A study committee on Eastern Market is leaning toward recommending a $3 million renovation of the popular Capitol Hill landmark that would include adding more food vendors, building a stage and seating area and constructing a second story.
For the last two weeks the citizen members of the committee have spoken to Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) giving them a preliminary view of this latest in a series of studies funded by the city government to improve the 112-year-old farmers' market, a favorite Saturday morning bazaar with vendors selling goods ranging from flowers to fresh fish and clothing.
These proposals will be included in a report that the committee, made up of residents and city officials, is expecting to be released in less than three weeks.
The report marks the second time in four years that the city government has paid for a study on how the deteriorating market -- the last of the city's original farmers' markets -- should be renovated.
Renovation of the market has been controversial because some residents want a slick, upscale shopping area, while other residents want the market to retain some of its funkiness.
Some residents are skeptical of the upcoming plans, noting that the city spent $78,000 in federal funds in 1981 on a similar citizens' advisory committee that was assigned basically the same task as the present committee.
"The mayor's response to the 1981 study was to create this new committee to implement the first committee's study," said Peter Eveleth, a member of the current committee and chairman of the 1981 committee.
Rob Robinson, a member of the mayor's staff and the current committee, refused to discuss the committee's plans and said he had "no idea" of what the report would recommend. Robinson, who lives on Capitol Hill, said he did not know how much the committee was costing the city but added that the consultant would probably cost $30,000 to $40,000.
At a recent ANC meeting Eveleth said the Silver Spring consulting firm of Hammer, Siler, George Associates told the committee that Eastern Market should remain mostly a market for food vendors and that it should not try to compete with large food chains such as Safeway, which has a store across Seventh Street SE from Eastern Market.
"The strongest option is the mezzanine because it integrates the arts and community function in the market, and you also have more retail space on the first floor, which the consultants say is the best use for the first floor," said Eveleth, stressing that the committee is still drawing up its recommendations.
The city also would like to relinquish financial responsibility for the market, "preferably by having it operated by a CDC community development corporation which would be responsible for making the market economically viable," Eveleth said. Currently the city's Department of Administrative Services operates the market, located on Seventh Street SE, between North Carolina Avenue and C Street.
Community reaction at the ANC meetings was mixed, with some residents opposing the tentative proposal and others supporting it.
"I'm upset with any plans to change the market," said Thomas Mauro, who has lived a half block from Eastern Market for 11 years and serves on the Market V Gallery Board of Directors. Market V, an art gallery, is located in Eastern Market and would remain under the tentative proposal.
"I think the market should remain as it is . . . it's the only place left in the District that's in the form it was when it was built over 100 years ago," said Mauro, who attended one of the meetings. "If they put a second level in and increase the food items they sell it will destroy it. It will make the market much more of a tourist attraction."
One person at the ANC meeting said she feared "the Georgetownization of Eastern Market." But others, such as Marvin Bowe, who works at J.W. Meats inside Eastern Market, said they would welcome a new, cleaner look for the market.
"I think it would be great to fix the place up, Bowe said. "I've been working here for three years and I've visualized something like this happening. I've seen other markets like this that have been fixed up and I think it would be nice" for Eastern Market.
The city's Historic Preservation Review Board will have to approve any plans for the market because it is a historic landmark. From 1972 to 1974 the city received nearly $90,000 from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which was spent on repairs to the building.
Committee members say their report will give great weight to the need to bring the deteriorating brick building up to city building code standards.
"The building is unsafe . . . it's going to cost the city a minimum of $1.5 million just to bring it up to code," or to meet building requirements, Eveleth said. "That would mean replacing the heating system, putting in public restrooms, replacing the wiring, installing an emergency lighting and fire suppression system, making it accessible to the handicapped.
"For example, there are no sprinklers in the basement, and the ground-level floor needs replacing because water is dripping down and rusting out the iron supports in the basement," he continued.
While some farmers at the market favor refurbishing the building, most complain that the committee has not asked their advice.
"The problem with the mayor's committee is they won't tell us what they're planning, they've only met with us farmers and food vendors one time," complained Charles Crane, a farmer from West Virginia who has sold apples and cider for 11 years at the market.
"We feel like it's out of our control," Crane said, "we feel like we know what sells best at the market but no one has bothered to ask us our advice . . . when we see the report we'll have more to say."