Market House an Attraction for Downtown, Not a Gold Mine, Analysts Say
A private firm hired to study the financial feasibility of reopening the Market House this year delivered their verdict to the mayor and city council on Monday.
Financial consultants hired by the city said reopening The Market House won’t make the city rich, but it’s an important resource for Annapolis that should be utilized as soon as possible.
The city of Annapolis is moving full-steam ahead on reopening The Market House for temporary vendors in July, and at least until October. But what happens beyond that is still up for discussion.
On Monday, the Annapolis City Council reviewed a financial feasibility study on The Market House from BBP & Associates LLC, analysts who were contracted by the city and the Annapolis Economic Development Corp.
Among the findings, a deli, bakery, wine and cheese shops topped the lists of desirable new ventures in surveys taken among residents and business owners of Annapolis.
BBP Principal Ralph Basile told the mayor and council members that The Market House could be a very popular center of activity, but it likely wouldn’t become a driving force for downtown.
Mayor Josh Cohen asked Basile what the city’s return would be for their investment of reopening the ailing building.
“This little 5,000-square-foot building will not make you rich,” he said. “We think though that it can be an asset that doesn’t drain the city, serves a function and it should be built back up.”
Alderman Ross Arnett (D-8th Ward) said that came as somewhat of a surprise to him, and it could change the council’s outlook on the project moving forward.
“If it’s not the primary driver for the recovery of downtown then we need to possibly go back and rethink our premises,” Arnett said.
Basile reminded Arnett that the city had already committed to the cost of purchasing a 45-ton HVAC unit, but reassured him that The Market House could still be an important and exciting part of downtown. It would be a waste not to utilize it," he said.
“This is an opportunity to get an asset back into production,” he said.
Before BBP opened the floor to the mayor and council’s questions, they provided a detailed study of what the city’s options were for reopening the Market House. Though several alternatives were discussed and analyzed, BBP concluded that the best use of the 5,000-square-foot market were about a dozen small operations that could create an “authentic public market.”
“We feel that we got a strong opinion of what shoppers are looking for in the Annapolis area,” said Tim George of BBP.
George said there was also a fear expressed that the Market House would offer services that are already duplicated by area farmer’s markets. George said they were able to find small niches that weren’t being serviced yet, and could be unique experiences for Annapolis.
Signs posted around downtown about The Market House’s reopening fall right in line with BBP’s recommendations, promising deli, backed goods, seafood, produce and snacks when it opens its doors again on July 11. About a dozen new vendors are being broached for short-term contracts to operate at the building this summer.
Talk of reopening The Market House began years ago, but was accelerated this year, after plans for a permanent tenant fell through in February. The Baltimore-based Gone to Market LLC was set to be the primary vendor at the building, but backed out of the deal in February. Prior to those talks, The Market House has been vacant for years.
In April, the city voted to spend $405,000 for a new HVAC unit that would service the new tenants until at least October. Following that, the city will begin looking at more permanent arrangements.
BBP’s analysis recommends that the city begin looking for long-term vendors among the private sector through requests-for-proposals, and to have those ready to go in 2012.
A PDF of BBP's study is attached to this article. You can also find the study at the AEDC's website, located here: http://www.annapolisedc.org/?q=node/44 .