Push to Continue Closure of Eastern Market 7th Street Gains Momentum
by Larry Janezich
The Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) seems poised to recommend to the city that both the 200 and 300 blocks of 7th Street remain closed to weekend car traffic. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen has already gone on record in support of the closure. Eastern Market Main Street – the 7th Street business organization – sent a letter to the city earlier this summer endorsing the closure. And an analysis of the 55 emails sent to EMCAC regarding the status of the 300 block of 7th Street, SE, received between August 9 and September 6, reveals considerable neighborhood support for continued closure of the block to vehicular traffic on weekends. Of the 55 emails received during the four week period, 49 supported keeping the street closed, while 6 urged reopening the block to traffic.
EMCAC – charged by statute to review and comment on retailing on public property in and around Eastern Market – will vote on Tuesday, September 19, at its September meeting, on a carefully crafted recommendation to continue the street closure with additional language that attempts to address the concerns of the various stakeholders. (The meeting will be at 7:00pm, in the North Hall of Eastern Market.)
EMCAC’s support for the closure is contingent on the Eastern Market Manager establishing a validated parking location and possibly establishing a delivery service for South Hall merchants to alleviate issues arising out of lack of customer parking. The most vocal opponents of continued closure of both the 200 and 300 blocks have been the South Hall food merchants, largely based on their perception that the lack of parking is responsible for the decline in the food business in the South Hall.
One way the lack of parking could be addressed is by Eastern Market subsidizing validated parking for a number of spaces in the Colonial Parking lot right across C Street from the Market ($8 a day on Saturday and Sunday). There are also 193 paid public parking spaces in the Hine Project, 50 of which will be reserved for vendor’s vehicles at 50% of the daily rate (yet to be established). That would leave 143 spaces for paid public parking.
Ongoing city-sponsored appraisals of retail spaces in and around Eastern Market to satisfy the statutory requirement that rents will be at or near market value would seem to guarantee an increase in market revenue, necessary not only for market maintenance, but also to assist in marketing and promotion to keep the Market competitive (read Whole Foods, Union Market, Trader Joe’s). The likely increase in rent for the South Hall merchants and outside vendors would be more palatable if part of the increase is used for a parking subsidy.
The other major consideration in the event of continued closure is what will happen to the 300 block of 7th after the weekend flea markets move to the newly reopened (but private) C Street between the north and south buildings of the Hine project? The move is currently expected in mid-October.
EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder says, “If the street remains closed, it cannot possibly be under the same conditions as it now,” citing safety, economics, unified market management, and competition between vendors and the brick and mortar retail outlets on the 300 block.
The EMCAC proposal addresses this concern by recommending that any usage of the 300 block not be determined until there is a stakeholders’ meeting from a broad array of community organizations, including the ANC6B, DDOT, DGS, Stanton-Eastbanc, Eastern Market Main Street, Market Row Merchants, and that there be no request for bids regarding usage of the 300 block until a strategy is developed for best use and value to the market and the community – possibly by an organization such as the Project for Public Space. Coupled with that, is a likely stipulation that any temporary usage of 7th Street between the moving of the flea market to C Street in mid to late October and the enactment of any recommendation arising out of a study, will require joint approval of EMCAC and the Eastern Market Manager.
It appears that Eastern Market and DGS anticipates keeping the 300 block closed through the middle of next summer, and according to some sources, a permit for closure has been issued and payment to the city for lost parking revenue for the 200 and 300 blocks has already been made, or is in the works.
ANC6B will consider a recommendation to close the street expected to be proposed by Commissioner Diane Hoskins at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, September 12, at 7:00pm in Hill Center. The matter is scheduled to come up near the end of the meeting and is not likely to be voted on that night.