‘Moore’ of market to come - BEDC takes reins of La Marqueta with five-year lease

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After months of speculation, it’s officially official: The Moore Street Market, known locally as La Marqueta de Williamsburg, will continue to exist.

Last Friday, community leaders held a press conference announcing the signing of a five-year lease that hands management of the market to the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation from the city’s Economic Corporation, which owns the land on Moore Street and Humboldt Street where the market sits.

The five-year lease — which was actually signed in late December — has a mutual five-year option for both the BEDC and the EDC. The agreement between the parties was long-rumored — negotiations had gone on since at least July.

The signing of the lease represents a complete reversal of course by the EDC, which announced plans to close the venerable market in 2007 so it could build affordable housing on the site. The EDC claimed it was losing $270,000 annually to subsidize the market.

But news of the closure was met with an uproar from the Latino Southside community, which sees the venerable market — which sells Latino specialty products, among other items — as an enduring staple of ethnic pride amidst a rising tide of gentrification and displacement.

Said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who banded with other local elected officials like Councilwoman Diana Reyna and Assemblyman Vito Lopez to oppose the market’s closure: “The merchants of the Moore Street Market have won a major victory that strengthens tradition and entrepreneurship and preserves a local treasure.”

The Market opened in 1941 at the behest of then-Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who wanted to give pushcart operators a clean, centralized place to peddle their wares.

But in recent years, it has fallen on hard times.

Virgilio Rodriguez, the head of the market’s vendors association, said the EDC and St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corporation managed the market in an indifferent way over the past decade. He accused the EDC of letting the market atrophy, essentially trying to kill the market off so it could proceed with plans to build affordable housing.

“They didn’t do any work for the market — they didn’t clean it, they didn’t pick up garbage. They wanted to be able to tell the city: ‘The market doesn’t make money,’” Rodriguez said.

Councilwoman Diana Reyna — who allocated $200,000 of City Council funding for the market — concurred with Rodriguez’ assessment. She said the EDC did not renew some of the vendors’ permits, causing a high-vacancy rate she said undermined the market.

For its part, the EDC has steadfastly denied these allegations and defended its move regarding permits by claiming that the subsidized vendors cost more money than they brought in. But Reyna said the EDC “contributed to a self-hardship so they could claim a bigger deficit.”

Rodriguez was excited to have the BEDC managing the space.

“Now we’re working together and meeting with them every month. It’s a good time for us,” he said.

According to Joan Bartolomeo, the BEDC President, 14 stalls at the market are currently occupied by 11 vendors, though 18 stalls are available.

In the remaining four stalls, Bartolomeo forsees having a fishmonger, a meat market and a bakery. It’s all part of a vision to make the market “a place you can come and have all the makings for an evening meal,” she said.”

Other improvements the BEDC is considering include offering business training to the vendors, doing more marketing, opening up the market as a venue for community events, and making the market more energy efficient.

“We plan to work with the existing tenants to maximize their businesses. Nobody is being displaced,” she said.

Assisting with the revitalization of the market will be the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), the non-profit organization that received a $250,000 grant from Velazquez to help plot a course for the market’s future.

In December, PPS hosted a brainstorming session for the market that drew over 200 community residents. One idea that emerged was to make the building, a classic New Deal monolith, look more inviting.

“Right now, it’s just a big brick building,” said Kelly Williams of PPS. “It’s the type of thing where you don’t know it’s there unless you know it’s there.”

Williams said the building can be more inviting and identifiable with small renovations and signage indicating the presence of the market.

The story of how La Marqueta was “saved” featured two unexpected phenomena in Williamsburg politics:

First, it represented common ground between Reyna and Velazquez and Lopez. Reyna and Velazquez are considered by some to be political adversaries of Lopez, but on this project, they were allies.

Second, it put Williamsburg residents and elected officials in the incongruous position of advocating against affordable housing, which the EDC wanted to build on the land occupied by the market.

“This is a cultural venue that speaks to the soul of the Latino community,” said Luis Garden Acosta, founder and president of El Puente, the Southside community organization. “Without these venues, affordable housing is simply the warehousing of a people.”

Updated 3:32 pm, October 19, 2011
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