’s job, he said, is difficult because it can’t make any unilateral decisions. “I don’t think it’s the most efficient process.”
The deal to extend EMV’s contract also means the company will take over the management of the temporary market, nicknamed “East Hall.” Until now, the OPM and the District Department of Transportation oversaw the construction and opening of the temporary building.
Now EMV will take part in the upkeep, and merchants want the company to start with developing a parking solution for the hundreds of merchants, outside vendors and visitors who crowd Seventh Street Southeast every weekend. At an EMCAC meeting Wednesday, some criticized EMV for not having a working parking plan after six years of management.
“All of this needs to be in place yesterday,” said Ellen Opper-Weiner, a member of the EMCAC. “We really have to address this issue immediately.”
But until the city decides whether to keep Seventh Street closed on weekends — an issue DDOT is investigating — EMV can’t do much, Cohen said. Other kinks in the East Hall’s operation are being addressed as they come up, he said.
“East Hall has been open for five days,” Cohen said last week. “Until the dust settles, there’s going to be some stuff that changes.”
Overall, merchants and residents at the Wednesday meeting said they were pleased with the temporary market’s opening. Although it opened two months later than the original deadline, the four-month completion time impressed local residents. At the Aug. 25 grand opening, a swarm of residents crowded the new hall with excitement.
“I think this is amazing,” said Bob Cashman, who buys his chicken from the market. “I think under another mayor, it could have been six months down the road.”
It was that message that Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) pushed at the grand opening, promising that the market was just the beginning of a more responsive government.
“We are going to continue to push forward, and if we have a bump in the road along the way, we will get past it,” he said. “Eastern Market symbolizes that.”