Business leaders, worried that the smart cafes and offices in the heart of Annapolis will be deserted, are petitioning to keep the county Circuit Court in the city's historic downtown.
The Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the mayor and county executive this week urging them to "use every reasonable measure" to avoid relocating the court from the aging brick building on Church Circle.
"If it moves, all of those law offices will move right along," said Penny Chandler, president of the chamber. "People will stay in their offices at lunch. It would hurt the downtown economy."
Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins said he fully supports the chamber's efforts. "I agree that it should stay downtown, where it is, even to the point that I would support waiving a height restriction if that's what it takes," he said.
The county had planned for years to replace the cramped courthouse with a new building across the street from the Arundel Center. But County Executive Robert R. Neall and court officials are not happy with the $16.3 million proposal because the site is so small that court clerks would be forced to set up in a separate building across the street.
County officials are studying alternatives for the court, which wants to expand from seven courtrooms to 12. Among the options are preserving and adding to the courthouse, building a new facility on the Elks Club property on Rowe Boulevard and leasing a series of properties on West Street.
"The [court] annex is, at best, inadequate at the current time," said Victor Sulin, the county's commercial revitalization coordinator and a state delegate representing Severn. Mr. Sulin, who has been chairing the committee looking at possible sites, said he expects to give a final report to the county executive next month.
News that the county was negotiating with Lodge 622 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks to buy its seven-acre property has created a sense of urgency among business leaders.
While the two-block stretch of West Street leading to Church Circle is bustling at lunchtime, the brick sidewalks are almost deserted at night. The delis close, and the restaurants draw only a scattered handful on week nights.
"We can't afford to lose any customers," said Jack Looser, manager of the Gourmet Wine and Deli on West Street.