- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on Friday reopened the South Hall of Eastern Market, completing a $22 million renovation of the historic brick building after it was gutted by a three-alarm fire two years ago.

Mr. Fenty reopened the building to the wild cheers and applause of community members and elected officials, making note in his remarks of the “excitement, the anticipation and the energy that surrounds this place behind me, this fantastic, magnificent building, structure and gathering place.”

“All of us as community members, looking out on you, this is a diverse group of members, and all the people listening, living in the city all their lives, people who just moved here last month, all of us [are] here together to enjoy the same community resource,” Mr. Fenty said.

Merchants began setting up their equipment at about 6 a.m. Friday. By mid-morning, when customers were allowed inside, the building was bustling.

“I’m getting trampled, but it’s great,” one merchant shouted out when the doors opened. “Now I know what it feels like to be in a stampede.”

Improvements to the 136-year-old building include modern heating and air-conditioning systems, sprinklers, restrooms and streetscaping outside the market.

The building was also equipped with a new fire-monitoring system that will call 911 to prevent anything like the April 30, 2007, fire that ravaged the South Hall from happening again. No one was hurt in the blaze, which was likely caused by electrical problems, fire officials said.

Four months after the fire, the city opened a $1.5 million temporary market across from the original building. The city spent an additional $1 million to buy equipment such as refrigerators and appliances for the 14 merchants displaced by the fire.

Even the Capitol Hill community,through the Eastern Market Committee,showed its support by rallying and raising over $450,000 to support the renovation.

All of the original merchants that sold their goods out of the South Hall - which housed a seafood stand, a bakery, a flower stall, produce stands, butcher shops, delis and a popular eating place - have returned, city officials said.

Bobby Baker, a D.C. resident since 1969, said he goes to the market for the food, and he rattles off the merchants who have occupied the hall in recent decades.

“It’s your place to go to in the neighborhood,” he said.

Mr. Baker had nothing but praise for the renovation.

“I’ve watched the changes over the years,” he said. “It’s great.”

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