CLEVELAND — Clogged drains, faulty electrical outlets and leaky sinks are among the persistent and pervasive maintenance-related problems at Cleveland’s West Side Market, according to records obtained by News 5. These issues and alleged mismanagement have forced the owner of another longtime vendor, Turczyk’s Meats, to break his lease early after 36 years of operation at the venerated Cleveland landmark.
Owner Mike Turczyk ceased operations in August but posted a lengthy statement on Facebook over the weekend, explaining his decision while also criticizing the market’s owner and landlord, the City of Cleveland. Turczyk was especially critical of the market’s manager, Mayor Frank Jackson and Public Works Director Michael Cox.
“After spending most of my life as a "marketeer", this was the last thing I wanted to do. But I had no choice,” Turczyk said. “I planned on retiring with my West Side Market family and friends that I have provided excellent meals for years! The deplorable conditions they had me working under is totally unacceptable.”
“There was actually water coming through the electrical outlets, running through the electrical pipe lines.”
“I was complaining about not having power in my beef stand for well over a year, I had to pull power out my basement and run extension cords.”
"I know that there are other vendors that are ready to leave by the end of the year, we’re all friends and family because we all grew up together down there.”
The conditions of the market and its mechanical systems have been a frequent target of complaints from vendors for more than a year. In a statement released Sunday, a spokesperson said the city is in the process of awarding a design contract for planned improvements of the West Side Market, including much-needed electrical repairs and upgrades.
According to records obtained by News 5, there have been more than 350 work orders and service requests from West Side Market vendors from January 2017 through October 2019, amounting to roughly one service request every three days. A vast majority of the service requests concern repairs to the market’s electrical system and plumbing.
There were a total of 58 plumbing-related work orders in 2017. Records show there were 38 and 40 plumbing work orders in 2018 and 2019 respectively. A large number of the plumbing issues reported by vendors had to deal with clogged pipes and drains as well as leaky sinks. In many of the plumbing work orders, vendors expressed growing frustration with the repeated issues.
“The sink is backing up again (still),” one vendor wrote in July 2019. “It was snaked on Thursday by maintenance. Please send the plumber to fix the problem. It makes our jobs very difficult when it comes time to wash dishes in a sink half-full of backed-up water. Very unsanitary.”
Issues with the drains at vendors’ booths would often flood the market floor, spreading to other vendors nearby, according to the work orders.
“The pipes that drain [nearby vendors] are clogged!” a vendor wrote in May 2018. “Causing flooding daily! Emergency! This is a danger to customers and everyone!”
According to maintenance records, issues with the market’s electrical system often leave vendors without working outlets and coolers. There were 105 work order requests related to electrical issues, averaging 35 service requests in 2017, 2018 and through October 2019. While many of the electric-related work orders had to do with replacing light bulbs at vendors’ booths, many of the market’s tenants frequently have to deal with faulty electrical outlets and breakers that routinely trip.
“Need power to outlets. Cleveland Public Power came out to check it, said electricians need to look at it. The issue is between the meters and the stands,” a vendor wrote in October 2017. “Breakers to meters keeps popping. Need ASAP please.”
The remaining work orders from News 5’s review of maintenance records relate to the condition of the vendors’ coolers and general maintenance around the building. In total, there have been 118 work orders related to cooler and maintenance-related issues.
“The evaporator fan (in the cooler) is STILL not installed,” a vendor wrote in an April 2019 request. “What are you waiting for?! The part has been in. Are the engineers incapable of installing it? Temperatures are rising, creating unsafe conditions for food.”
In a statement released Sunday, Cleveland city officials said $2 million has been allocated from this year’s budget in order to fund electrical system repairs and other market upgrades. Currently, the city is in the process of awarding a design contract for what will ultimately be a $5.5 million project spanning 2020 and 2021.
“The City is aware of social media conversation regarding a recent decision by one of the market’s long-standing vendors to close their stand. While it is up to both the market and each vendor to determine the viability of a continued relationship, it is always a loss when any business is unable to continue at the market,” the statement reads. “The City is committed to continuing its collaboration with the West Side Market Tenants Association to make strategic capital and operational improvements, and complete and implement new marketing strategies designed to strengthen the competitive position of our tenants, while providing new opportunities for new businesses.”
The statement continued to address the city's commitment to improving the market.
"Separately, the City of Cleveland has also completed an extensive capital assessment and is in the process of awarding a design contract for over $5.5 million in planned improvements of which $2 million in funding for 2019 exists. Plans include addressing electrical improvements, lighting upgrades, building envelope improvements and other market needs. We will continue to move forward with these plans with additional capital funding planned in 2020 – 2021. The City of Cleveland is committed to its oversight of one of Cleveland’s most iconic destinations."
Cleveland’s Chief Operations Officer Darnell Brown detailed the upgrades coming to the market in a live video posted on the city’s page Monday afternoon. In the video, a city staffer asked Brown several questions, including what the future holds for the market. Because the press was neither invited nor advised of the briefing, News 5 management has elected not to broadcast it.
In the question-and-answer video, Brown said the $2 million first phase of the upgrade project should start in the first quarter of 2020. Many vendors have been frustrated by the delays in the much-needed overhaul.
The designs had to be created and approved by an architect. The architect was selected through [a request for proposals] before the work could proceed,” a city spokeswoman said. “We are currently working with the architect to have work orders issued for [the first quarter of 2020].”
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