We’ll have a complete report from tonight’s CB3/SPURA Committee meeting later, but here’s a quick recap of what transpired this evening. There were no decisions made about the future of the Essex Street Market, but quite a few people showed up to speak in favor of retaining the 1940 market buildings and we got some new insight from the city about their position on relocating the facility.
Several vendors testified passionately about their businesses, which they said would have been impossible to start if the market (with its subsidized rents) had not existed. Murad Punjwani, whose family runs a phone store and the Amigo Mini-Mart on Delancey Street, broke down, tearfully pleading with the city not to move the market. During the course of 15 years, he said, “I’ve worked so hard” to build the businesses.
City officials emphasized that no decisions have been made. They said leaving the market in its current location is an option. Alyssa Konon of the NYC Economic Development Corp. reaffirmed the city’s commitment to keeping a public market on the Seward Park redevelopment site. But at the same time, she suggested, the Essex Street facility might not be sustainable in the long term without a significant infusion of money. If the market were moved across the street, it could become part of a larger retail complex. The city would presumably offer a steep discount in the purchase price for the developer chosen to construct the commercial project, with the understanding that the developer would pay to build and maintain an expanded market within the complex.
David McWater, committee chair, said the parcel where the Essex Street Market is located could accommodate a residential building containing up to 100 apartments. If the market is not relocated, he warned, CB3 and the city would need to figure out how to make up those housing units elsewhere. Many committee members consider the creation of affordable housing on the SPURA parcels their top priority.
John Shapiro, the city’s planning consultant, was supposed to be an impartial facilitator this evening. But on more than one occasion, he stepped away from this role and derided the current building as poorly designed, architecturally inferior and inadequate as a modern commercial facility. Other facilitators tonight chose a different approach. Steve Davies and David O’Neil of the Project for Public Spaces, who were recruited by the city to help guide CB3, delivered a brief presentation on successful public market models. They acknowledged many of the Essex Market’s attributes, including a great mix of vendors and a superior location. They avoided talking about the market’s perceived shortcomings. They also pointed out that most markets move locations, sometimes becoming more successful in the process.
The meeting began with a public speaking session, but the Essex Market discussion was put on hold while the committee hashed out an agreement on urban design principles for the SPURA parcels. This irritated residents, many of whom left before the market conversation resumed.
The market debate will be back on the agenda next month.