Weekend Flea Market to be Much Reduced by Stanton Eastbanc Hine Development
by Larry Janezich
No matter what happens, the Eastern Market weekend flea market will be smaller in the future.
Competing interests of the city, the developer, and Eastern Market have put the squeeze on the weekend flea markets and the vendors who operate outside the market on weekends. Stanton Eastbanc’s current development plans do not allow for a full weekend flea market, and the city has no immediate or obvious plans to either compel the developer to make room for the flea market or to create a new home for it that will accommodate its current size.
One of the requirements for all the contractors who bid for the Hine development was that “sufficient space” for the flea market had to be provided. The original Stanton Eastbanc plan for the development which got the nod from the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development would have provided 90 spaces for vendor’s tents on the newly reopened C Street, and on a square plaza centrally located within the project and set back from the middle of the newly opened C Street.
After the project was awarded to Stanton Eastbanc, the size of the project increased and the space for the flea market was shrunk. Currently the plan provides for space for 68 vendor tents on C Street. The plaza – originally touted as vendor space – currently appears to be reserved for public space including water features and café seating (which is proprietary and not public space).
Most people don’t realize that the weekend outdoor market comprises three entities: the food and non-food vendors outside Eastern Market, on 7th Street and on the natatorium plaza under control of Barry Margeson, Eastern Market manager; the Saturday flea market on the Hine playground, managed by Carol Wright; and the Sunday flea market, managed by Diverse Market Management, owned by Michael Berman. The popular weekend market attracts up to 30,000 visitors and supports up to 150 vendor tents on a good weekend, according to Berman.
Councilmember Tommy Wells is currently re-writing legislation establishing a Trust which will be the new governing authority for Eastern Market, including the weekend flea markets. The legislation – which may be revealed within days – will likely provide for consolidating the management of the three outdoor markets under the Trust. The goal of the Market is to be self-sustaining within ten years, and it is difficult to imagine a scenario that will allow it to be so without consolidating control of the weekend market and using vendor fees toward that end. Currently, the two flea market managers each pay $24,000 annually to the city to rent the Hine parking lot on weekends, and they in turn charge individual vendors for space on the weekends.
In addition to concern over the number of vendor tents accommodated under current plans, Michael Berman calls Stanton Eastbanc’s proposal for parking 50 vendor trucks in the development’s parking garage problematic, noting that many of his vendors deal with large pieces and that access to C Street for set up with be limited to one small service elevator.
In an apparent attempt to salvage the current weekend flea market’s size and diversity, Councilmember Wells has floated the option of closing 7th Street on weekends to accommodate vendors who cannot fit onto C Street, but Berman notes that at best, there are spaces for 50 vendors.
In addition, the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) opposes closing of 7th Street for several reasons, including detrimental impact on the “brick and mortar” merchants on 7th Street, loss of 30 parking spaces on 7th Street, and loss of access to the new development’s loading dock. EMCAC has also gone on record opposing Stanton-Eastbanc charging vendors for use of the new C Street as well as charging vendors for the 50 spaces reserved for vendor parking in the development on weekends. (EMMCA is currently supporting subsidized parking for vendors on weekends so as to prevent vendors from seeking parking on residential streets.)
There are other ways to provide space for vendors, including widening the sidewalks on 7th Street and/or C Street, or widening the plaza on C Street. All of these would involve changing the footprint of the building, which will undoubtedly be resisted by Stanton Eastbanc. The developer’s private ownership of C Street also imperils the market; as currently written, the ground lease allows the developer to unilaterally close down the flea market if it wishes. EMCAC is strongly opposed to permitting the developer to have this authority and supports language in the new Eastern Market legislation to prevent it.
The flea market manager’s contracts with the city extend until construction on the new project begins – currently slated for September 2013. What happens after construction begins and in the interim until the newly reopened C Street is ready to accept vendor operations is uncertain. Commissioner Brian Pate, ANC6B’s representative to EMCAC, reported to ANC6B Tuesday night, that EMCAC’s current position is that the developer created this problem and should solve it without shifting responsibility to the city to close 7th Street. He also called upon EMCAC to step up and develop a plan for the flea market during the construction phase.