LAST WEEK, former Seattle City Council member Michael Hildt returned to town to see whether an historic document that bears his name was about to become history. Standing before an overflow crowd at the Pike Place Market, he learned that the Hildt Amendment—which has kept a precarious peace among the Market's fractious farmers, craftspeople, artists, and flower growers for the past 15 years—faces extinction. But even if that happens, Hildt told the assemblage, "It is people who will hold the Market in time, who will keep it from changing—not paper."
Hildt's words drew applause and smiles but gave only brief comfort to dozens of hand-to-mouth businesspeople. Craftspeople and flower growers (many of them Laotian) fear that the Market's governing Preservation and Development Authority (PDA) wants to shred the only piece of paper that guarantees them access to 115 daystalls in the sheltered North Arcade. PDA property manager John Turnbull wants those spaces reserved for fresh-produce farmers only—even though flagging sales, changing downtown demographics, and logistical problems have driven many growers to neighborhood, suburban, and small-town farmer's markets.
"The PDA has wanted to do this for a long time," claims Haley Land, who with his wife, Leanne Clarke, has sold ceramic pins at the Market for 14 years. "The cure could be worse than the disease." Land, the president of the Daystall Tenants Association, worries that the PDA has even bigger designs than changing how daystalls are doled out. "What's behind this is the PDA's desire to increase its control over the Market. It just feels like they're being sneaky."
Turnbull says there's nothing sneaky about the PDA's plans. "There is a tendency among people at the Market to look at the broad implications of very small changes. We're trying to be very simple. Our desire is to make the Market work for farmers selling freshly harvested food. It's unfortunate that there isn't more trust down here."
A CLOSER look at changes Turnbull and PDA executive director Shelly Yapp want to make to the Hildt Amendment makes the Market vendors' suspicions understandable. Those changes go far beyond merely shifting how daystalls are allotted. For starters, the amendment itself would be terminated in 2003—five years before its original expiration date—leaving no provisions for how daystalls would henceforth be managed. And vendors—as well as performers—would no longer be able to appeal decisions about how space is allocated. Plus, hearings convened to hammer out disagreements over permits would no longer be held in public.
Turnbull insists that these and other changes merely represent an "administrative cleanup" of the Hildt Amendment. Such explanations hardly pacify vendors like Land. "It would fit in with our suspicions and our mistrust for the PDA to create a document that would reduce our power, and to restrict our ability and the public's ability to appeal certain decisions."
Market tenants have had plenty of provocation of late. In the past several years, PDA managers have evicted several Asian-owned businesses (drawing formal human rights complaints), tried to boot out jazz singer and Market fixture Patti Summers, sent a four-digit cleanup bill to former Market resident Doug Smith as he was dying of cancer, and punished farmer Gary Franklin for moving a foul-smelling dumpster away from his stall.
"It seems as though something like this comes up every year," says Mike Yaeger of Studio Solstone, a former PDA Council member and the unofficial "mayor" of the Market. This year the Hildt Amendment changes aren't all that's stirring up emotion. A PDA plan to build a 200-space parking garage adjacent to Steinbrueck Park is also drawing skepticism; its proponent, PDA Council chair John Finke, is the same man who co-developed the Pacific Place parking garage adjacent to the new Nordstrom store.
Keeping a close watch are Seattle City Council members Nick Licata, whose Culture, Arts & Parks Committee has PDA oversight powers, and Peter Steinbrueck, a longtime Market champion. The PDA Council is scheduled to discuss the proposed Hildt Amendment changes on June 23. If they're approved, it's unclear whether Mayor Schell or the City Council has the authority to reject them. Their authority may be a moot point; vendors worry about the friendship Schell and PDA director Yapp have forged over the years.