Eastern Market Advisory Committee Rejects Proposed Rent Increase for Eastern Market Merchants
by Larry Janezich
Last night, the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) stood up on its hind legs and voted unanimously (8 – 0) to reject the city’s proposal for raising rents on Eastern Market South Hall merchants and the appraisal process by which the proposed rents had been determined. They called for the city to put a hold on any rent increase and said they want a monthly report on income and expenditures for the Market. They also urged the city to use a holistic approach going forward to assess all components of Eastern Market to create a strategic marketing plan for the Eastern Market Special Use District (SUD). (The latter refers to the sidewalks and public space around Eastern Market and the Rumsey Aquatic Center, 7th Street from North Carolina to Pennsylvania Avenues, and the newly reopened C Street between 7th and 8th Streets.)
Last month, the Department of General Services released an appraisal designed to determine the fair market value of stall spaces inside Eastern Market. The recommendations would establish a new baseline substantially increasing rents for all South Hall merchants, in some cases doubling them. See Capitol Hill Corner’s post here: http://bit.ly/2xtEs7l
South Hall merchants spoke strongly in opposition to the proposed rent increases. Union Meat’s Bill Glasgow said that the merchants were “shell shocked” by the proposed increase. Michael Bowers of Bowers’ Fancy Dairy Products said that an increase in rent would come out of his paycheck since he can’t raise prices if he wants to remain competitive. In a written statement, Tom Calomiris of Calomiris’ Fruits and Vegetables said, “I get the feeling there is a grand plan to put us out of business. The elements are there – no accessibility, increased rents, and increased competition. The appraisal makes no sense. An increase in the baseline will put the majority of us out of business.”
EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder said that the basic problem with the city-sponsored appraisal is that it ignores legislative requirements which put limits on rent increases for South Hall merchants. She also agreed with the written comments of EMCAC member Richard Layman and the comments of Committee member Chuck Burger that any assessment needs to consider the totality of the Market. She said EMCAC wants greater transparency on the budget, especially expenditures, continuing, “The main reason I disagree with the appraisal is I do not understand why the city has to establish a new baseline for rents higher that the average Capitol Hill (retail) rent.” Other Committee members spoke against the rent increases.
Jonathan Page, the Mayor’s Representative, agreed with others that an appraisal doesn’t make sense if not part of a comprehensive review. He cited the legislative requirement limiting rent increases to a percentage of the CPI and EMCAC’s response that the methodology used to determine fair rent totally ignores the requirement.
Susan Ousler representing the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, called the rent increase “outrageous”. She said, “You have to show me why the city needs the money.”
EMCAC will meet again on Wednesday, October 25 to discuss a second, just completed appraisal, this one involving the stall spaces on the 300 block of 7th Street, SE, currently where the Saturday and Sunday flea markets set up. Those markets are scheduled to move to C Street between 7th and 8th at the end of the month, though both flea markets have asked for an extension to their contracts which would let them use 7th Street as well.
EMCAC is the District’s legislatively established body which provides advisory and oversight responsibilities for Eastern Market and though they’re role is advisory, it is likely the vote will require the city back off on and reassess its approach to increasing revenues from Eastern Market.
Current members of EMCAC include representatives from ANC6B, Capitol Hill Restoration Society, Capitol Hill Association of Merchants, Eastern Market Preservation and Development Corporation, Stanton Park Neighborhood Association, a community representative, Ward 6 Council Office, the Mayor and representatives from the South Hall, Farmer’s Line and non-food merchants at the Market.