Whither Eastern Market? – City Funds 5 Year Plan and Management Assessment
Move Prompted by Increased Competition
By Larry Janezich
Eastern Market is about to get a lot more competition. In late 2017, Trader Joe’s – with customer parking – will open up in the Hine project. This in addition to a new Whole Foods at 600 H Street, NE, opening in late 2016 and another Whole Foods at 800 New Jersey Avenue, SE, opening in 2017 – both with parking. In addition, the Stanton Eastbanc merchandising and leasing strategy for the Hine project envisions “specialty culinary food purveyors such as a wine and cheese shop, spice shops, chocolates, specialty teas and coffees, and New York deli type retailers.…” Union Market, with its plentiful parking, numerous specialty food shops and cafes already attracts Capitol Hill customers.
For months, the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) has been trying to figure out how to expand the Eastern Market brand to benefit not only the market but also the broader immediate commercial community. The plan has been pushed by Chuck Burger, on behalf of the brick and mortar retailers on 7th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Barracks Row. Burger sits on EMCAC as a representative of CHAMPS – the Capitol Hill version of the Chamber of Commerce.
About a year ago, EMCAC Chair Donna Sheeder went to Eastern Market’s owner – the DC Department of General Services (DGS) – to seek the city’s assistance. She found a champion in Forest Hayes, the associate director of DGS who offered to provide funds for a study by an outside contractor that would include:
- A comprehensive building assessment to determine what capital improvements are necessary;
- Ideas on how to better market the North Hall;
- Ways to improve the weekday and weekend outdoor Farmers Markets;
- An examination of the Eastern Market Management structure;
- Consideration of legislation to allow funds received from market operation to accumulate for the benefit of the Market, rather than being captured by the city and used for other purposes.
Hayes’ proposal for moving the process forward has been controversial. DGS has unilaterally designated five key stakeholders (DGS, EMCAC, the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development (DMPED), Council Member Charles Allen’s office, and the Brick and Mortar merchants on the 200 and 300 blocks of 7th Street, SE. Hayes’ idea is to have a representative from each of these five entities meet to lay out the scope of work for the Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit potential contractors to do the study. Once a contractor is selected, he or she would be encouraged to cast a wide net to engage with a much broader stakeholder constituency. (It is noteworthy that Stanton Development is the largest property owner among the brick and mortar merchants on 7th Street, as well as a minority partner in the Hine development. It seems a safe bet that Stanton will be represented in any meeting setting the scope of work.)
Hayes’ proposal for moving forward fell short of the expectations of what many on the EMCAC thought was needed. In a May 26 meeting of EMCAC’s Market Operations Committee called to consider Hayes’ proposal, there was a clear consensus that the stakeholders’ group developing the Scope of Work for the external contractor should be expanded. Possible additional members suggested include the Chair of EMCAC, representatives from the Farmers Line, Indoor and Outdoor Merchants, and ANC6B. At its May meeting the Board of Directors of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society agreed that they should be numbered among the stakeholders participating in the initial meeting as well.
Finding consensus on moving the market forward will be difficult, given that the goals of some of the stakeholders are at odds with others.
For example, the inside food merchants and those on the Farmers Line feel that EMCAC and DSG have made Eastern Market a tourist destination, and in the words of Bill Glasgow of Union Meats, “they take up space and don’t buy very much”. These traditional market merchants feel threatened by the fact they have been operating within the market without leases for some 20 years – for reasons that are unclear. They are unhappy with the weekend closure of 7th Street and the subsequent loss of parking, which they say inconveniences their customers and discourages weekend food shopping by those who drive to the market. These stakeholders feel it will be difficult to design a collaborative sales approach without knowing first what other food retailers end up leasing space in the Hine project.
On the other hand, the outside arts and crafts merchants are happy with making Eastern Market a destination, as is Chuck Burger, who sees a tourist destination as benefiting the brick and mortar shops and restaurants on 7th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Barracks Row. Any attempt to reopen 7th Street to traffic on weekends would work to their disadvantage.
Also, any study of the management of the market will likely revive a plan for a new management structure for Eastern Market. Former CM Wells introduced legislation for a new market governing structure in 2011, but it died after it ran into opposition from the Mayor’s office. See here: http://bit.ly/1U2Lnrh
EMCAC’s Market Operations is preparing a response and recommendations regarding Hayes’ proposal, and EMCAC will consider the report of the Committee at its June 29th meeting. Rather than provide a forum for a preliminary public discussion of Hayes’ proposal, EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder cancelled the May 25 EMCAC meeting to give the Market Operations Committee the first crack at hearing from the broader stakeholder community in a smaller venue.
Update: Burger tells CHC that EMCAC – after hearing rumors of an imminent meeting – wrote Hayes to say ample time is needed for the process to unfold, and that Hayes Hayes concurred.
Sources tell CHC that Hayes is not waiting to hear EMCAC’s response to his proposal and has scheduled a meeting on Thursday, June 9, of the five original stakeholders Hayes called upon to decide the Scope of Work for the RFP soliciting proposals for the Eastern Market study.