Taskforce Begins Work on Redesign of Eastern Market Metro Plaza
by Larry Janezich
Last Wednesday, the “Taskforce on Eastern Market Metro Park” met at Hill Center to receive a presentation from the Market Plaza design team, led by Amy Weinstein of Escoff & Associates Architects. The discussion was guided by Barracks Row Main Street (BRMS) Board Vice-Chairman, David Perry.
The convening authority of the Taskforce is BRMS, and the Taskforce is composed residents, groups, and businesses who Councilmember Tommy Wells referred to as the “front row stakeholders” to the redesign process. A complete list of the Taskforce membership is not yet available to the public.
According to the design firm charged with the project, the goals of the redesign are to beautify it, and to increase its functionality as a connector between the 7th Street Eastern Market commercial corridor and the Barrack’s Row, 8th Street south of the freeway, and the M Street commercial corridor. The firm also cites the goal of developing a portion of the parcel on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue into a playground funded in part by a $50,000 grant from Stanton EastBanc (SEB) as part of the community benefits conceded by the developers as part of the Zoning Commission’s Planned Unit Development (PUD) process.
Escoff & Associates was awarded the $500,000 contract for the study in April, via funds earmarked by the US Congress; by law, this money had to be expended by the end of September 2013. Another $1 million in earmarked funds remains to implement the design changes, though it is certain that additional monies will need to be sought from city or federal sources.
By Wednesday night, the design team had compiled and grouped a list of community comments gathered from the Eastern Market Metro Park website, from community meetings, and from a suggestion box located in the North Hall of Eastern Market until August 7, 2013. The Taskforce advising the design team had only a few minutes to look over the compiled comments and a diagram of existing conditions. These materials are expected to be available on the Eastern Market Metro Park website at www.easternmarkemetropark.org during the coming week, as is a Taskforce roster.
By the end of the 90 minute meeting, a rough consensus on priorities seemed to emerge, with the focus being on the following main points:
Maintain and improve multi-modality transportation features
Improve orientation and make the Plaza a functioning portal
Create an interactive space
Provide a design for evening use of space
Create a place for relaxation, socializing and gathering
Plaza should be utilitarian rather than commerce-oriented
It should be a muti-generational space
The façade of the South East Library should be integrated into the plan
Weinstein asserted that the plans for the redesign already addressed several community concerns including environmental sustainability, pedestrian safety, and on-going maintenance of the park.
The Design Team – specifically Amy Weinstein, Ohme vas Sweeden Landscape Architects, and Kittleson & Associates traffic and transportation consultants – will come back at the end of September to present two alternative concepts to the Taskforce for discussion. Input from the Task Force meeting will be incorporated into the two concepts which will subsequently be presented to a community-wide forum for community input. The Taskforce will then select the “final” design concept. Further consideration will then be given to details concerning the north parcel and the playground.
One option that will not be considered is the possible rerouting of Pennsylvania Avenue. The issue was raised by a member of the Taskforce, but Perry noted that it was “off the table” having been rejected by the community when considered during a 2010 effort to redesign the Plaza.
An issue which the group tiptoed around was the use of some of the four parts of the plaza as a gathering place for those who seem to be indigent, in need of services, homeless, or some combination of all of these. Community Connections, the city’s largest private contractor of mental health services, was not present at the Taskforce meeting, even though some of its offices sit directly adjacent to a portion of the plaza. While it is unclear whether the group has been invited to participate, Amy Weinstein reported portions of a conversation with Joe Cullen, Director of Operations for Community Connections. According to Weinstein, Cullen is aware of the activities of CC’s clients in the community. She said that according to Cullen, “some of the clients (specifically those suffering from schizophrenia who talk to themselves) go to the north parcel to avoid the stares of passersby; other clients go to the Metro Plaza which is financially rewarding.”
One Taskforce member expressed concerns about the “camp site” for the homeless that had developed on the north parcel between PA Avenue and D Street.
In response, David Perry of BRMS, cited a study which he said shows that with an “increase in activity level, the problems we’re alluding to will disappear – some of the more problematic issues are inimical to large numbers of people.” It is clear that these issues will continue to be raised, but it is equally clear that no known member of the Taskforce has the competence or expertise to speak authoritatively about them.