Mixed Reviews For Site Realty Market In D.c.

Patrons, vendors evaluate a D.C. market run by the company recommended for Annapolis' Market House


WASHINGTON - At Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, Ed Wizniak sits down at the no-frills lunch counter Thursday, surrounded by produce, meat, flowers, fruit and bakery bread under a soaring ceiling. And he is right at home, even though he is sitting alone.

"I've been coming here since 1976. I report in for crabs, fish, oysters," said the retired National Transportation Safety Board official. "You can call this one of the gems of Washington."

Annapolis city officials hope that the same will be true of its weathered Market House once a company is approved to manage the renovated, 147-year-old building near City Dock.

Last week, a committee of city officials recommended that the contract be awarded to Site Realty Group of Silver Spring, whose main selling point was that it manages Eastern Market.

On a recent weekday, several Eastern Market customers praised the vibrant gathering place, but some complained about what they called a lack of upkeep at the District of Columbia-owned structure.

Amid an eclectic array that included a carton of pomegranate seeds, sweet potato gnocchi and old-fashioned oxtails, three women from High Point, N.C., settled on backfin crab cakes, but expressed disappointment that more hadn't been done to spruce up the market.

"We were unpleasantly surprised," said Janie Reese.

The Annapolis city council will discuss the bids Wednesday, with a vote possibly coming in mid-November, after the mayoral and city council elections.

The Market House and Eastern Market both date to the 19th century. People have been able to peer out of the windows of the simple, one-story Market House toward the Chesapeake Bay since 1858; the current structure is the third to occupy the site.

Eastern Market, at Seventh and C streets in Southeast Washington, was built in the 1870s. The market is larger and caters to a diverse mix of weekday shoppers and weekend strollers, including a senator or congresswoman in jeans here and there.

"People move here just to be near this," said Tom Glasgow, proprietor of The Market Lunch, near his brother's seafood business.

"We're bipartisan for all walks and colors of life. Great markets create a sense of community," he said.

Eastern Market draws people who have been regulars for decades.

Milton Douglass, a retired government worker, remembers when there were live chickens for sale outside - in contrast to the hip jewelry, clothes and crafts that are now displayed at the outdoor weekend flea market.

"My aunt and my mother used to come here at 5 o'clock in the morning," Douglass said.

While the Market House is now shipshape after receiving a new roof, fresh paint and other renovations in the wake of Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003, the red-brick Eastern Market shows some signs of wear.

A reporter observed peeling paint, rickety stairs and bathrooms that had not been modernized.

Upkeep and improvements have been lacking, along with a consistent management presence on the market site, Glasgow said. "One thing we greatly need is better ventilation," he said.

"If [Site Realty is] using Eastern Market as an accomplishment, it isn't true," he said, speaking as the second generation in his family to operate a business under the market roof.

"We were great long before they came," Glasgow said. "The character developed on its own."

Richard D. Cohen, a vice president at Site Realty, noted that the company has managed Eastern Market for only three years. He declined to comment further.

In an e-mail, he said of the Annapolis city staff recommendation: "We look forward to working with the city of Annapolis to complete lease negotiations as quickly as possible and will make every effort to meet the expedited schedule established for re-opening this landmark building."

Site Realty was recommended over six other contenders in a streamlined process that took less than a week.

The other bidders were the New Market Group, led by Annapolis business partners Gavin Buckley and Jody Danek; H.B. Properties, led by Annapolis restaurateur Harvey Blonder; O'Leary's Seafood in Annapolis; Foundos Realty in Annapolis; Siganos Management of Northfield, N.J.; and Caribee Associates LLC of Ocean City.

The bid review process, overseen by a retired judge last week, follows a bitter debate among Mayor Ellen O. Moyer and some city council members over the fate of Market House.

The city evicted former vendors so it could make $1 million in improvements, and then awarded a contract last year to New York-based specialty grocer Dean & DeLuca.

But that deal fell through, and some council members were outraged last summer when it became clear Dean & DeLuca had pulled out months earlier and subleased the market, but that no one had told them. The new company, Annapolis Seafood, also withdrew and the city had to rebid.

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