- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

Vendors at the historic Eastern Market are looking for help from the city in finding a temporary home after last week’s fire gutted parts of the building.

At a community meeting last night at Hine Junior High School, city officials pledged to give them just that.

“We really do have something amazing here, something special, something world-class,” said D.C. City Administrator Dan Tangherlini, who helped moderate the meeting along with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. “We need to do everything we can to preserve it.”

Officials with the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee said 13 merchants who held spots at the 134-year-old market on the 200 block of Seventh Street Southeast were displaced by the three-alarm blaze April 30. An electrical short started the blaze, which caused $5 million to $10 million in damage.

Mr. Fenty has pledged to rebuild the Capitol Hill staple “100 percent” using supplemental revenue expected to be certified this week by the city’s chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi.

Plans for full restoration are expected to take at least 18 months. In the meantime, officials are looking for temporary locations for the merchants, who sell everything from pastries and poultry to dairy products.

More than 500 people packed into two auditoriums at Hine Junior High in Southeast for last night’s meeting, geared toward taking suggestions for nearby locations where a temporary structure could be built to house the market’s businesses.

“This has to be a process,” Mr. Fenty told the crowd. “Even though we’re going to move fast, even though we’re going to move quickly, this has to be a community-driven process.”

Participants gathered in groups to discuss their preferences among three suggested replacement locations: the north parking lot of Hine, the plaza at the Eastern Market Metro stop across Pennsylvania Avenue and along Seventh Street Southeast.

Mr. Tangherlini said all three spots were “equal, interesting options,” but the Hine and Eastern Market sites were preferable.

To many in the crowd, the school seemed to be the only option. Sharon Bernier, 66, a psychotherapist who lives two blocks from the market, said the other two options presented proximity and crowd concerns.

Hine, she said, “is the ideal spot and we think they know that.”

Melvin Inman, a displaced poultry vendor, said market merchants had wanted Hine all along.

“We know the area, we know the proximity, we know the logistics,” said Mr. Inman, 55, who had worked at the market for 32 years. “We have kind of suggested this from the very beginning.”

Participants also discussed closing Seventh Street on weekends if Hine is used, as well as what amenities, such as restrooms, a temporary marketplace should have.

A second meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Old Naval Hospital in Southeast, where officials with the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee — which is working as a liaison between city officials and the community — plan to make a formal recommendation to D.C. government on a location and structure.

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission has said it will consider opening the D.C. Armory as a temporary site, but that option was not discussed last night.

Officials said the armory could not accommodate vendors this month because of scheduled events, but the building next to RFK Stadium may be available during the summer.

The Capitol Hill Community Foundation had raised $180,000 to assist merchants and their employees while the market is rebuilt.

Donations are being accepted online and by mail. More information is available at capitolhillcommunityfoundation.org.

A residents group, Rescue Eastern Market, has organized a fundraiser for today. Two dozen D.C. bars, coffee shops and other businesses will donate 5 percent to 10 percent of their revenue toward the rebuilding effort.

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