It appears as if the Moore Street Market (aka “La Marqueta de Williamsburg”), the venerable fresh-produce market that has fallen on hard times in recent years, will not close any time soon.
Responding to a community outcry, the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) – which manages the city-owned market – has reversed course on plans announced in February 2007 to close the market in favor of affordable housing.
“The market is not in imminent danger of closing,” said EDC spokesperson Janel Patterson.
“We’re working on a long-term plan that would benefit the community and the market. We hope to be able to announce something in the coming weeks.”
Patterson said she could not elaborate on what this “long-term plan” might entail, or how specific it might be.
The market – located on Moore Street between Humboldt Street and Graham Avenue – was originally built in 1941 by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia to give pushcart operators a clean, centralized place to sell their goods.
But it has long ceased to be profitable: The city-subsidized market now loses around $270,000 per year, according to Patterson. The city kicks in cash to help offset the discounted rate of $19 per square foot the market’s 19 vendors pay for use of the space.
But the EDC’s February announcement to close the market was met with strong opposition from South Williamsburg residents who see it as an enduring symbol of the neighborhood’s traditional Latino feel during a period of rapid gentrification.
The market also specializes in hard-to-find Latin American fresh produce; it is therefore a public health resource for a neighborhood struggling with obesity rates.
In response to the community opposition, the EDC set a June 2007 deadline for advocates to come up with a plan to preserve the market. The deadline was later pushed back until June 30, 2008, a date that has also come and gone.
“It looks like [the EDC] is supporting the community’s position that La Marqueta is a historic community anchor,” said Evelyn Cruz, a spokesperson for Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who teamed with Assemblymember Vito Lopez – a long-time political rival – to rally for the market.
Cruz pointed out that the market is near three New York City Housing Authority developments containing approximately 3,000 units of affordable housing.
“’La Marqueta’ has a natural constituency,” she said.
With both the community and the EDC on board to save it, the question now turns to the best way to make the market economically viable.
To this end, Velazquez has given a $234,000 grant to the Project for Public Spaces (PSS), a non-profit organization dedicated to creating and sustaining public spaces, charging it with studying ways to revitalize the market.
“Should we have more vendors or fewer vendors? What doesn’t work, what does, and why does it work?” said Chris Heitmann of PPS.
Heitmann said the PPS would release an initial findings report in September. The final study – on which PPS has been working informally since last year – is due back in eight months.
It remains to be seen how this PPS study will fit into the “long-term plan” for the market Patterson said the EDC would announce in the coming weeks.
Cruz suggested that training the vendors in small business skills might be a way to improve the market’s output.
She also said diversifying the market to reflect the area’s changing demographics might make it more of a “destination point.”
“We want a diverse range of merchants to appeal to all of the community,” she said.
Advocates are also hopeful that a rumored turnover in management in the next few months – from the EDC to the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation – will result in more active, hands-on stewardship that will boost revenues.
Currently, only 19 of the 26 available retail stalls are occupied. Merchants and other advocates have long leaned on the EDC to lease out the remainder of the stalls, claiming the empty stalls undermine the market’s chance of being profitable.
“Right now, it’s severely under-leased. Honestly, it looks pretty bleak,” Cruz said.
But Paterson responded, “While we are working on developing plans for the future of the market, pursuing new tenants would not be practical. When we have our plan in place, we will be able to move forward to maximize the potential of the market.”
©2008 Community News Group
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