|Terrance Williams , associate professor, architecture and planning, was quoted in a Sept. 16 Washington Times article about plans to redevelop Capital City Market in Northeast D.C. See his comments in the story below.|
From: The Washington Times Date: Sept. 16, 2007 Author: Gary Emerling The early-morning scene at the Capital City Market in Northeast is an assault on the senses: Delivery trucks blare and beep on the way to warehouse pick-ups. Green peppers and yellow bananas contrast with the drab color of a dirty white wall. The scent of fresh fruit mingles every so often with the acrid smell of trash and spoiled meat.
"The market is one of the few truly authentic places left in this city," said Terrance Williams, an associate professor of architecture at Catholic University in Northwest. It "has a bit of dirt under its fingernails that makes it attractive to a niche market."
The nearly 80-year-old but still-bustling market is an aged and appreciated community staple: It is the District's only remaining wholesale bazaar and a disheveled version of Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.
However, there is now a plan to reinvent 24 acres of the site with a billion-dollar development called New Town, which last year received the backing of the D.C. Council. Many market vendors worry the plan will displace them and erase a part of city history, instead of bringing its promised revival.
"I feel like just giving up and quitting," said Rick Roffeld, owner of Murray's Country Meats, a shop that has been at the market for the past 40 years. "But I can't. I've got a business to run. I'll run it 'til they throw me out."
Construction on the market - at Florida and New York avenues Northeast - began in 1929 after merchants were displaced from a spot in Northwest to make way for the Federal Triangle. Fewer than 100 markets of its type remain across the country, said David O'Neil, a senior associate with the New York-based nonprofit Project for Public Spaces.
Many markets became obsolete when they went out of scale with the size of trucks and the development of new storage technology, loading-dock heights and the highway system. Mr. O'Neil said the remaining ones are "old institutions that have hung on."
"For one reason or another, they've been able to survive," he said.
Through the years, Capital City Market has remained the foremost wholesale supplier for most restaurateurs in the region. Vendors also offer retail services to walk-in customers, and the market hosts a smattering of restaurants and specialty shops.
However, the makeup of vendors has changed as new groups of immigrants arrive: Europeans have largely made way for Asians, Hispanics and Africans, who sell everything from T-shirts to hats and handbags in addition to meats, fruits and vegetables.
At All African Food Store on Fifth Street Northeast, manager Joe Njiaju has whole goats in his butcher case and caters to customers from as far away as Ohio and North Carolina.
Naeem Zai, owner of Caribbean Crescent Inc. on Fifth Street, runs a rare store that sells halal meat for Muslims, or food approved for consumption under Islamic law.
"When I came to the market in '59, essentially, you had Jews, Italians and Greeks," said Paul Pascal, a lawyer whose family owns land at the market. "Now you have the whole world there."
'Enhance the market'
The New Town proposal has its own legacy and plenty of political backstory.
The $1 billion proposal by Sang Oh Choi, a Korean property owner who runs Sam Wang Produce Inc., seeks to maintain Capital City's wholesale core but turn it from gritty dockyard into a mixed-use community of condos, specialty shops and amenities that could include a YMCA and outdoor amphitheater.
Supporters say the project would create more than 6,800 permanent jobs, bring in millions of dollars in tax revenues and build roughly 1,600 residential units, with more than 600 set aside for work-force housing.
The intended result would be creating a tourist destination like SoHo or the Meat Packing District in New York City.
"We can stabilize the market as well as enhance the market in a way that's never been done before," said D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, who represents the area and supports the proposal. "We have to make sure we have a modern market, and this is the best opportunity for it."
Mr. O'Neil said one key will be holding down real estate prices so vendors can stay and developers can sell the idea of having an urban market.
"It can be perfectly successful," he said. "The successful cities of the future are going to be places that have character. There is so much built-in character [at Capital City Market] that to remove that or plow that under would be regrettable."
Business and politics
Mr. Choi's efforts to redevelop the property have coincided with his dive into the world of D.C. politics.
He and property owners connected to him donated $10,000 to the failed mayoral campaign of Vincent B. Orange - Mr. Thomas' predecessor and one of the project's earliest and most ardent cheerleaders.
Mr. Choi also accompanied former Mayor Anthony A. Williams on a trip to South Korea last year and enlisted former council member John Ray - who lobbied to bring Major League Baseball back to the District - to push the project. He gave Mr. Thomas' 2006 election campaign a $500 contribution.
In December, after a fight in the D.C. Council's Committee on Economic Development, the full council approved the New Town proposal as an amendment to another bill.
However, council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, attached an amendment to the bill requiring that 50 percent of the site's roughly 70 property owners agree to New Town's plans before it appears before the full D.C. Council for final approval.
The legislation does not include a deadline for the 50 percent approval, according to Mr. Thomas' office, which is one factor that makes an estimated completion or approval date for the New Town project uncertain.
The council member estimated this summer that 45 percent of the site's owners supported the project and said recently that "we're pretty close to the number."
However, interviews with the vendors, many of whom are renters and not owners, reveal a lot of uncertainty.
Some are leery about a scenario in which they would be consolidated in a multilevel warehouse on the market's eastern side.
Mr. Njiaju has postponed plans for a restaurant on the second floor of the building he rents.
"I think the concept of New Town is unfeasible. It wouldn't work," said Bill Hartman, owner of Hartman Meats, which brings in about $1.5 million in business each year. "It doesn't take a lot of logic to take four city blocks and put them in one building and see it's not feasible."
Mr. Pascal, who has formed a tenants association with roughly 70 members opposed to New Town, doesn't think the project's backers are close to having 50 percent of landowners on board.
For example, Mr. Choi's brother, Philip, owns market property and is against the proposal.
Gallaudet University, which owns nearly four acres on Sixth Street where the wholesaler's warehouse would go, also has no interest in seeing such a structure on its land.
"We'd like to see that developed as office and retail space, whereas the New Town people would like to see that be a big warehouse that stretches from Morse Street up to Penn Street," said Paul Kelly, the university's vice president for administration and finance. "So Gallaudet would once again be walled off from the community - which, of course, we would object to."
Mr. Thomas said if half of the site owners do not support the proposal, he does not intend to use eminent domain, a power prohibited by the legislation without prior council approval.
New Town's hopes could also hinge on a "small-area plan" of the market area, expected to be finished by the city's Office of Planning in December, which will take a more in-depth look at height, density, land use and transportation at the market.
Planning officials said a conceptual plan already completed by the office is consistent with land uses proposed by New Town developers: Stakeholders want to see industrial, housing, retail and other uses at the site.
But it remains to be seen whether New Town's preferred locations for housing and the existing market will match the office's final plan, and what weight city officials will give to the office's recommendations.
"It's just really a matter of a chessboard," Mr. Thomas said. "Where do you put the pieces, and what makes best sense?"
'A piece of the pie'
Meanwhile, Mr. Choi has largely ceded development plans to investment firm Apollo Real Estate Advisors, a company known for its $1.7 billion development of the Time Warner Center in New York City.
James H. Simmons III, an Apollo partner in charge of the New Town proposal, said plans are still fluid and the company is eager to work with community stakeholders - a concern among some community leaders.
"They can build the Taj Majal here as long as the community is considered for the jobs and gets a piece of the pie," said Wilhelmina Lawson, an D.C. advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area.
The approved New Town bill states the project must have training so residents can fill the new jobs that will be created and property owners and lessees have the opportunity to become owners in a new retail and warehouse facility.
"There are needs that are not being met within the community," Mr. Simmons said. "There are housing needs, there are retail needs, there are community-use needs where this redevelopment could address those unmet needs as well as retain the current commercial vibrancy of the market as it stands today."
Still, merchants and market patrons must be convinced.
"There's lots of places to put up condos, lots of places to put up town houses," said Michael Gushue, a Brookland resident who shops regularly at the Italian specialty store and market staple A. Litteri's. "I like the market the way it is."