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Wrestling With Capital Improvements

Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) Chair Chuck Burger called the committee’s monthly and in-person meeting to order March 29 in Eastern Market’s North Hall (225 Seventh St. SE). He promptly called on EMCAC Treasurer Tom Kuchenberg to issue an updated financial report. 

Kuchenberg responded that EMCAC has $1,097 in its account. There has been no or little financial activity of any kind, the treasurer added, and there was “little going in or out for the past few months.”

This set the stage for a conversation led by Chair of Capital Improvements Committee Monte Edwards that briefly tackled a more complicated topic, engaging EMCAC in how to navigate the proposed FY24 capital budget for Eastern Market overall. That budget must be approved by DC Council.

Edwards, whose experience is nonpareil as far as capital needs and maintenance at the Market, has worked to frame EMCAC’s capital improvement requirements as recommendations that fit the budget requests of the Department of General Services (DGS). A capital improvement is any durable upgrade or enhancement of a property that enhances its value. DGS manages the Eastern Market and is also its landlord. 

By law EMCAC must be included in the budget deliberations. EMCAC submitted its proposals to DGS in November 2022 for FY24, which in turn submitted its budget to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the executive branch.

Edwards pointed out that the Eastern Market capital improvement budget requirements are $1,723,475 for the years FY24-29. DGS’s budget request is $2,412,886. However, the Mayor’s office presented a budget for Eastern Market to the Council that was markedly different than recommended by EMCAC, allocating $662,667 for FY24 and zero dollars for FY25 thru FY29.

Edwards highlighted the fact that EMCAC largely agreed with the proposed DGS budget but recommended changes to bring the budget closer in line with what the Council had approved in previous years.

Edwards continued: ”We looked at (the budget) in detail and discussed what we could do without and took into account that the Mayor is facing a revenue  shortfall because of COVID and stimulus funding that is not being extended beyond 2024 by the federal government. [T]ax revenues are down considerably for the commercial segments because offices spaces are not being used.”

With that in mind, Edwards is asking for additional monies for the long planned revamping of the Eastern Market HVAC system. Putting aside a number of projects that can be temporarily halted, EMCAC is now requesting a budget of $1,723,475 rather than the original DGS request of $2,412,886 for FY 24 thru FY29.

The  HVAC project will cost $800,000, which EMCAC is proposing be spread over the years FY24 and FY25. The HVAC system’s revamping is a long awaited improvement and is vital to the Market.

Edwards restated that the budget requirements, taking into account that not every request can be accommodated, are for $1,723,475 for FY24 to FY29 —nearly $700,000 less than the $2,412,886 originally requested by DGS.

Edward said if the Mayor’s originally proposed $660,667 is added to the $1,062,808 being requested, there will be sufficient funds for the Market to continue to operate successfully.

EMCAC voted unanimously to accept Edward’s report as the basis for testimony before city council.

A hearing of the DC Coucnil Committee on Facilities & Family Services at 9:00 a.m. April 6 will look at this matter. Councilmember Janeese Lewis George (Ward 4-D) chairs the committee and the meeting. EMCAC is scheduled to testify.

Operations

Recently resigned EMCAC member Susan Oursler left in her wake a sobering report on EMCAC  operations with a budget projecting revenue of $798,177 and expenses projected of  $1,015,662. According to Ourlser’s report, the “excess expenses” will be paid from another division of DGS should this shortfall of $217,485 remain. 

Modest increases in North Hall revenue are the one real hope that the Market can make minimally  modest dents in this deficit.

The report cites a matter of “perennial concern for the lack of progress on long term leases.” According to Oursler, ten of the Market’s fourteen South Hall tenants are operating on leases that expired in 2009, impairing their ability to do long term planning.

Peter Waldron is a long time resident and former Chair of the Neighborhood Advisory Commission (ANC6B). He has been reporting on the Eastern Market for fifteen years. Waldron can be reached at peter218@prodigy.net.

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