The Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) met on April 25 in the North Hall. The first order of business was a report from Chair Donna Scheeder about the April 12 briefing by the Department of General Services (DGS) in its dual role of landlord and manager of the Eastern Market.
A major breakthrough was announced as a result of the briefing as EMCAC had been pushing for DGS to be more transparent in sharing financial data. Among the key features of this breakthrough was an acknowledgment that the legal repository of Eastern Market revenues is the Enterprise Fund and that all market revenues are to be deposited in this fund. According to DGS officials, the Enterprise Fund holds a balance of $630, 419.87 and will not be “swept” at the end of the fiscal year but rather will be used to pay for market operations.
Market revenues are projected to top $1 million in fiscal year 2019, the strongest revenues since DGS took over management shortly after the 2007 fire.
In addition, representatives of DGS committed to share financial information on a timelier basis as well as to include EMCAC in budget talks in the months previous to the budget’s submission to the DC Council. DGS will now be compliant with the 1999 Eastern Market legislation.
Scheeder concluded the discussion: “We thought it was a productive meeting. It cleared up a lot of issues.”
Market Manager’s Report
Market revenue for March was $66,603. North Hall revenues were significantly down at $11,745. Overall, March revenues did not reflect the substantial increases that come with warmer weather as both the farmers’ line and the arts and crafts vendors returned for the spring season.
There are 27 public events scheduled for the North Hall, consistent with its legislative charge that community events and use are part of its schedule. Four private events boost the expected lower monthly revenue.
Market Manager Barry Margeson provided a schedule of planned improvements for the market, including replacing a damaged window in the North Hall and the brownstone steps and a handrail for the main entrance.
According to Margeson, DGS Director Greer Gillis was to meet again with South Hall merchants in the ongoing lease discussions. The South Hall merchants have been essentially without a lease since 1997. Margeson surprised many at the EMCAC meeting by insisting publicly for the first time that there are leases, saying: “You do have leases. They are a holdover.”
Anita Jefferson, a member of the Tenant’s Council, stated that the lease meetings, which have included other topics such as rodent problems as well as parking, are “problematic and can cause problems that don’t need to be there.” The outside vendors’ issues are not always aligned with those of the South Hall merchants.
An ensuing discussion with Chander Jayaraman, representing Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, and Vice Chair Chuck Burger led to a motion that EMCAC “send a short communication to DGS enforcing the point that there should be open lines of communication with the outdoor vending community as well, and that they should have equal access to meetings at DGS.” The motion passed unanimously.
Parking continues to hamstring the market, with grocery competition in the Hill area as fierce as it has ever been. Union Meats’ Bill Glasgow has repeatedly reminded EMCAC about the negative impact parking is having on the South Hall businesses.
Lack of adequate parking remains a considerable disadvantage for the South Hall merchants and threatens market businesses, with the debate about how to solve it too often turning to parking studies and signage and reopening Seventh Street.
There are approximately 15 spaces available behind the South Hall for customers.
Margeson reminded EMCAC that currently there is a validated parking plan with Colonial Parking, the charge being $10 per day on weekend, pricing out many market customers.
Recent Hill Rag reporting of comparable public markets indicated that all those surveyed offered free or low-cost validated parking that is subsidized by the merchants or the municipality or some combination of both. This makes affordable and convenient parking available for these various public markets. Most have a cost of $1 to $3.
There are more than 200 spaces of below-street parking available all day on Saturday and Sunday at the Colonial site, which is proximate to the market.
The newly completed Hine project’s management has yet to fully lay out a dedicated plan for Eastern Market parking as they committed to while in the process of securing community support.
The District, with the power of a $14 billion budget, appears timid in its approach to Colonial and considerably less aggressive in its negotiations than it is with Amazon as it touts economic development of another kind.
Security issues continue to be discussed, and not just the threat of terrorism for which the market certainly is vulnerable. Day-to-day, small-scale problems plague the market. Jefferson stated there was no police presence after 2 p.m. for two weekends in April and said that “something did happen” when a car somehow got past the parking cones and was on the closed street well before the market day was finished. Jefferson said that it gets “sketchy” as to who is on duty. These problems do not include the bicyclists who navigate the closed Seventh Street or those on electric scooters who penetrate the pedestrian areas. Jefferson continued: “Should something happen, people should know who they should be seeking.”
A number of suggestions were made about what to do when there is a need for immediate security, among them a posting of the manager on duty in a conspicuous way. Another suggestion from Angie Brunson of Blue Iris Flowers was to post a cellphone number that would be available to all the vendors and, equally important, that each call be answered.
Margeson responded by saying that “it is a large space” and welcomed the possibility of more security, adding there are two managers on duty as well as two special police persons on each weekend day, with an estimated 5,000-8,000 visitors each day.
Burger called any lack of management or security presence unacceptable, continuing: “It is only a matter of time. Something is going to happen if we do not have management of the street.”
Scheeder concluded the discussion by adding, “We need better communication. A number to call or a text. We need to find a solution. This is not good.”