Market forces

Will the latest space battle at the Pike Place Market lead to all-out war?

"They can't possibly pass this," Theresa Alexander whispered during last week's Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority (PDA) meeting. It seemed to make sense at the time. A PDA proposal to give more space to fresh-produce farmers at the expense of craftspeople and flower growers was almost universally opposed. The Market's Constituency—an organization of vendors, merchants, performers, and customers headed by Alexander—opposed it. The Market's Historical Commission opposed it. Two of the three groups the PDA itself chose to study the idea opposed it. And, most visibly, nearly all of the 150-plus people crammed into a Market-view meeting room the afternoon of June 23 opposed it.

"There is a sickness in this place, a deep sickness," Market craftsperson and tenant organizer Haley Land told the PDA Council. "If you vote for this resolution, it is a vote for more hate and distrust."

Events would prove Land right and Alexander wrong. The PDA Council voted to revise and ultimately discard the so-called Hildt Agreement, the 14-page document that has maintained a fragile peace among Market farmers and craftspeople since the Seattle City Council approved it in 1983. The most significant change would nudge craftspeople and flower growers from 115 daystalls in the Market's sheltered North Arcade. Fresh-produce farmers—who now share those stalls with artists, tulip sellers, jam vendors, and the like—would instead have the first crack at the spaces. The biggest losers stand to be dozens of first- and second-generation Hmong families who grow flowers in the Sammamish Valley and sell them at the Market.

Craftspeople and flower growers haven't decided whether they'll call another strike, like the one they staged a week ago Sunday—believed to be the first in the Market's 91-year history. But it's clear they won't take the PDA Council's decision lying down. They've deluged City Council members with phone calls, letters, and e-mails. They've collected some 1,000 signatures on a petition demanding that PDA executive director Shelly Yapp be replaced. And they've been probing the background of PDA Council member John Finke, whose role in the Nordstrom­Pine Street parking-garage scandal has spawned numerous theories about what he may have in store for the Market. A nascent proposal floated by Finke and Yapp to build a parking garage adjacent to Victor Steinbrueck Park has already generated deep skepticism.

At least one City Council member is listening. In a stern letter, Nick Licata told Yapp that any changes to the Hildt Agreement should be postponed for one year, allowing his Culture, Arts and Parks Committee to study the situation "in a deliberative atmosphere, free of the crisis." The City Council has veto power over any proposed changes to the Hildt.

Not since the Urban Group fiasco of nearly a decade ago has the Market been shaken by so much fear and resentment. Tempers within the emotion-charged community are being lost even quicker than normal. At a June 20 meeting with a group of Hmong farmers, Yapp exploded when the discussion reached a stalemate. "You have been lied to!" she shouted, jabbing an index finger. "I am really tired of the [Market] community lying to people!"

Two weeks earlier, Finke embarked on a 10-minute tirade at Market "Mayor" Mike Yeager's workplace, excoriating him for an op-ed piece Yaeger wrote for The Seattle Times. Finke's published response to Yaeger's column didn't help matters. In that June 19 letter, Finke asserted that the company he currently works for, the New York City­based National Development Council, did not play a role in the Urban Group's investment in the Market during the early 1980s. A 1990 Urban Group report states, however, that the NDC "found the Urban Group for the PDA." Finke worked for the city of Seattle's Department of Community Development—which formerly managed the Market's finances—from 1979 to 1983, though he has denied any involvement with the Urban Group.

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