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6th Street Tenants Hold Breath, City Extends Lease

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Lenora Metts mourned what she thought would be her final Greek salad from the Mediterranean Grille in the food court at 6th Street Marketplace. Although she usually comes only once or twice a week, she recently stepped up her salad eating.

"I'm cramming them in until Aug. 9," she said last week.

Aug. 9 was supposed to be the day the few remaining vendors at 6th Street Marketplace packed up for good, but they were told early last week that they could stay for an additional 90 days. It's a relief, but hardly a solution, says George Missak, who owns the Mediterranean Grille and Blues Café and Bistro. Both businesses sit in the food court of the downtown mall that was launched as a massive urban revitalization project in 1985 and has struggled ever since.

"If they give us an extension without relocation funds or relieving of debt, like taxes and rent, how am I going to be out of this?" Missak asks. Tenants have argued that the city urged them to stay through tough times, overlooking late rent and taxes, when construction choked out business in the neighborhood.

There is some discussion of potential relocation funds from the city, but no word yet on whether the money will materialize or where it will come from.

"It's being discussed," says City Councilman Bruce Tyler, who sits on the council's finance committee. He says relocation money and buying out remaining tenant leases are both options on the table. "No hard package has been put together yet, but it's not out of the question at all."

For another group of tenants, the extension isn't so much a reprieve as it is a further delay. Upstairs from the food court, the city has yet to notify the Richmond Adult Drug Court Program and the Richmond Department of Fire and Emergency Services -- neither of which pays rent — about their respective relocations.

Both programs have been housed upstairs from the food court since the public safety building on North Ninth Street was closed for renovation in early 2004 after tenants there complained of a leaky roof, crumbling ceilings, rats, and mechanical and electrical breakdowns. The 6th Street Marketplace building has faced some of the same infrastructure challenges, including a broken HVAC system, a leaky atrium and a window that once fell out of its casing onto the street.

"There is no holdup," says city spokesman Linwood Norman of the extra time the city needs to find new homes for its agencies. He predicts the drug court and fire department will have new homes within the next six weeks. "It's just a matter of preparation and examination and decision-making," Norman says. S



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