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6th Street Vendors Catch Break, But Must Go by May 12

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Headlines have trumpeted the closing of 6th Street Marketplace since 1999, but this time it may finally be finished.

The city has negotiated relocation agreements with the eight remaining food court vendors and found homes for the two city agencies housed on the second floor of the historic, city-owned Blues Armory building.

The vendors were originally told they had to be out by Aug. 9, 2007, but the city extended the deadline three times. The newest deal comes before the final eviction deadline of May 12.

"The good news is, we'll get out," says Salman Hejaz, owner of Captain Sam's Seafood, which also sold burgers and fried chicken. He says he'd love to reopen his business, but for now he needs a rest.

In a letter to City Council members, Chief Administrative Officer Sheila Hill-Christian says that officials have agreed with the recommendations of private consultants on how to deal with back taxes and rent owed to the city.

"Given the 'fuzziness' of the status of the 6th Street building over the years, and in order to resolve the situation expeditiously," Hill-Christian writes, "I agree with the consultant's and [Richmond Redevelopment Housing Authority's] recommendation to 'forgive' 50 percent of back rent owed."

State Sen. Henry Marsh represented the vendors during negotiations earlier in the year. "I wish they had gotten a little more. At least they got some relief," he says.

Since the late 1990s, the blocks surrounding the marketplace have been torn up by publicly funded construction -- the Greater Richmond Convention Center, the federal courthouse on Broad Street, and demolition of part of the marketplace itself — making access to the food court somewhat difficult.

The heating and cooling system has never worked properly, and in recent years the atrium roof has begun leaking. The city loses as much as $1 million in operating costs for the building annually, Hill-Christian says in the letter.

In addition to the break on back rent, the seven remaining food court vendors are each eligible to receive $25,000 in relocation funds. Hill-Christian says she has authorized the housing authority to set aside $450,000 from city parking deck revenues for the project.

George Missak, who owned the Blues Café and Bistro and the Mediterranean Grille, will still owe the city $14,000 on top of $171,000 in outside loans. He isn't sure what he'll do next.

"I was thinking about Las Vegas," Missak says.



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