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Consultant or 'market doctor' tells us his plans to fix ongoing issues with West Side Market

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Posted at 6:33 AM, Feb 18, 2021

CLEVELAND — If the walls of the West Side Market could talk, they’d have decades of tales to tell.

But for the past few years, vendors feel like they’re continuously saying the same thing.

“It just can’t go on like this,” said Don Whitaker, of D.W. Whitaker Meats and the president of the market’s tenants’ association.

He said vendors have consistently asked Cleveland city leaders to fix ongoing infrastructure, vacancy and overall, management issues, with no real progress.

“All these little problems, it just comes down to taking care and running the building,” he said. “Just the way it’s being managed, it needs its own dedicated management team. They can’t run it with one person in the office upstairs.”

But he said until the city hired David K. O’Neil, a market consultant, it felt like their complaints fell on deaf ears. O’Neil has consulted for more than 200 historic markets throughout the world. Though O’Neil’s contract specifics were not disclosed in a press release, city council set aside $137,000 to pay a consultant in November.

RELATED: West Side Market tenants worry about its future after recent vendor departures, ongoing issues

“Why the city has to pay him is because they put themselves in this situation, in my opinion,” said Whitaker.

O’Neil told News 5 he is hired to consult for 6 months.

“There's a lot of passion, I think, behind some of the frustration that is going on in the market now. I hear it. I understand it,” said O’Neil.

And for the next 6 months, his job is to research and study to come up with a recipe for a successful market future.

“Markets are feisty. People are spicy in markets. They're independent,” he said. “There are individual responsibilities that the city has, that the vendors have, that the management has. But it's very important for everybody to come together.”

He said he will start his work next week. He will meet with architects and engineers to address the aging infrastructure.

He’ll also take time to just study the inner-workings of the market.

“Observing the operations, seeing how the vendors work, seeing what the rhythm of the market and seeing how the management works,” he said.

Whitaker said he’s hoping O’Neil addresses the vacancies the market has.

“They haven’t replaced tenants,” said Whitaker. “The marketing could help bring in customers and tenants.”

O’Neil said he will be working with community partners to find new ways to market the market.

“That vacancy is also an opportunity,” he said. “There are a lot of entrepreneurial pockets in Cleveland that are resources for bringing new business and new customers into the market.”

Whitaker feels like O’Neil is a breath of fresh air.

“He seems to know what markets need,” he said.

But he is also not holding his breath until he sees a change from the top down.

“We will not be quiet about his findings and if they don’t act on them, it’s going to be their own fault and it’s going to fall on this administration if they drop the ball,” he said.

RELATED: Cleveland seeks consultant to enhance West Side Market customer experience