Survey Set to Inform Eastern Market Plan

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The Eastern Market Special Use Area was defined by legislation drafted in 1999 that revised management of and regulation for Eastern Market. Image: Architrave P.C.

What draws you to the market area? How do you get to the market? Have you seen promotional material for Eastern Market?

This is the type of information local architecture and planning firm Architrave collected in its recently concluded survey on Eastern Market.

Last November the Hill-based firm won a $300,000 grant from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to develop the Strategic Business Plan for Eastern Market (SBPEM). Architrave, founded in 1976, has done multiple planning projects for the federal government. This is their first such plan.

The firm intends to use the information gathered to inform its work on a strategic plan that seeks a path forward for the historic public market amid fierce competition from the grocery options available on the Hill, as well as the explosive rise of online shopping.

Architrave partnered with commercial marketing and property management firm JLL on the plan, and not-for-profit Consensus Building Institute (CBI), which focuses on citizen engagement and collaboration and acts as outside consultant and facilitator on the project.

The survey is part of the first of three stages in developing the strategic plan, where Architrave gathers information. After community comments and revisions, the final SBPEM is expected to be submitted to DMPED this summer. It will contain recommendations for future market business operations.

What the Survey Does
The survey that informs the SBPEM went live on Jan. 15 and looks at aspects of consumer preferences, such as what they are looking for at the market that they don’t see and what they like.

“The question is: what will it take to get you to shop at Eastern Market?” said Architrave’s founder, Robert Weinstein, adding that questions are geared to understanding what can be done to increase traffic in the Eastern Market zone.

Architrave sought views from a variety of sources, including community members, merchants, area business owners and potential customers.

Project Manager Scott Betz said that analytics show that the survey required about 10 minutes to complete. About 80% of responses came from customers in the Capitol Hill area.

As of Feb. 18, Architrave reported that 3,250 people had responded to the survey, more than 500 self-reporting as residents of areas other than Capitol Hill. More than 100 were business owners in the area of Eastern Market.

Betz said that in terms of numbers, Architrave was very happy with the replies, as well as with the responses from residents of other neighborhoods. He added that surveys are a difficult balance between trying to keep the process short and concise so that people don’t drop out, and ensuring it is long enough to collect the data required. Architrave worked with CBI to create the survey, and consulted with experts in survey design at the Pew Research Center.

Asks Good Questions
Nick Alberti is a former mathematician, a local resident and former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC 6A) who consulted on surveys for the US Census. He said the survey asked good questions and will generate useful data.

His major concern was with the difficulty of navigation. He said there was little instruction on how to navigate some survey features, such as the use of a slider to indicate preferences. Where users were asked to rearrange a list to rank priorities, there was no instruction on how, or on whether the higher or lower number indicated greater importance.

“My professional experience is that if you confuse people to begin with, they will probably never finish it,” he said.

The survey was advertised via local newsletters, blogs and Listservs as well as advertisements in the Washington City Paper and the Hill Rag. Councilmember Charles Allen asked members of the DC Council to circulate the survey for further outreach, said Architrave’s Weinstein. The survey was also circulated to a list of current and former Eastern Market vendors, to ensure that they were reached in a time of year when fewer vendors and farmers are exhibiting.

Weinstein said that giving the stakeholders another avenue to voice their opinions was critically important. “I think the farmers, the merchants, the vendors, the flea market people and the businesses in the [Eastern Market] district – they’re the key to success, and we really wanted to make sure we were hearing from them.”

How the Survey Will Be Used
Architrave will spend a couple of weeks analyzing the data before presenting it to stakeholders at meetings scheduled for late February. All data and analysis will be available online prior to the meetings.

Commissioner Gerald Sroufe (6B02) is the Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative on the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC). He said he is cautiously optimistic about the survey and is glad to know that the analysis will be shared with the public.

He was one of the two representatives who heard presentations from finalists in the selection process for the strategic plan, offering feedback on the presentations to DGS before the final decision.

“I was personally impressed with Architrave’s familiarity with other markets and a creative approach to doing marketing and negotiations and planning,” he said.

EMCAC President Donna Scheeder hopes the survey will address the critical issue of how to attract people who do not use the market in order to grow business.

It needs to be remembered that Eastern Market is a public good, not just a shopping mall, Scheeder stated. “It’s not owned by the city, it’s owned by the residents of the District of Columbia,” she said. “It serves a public good beyond the commercial.”

Next Steps
The survey is the first component of the strategic planning process, Weinstein said, which includes an operational analysis and a study of other public markets.

The operational analysis looks at the current legislation governing the operation of the Eastern Market zone and the structure it established, and compares legislation to the reality of market operations as well as to models provided by other public markets.

Vendors will discuss ideas for what is working well, improvements and marketing strategies for day-to-day operations. Finally, the survey asks area merchants what can be done to attract consumers to the wider Eastern Market area. “We’ve been upfront that we don’t just want to drop a draft at the end of this. We want it to be a conversation, we want it to be a back-and-forth, that’s why we’re trying to get things out along the way,” explained Betz.

Architrave sees the strategic plan as a way to bring unified energy to the future of Eastern Market. “There’s been a lot of contention about the market, and the different factors, and all of that,” said Weinstein. “But the one thing [is,] everybody has good intentions. Everybody loves the market; everybody wants to do what’s best for the market. People have different ideas about what that is, but this is a chance where we can all work together, bring all the ideas together, and forge a way forward together.”

You can follow the Eastern Market Strategic Plan, see survey data and offer your comments by visiting www.easternmarketplan.org.