The City Council is poised to finally turn a new page for the Market House and close the chapter on the past eight years of false starts and turmoil.
With the council’s approval, we will finally restore the Market House in a way that hearkens back to the time when it was bustling and customers relaxed at the windows and enjoyed the view of the harbor.
It all comes down to this Monday night.
Finance Committee action
This past Tuesday the Finance Committee voted 2-to-1 to approve funds to fix the Market House layout. The proposed work will move the interior electric and plumbing utilities on the harbor side away from the perimeter and relocate them back toward the center.
This configuration, recommended by our Market House Manager Richard Sharoff, will allow for a more welcoming and friendly environment for locals, more flexible use of floor space for vendors, and a much stronger chance for success overall.
(The scope of work moves the utilities on the harbor side, but not the Market Space side for two reasons: first, the harbor side is more critical, and second, the cost would be substantially higher to do both sides.)
The Finance Committee also approved funding to expand the ladies’ restroom. As recommended by the Citizens Committee to Review Alcoholic Beverage Laws (CCRABL), we intend to keep the restrooms open to the general public after hours as well, thereby providing a sorely needed public restroom facility downtown.
No one on the council is excited about spending more money, and the Finance Committee’s vote adds a reasonable condition to the funding: all rents from the Market House will go into a separate fund out of which the debt service will be paid.
Richard Sharoff and Department of Public Works Director David Jarrell are genuinely confident the rents will be enough to cover the debt service on these new improvements, and should also be enough to even cover recent prior expenditures such as the HVAC and sprinklers.
In other words, even though the city needs to expend the money up front for these structural improvements, the tenants will repay the city over time.
Final vote Monday night
There is one more hurdle before we can proceed. The full City Council will consider the budget transfer at its meeting this Monday evening. The public is welcome to testify during the Petitions, Reports and Communications item towards the beginning of the agenda.
A chronicle of failure
As The Capital chronicled in its recent editorial, the Market House has had so many false starts in the past eight years. To recap the highlights (or lowlights):
- 2005: City approaches Dean & DeLuca, but D&D backs out due in part to concerns about its economic viability.
- 2005: City approaches Annapolis Seafood Market, but Mr. Bassford backs out due to political maneuvering and lack of full support by council.
- 2006-2009: City leases to Site Realty and then pays millions in litigation.
- 2009-2010: City negotiates lease with Gone to Market, which then pulls out do to concerns about political maneuvering and lack of full support by Council.
- 2011: Council passes resolution directing the city to get short-term vendors for remainder of 2011 and to retain a Market House Manager to negotiate long-term, five-year vendor leases.
- 2011: The city retains Market House manager who recommends the configuration described above.
- 2012: Finance Committee approves funding.
- 2012: Full City Council votes to _______???
Lack of consensus
I believe that so long as the Market House sits vacant, there will never, ever be a consensus about what to do with it, or how. The Market House poses a unique challenge, one that does not lend itself to an orderly decision tree.
There are simply too many divergent views about it, from the type of operation there, the product mix, the types of vendors, the interior configuration, the management structure, and more.
Despite the lack of a consensus, at the end of the day we must make a decision and move forward. As Pogo, the cartoon possum, once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Sometimes I feel like we are so afraid to make the wrong decision that we are unwilling to make any decision. I believe that in this case, the only way to build consensus is to just do it and show how it can be done right.
Beginning a new chapter
Fortunately, I am confident the Market House can succeed once again. Through these past eight years of trial and error, we know clearly what to do and what not to do.
We know we need to reopen it as a uniquely Annapolis destination with quality food and local vendors—a Market House that relies on locals for its core business.
We know we cannot reopen it as another food court like Site Realty did. If we do, it will once again lose both the residents and the visitors. We need to make it unique and special once again.
If the council authorizes the city to move forward as recommended by the Finance Committee, we will restore the Market House to its historic role as both a community gathering place and a successful economic venture.
We have the right plan to accomplish it and the right team in place to pull it off. If, on the other hand, the council rejects this proposal and forces the Market House to reopen without fixing the structure, we will condemn ourselves to a self-fulfilling prophecy of continuing failure and defeat at our own hands.
The time for talk is over. It is long past time to act. Now is the time, once and for all, for us to come together and act upon our shared priority of re-opening the Market House in a way that positions it to succeed, not just for the vendors inside it but for our community.
For more from Mayor Josh Cohen visit www.mayorcohen.com.