City wants marina operator out

March 11, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

The newspaper advertisements ask: "What's Happening Under The Hanover Street Bridge?"

The answer, according to the ads: Fried rattlesnake, $5.75, available Wednesday through Saturday at a waterfront watering hole known as the Dead Eye Saloon.

Another answer, according to city officials: The operator of the Baltimore Yacht Basin, a marina owned by the city but run by a private company, has shortchanged taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. And he's run up this tab while operating his popular saloon in a structure built in part with government money on government property.

FOR THE RECORD - PLEASE READ MEMO.

Accordingly, city officials have filed papers to evict the marina operator, Daniel E. Davis. But Mr. Davis -- or Capt. Dan Davis, as the Coast Guard-licensed charter operator is sometimes called -- is fighting that move, arguing that city officials have reneged on an agreement, reached years ago, to ease his rent obligations.

Mr. Davis claims officials are out to "bankrupt" him in order to bring someone else in to run the marina. "It's a political payoff for somebody," he said.

The two sides are to go to court today in hopes of putting the final touches on a settlement that would forestall the eviction. Mr. Davis would remain at the marina until next fall to allow him to make money over the busy summer season so he can pay off his debt.

But Mr. Davis, complaining that the city was changing the deal at the last minute, didn't sound yesterday as though he was ready to shake hands. "I'm going to fight these guys," he said. "I'm pretty sure of that."

This court battle is the culmination of nearly a decade of dickering and squabbling between several quasi-governmental city development corporations and Mr. Davis, a 55-year-old former computer engineer whose business style, some say, is symbolized by the alligator-in-captain's cap that grins from those newspaper ads. His interest in animals can be seen in his affinity for taxidermy; his bar is filled with dozens of stuffed beasts, as is the Nymph, his 80-year-old, 70-foot yacht.

Mr. Davis has ruled the docks of his 180-slip, working-man's marina with absolute power, but his reign has not always been smooth. He is the subject of a Coast Guard investigation into safety violations discovered during a harbor excursion last year on the Nymph, which was filled with Baltimore County lawyers and judges, including his friend, former Baltimore State's Attorney William A. Swisher.

He also has run into problems with the Army Corps of Engineers for not complying with the agency's regulations while doing dock and deck work at the marina. And at least three boat owners have taken him to court to stop him from gaining possession of their boats through mechanic's liens.

Mr. Davis is also named in a $10-million lawsuit, filed by a former marina tenant, that accuses him of shortchanging the city, running a shady repair operation and bending the state's mechanic's lien law to seize boats ranging from worthless runabouts to a 48-foot cabin cruiser.

Mr. Davis called the allegations in the suit "preposterous."

The trial in that suit, scheduled to begin this week, was postponed. Mr. Davis' most pressing problem is now the city's effort to oust him.

Mr. Davis' contract calls for him to run the marina and to pay rent to the city. Documents show the city warned Mr. Davis he was breaching the terms of his 10-year contract -- due to expire in April 1995 -- as long ago as 1988. The two sides negotiated a lease revision as recently as last summer.

In the fall, however, Robert D. Anbinder, a special assistant solicitor for the city, wrote a letter charging Mr. Davis with breaking his lease by:

* Failing to fulfill a clause requiring him to pay as rent 27.5 percent of his gross income from the marina operation or $50,000 a year, whichever is greater.

The city places his rent arrearage at at least $164,000; he may owe more, according to city officials who say they can't be sure because he also has failed to submit the audited financial statements on which the rent would be based.

* Falling behind by more than $165,000 in city and state property taxes.

* Failing to pay as rent a percentage of income from the Dead Eye Saloon, and a charter service and a boat sales business operating out of the marina.

* Failing to obtain permits for "activities" at the marina -- an apparent reference to Mr. Davis' efforts to provide entertainment at his bar -- and failing to get permission from the city for "numerous structural alterations" at the marina.

Michael V. Seipp, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., which administers the lease, said he became aware of the situation shortly after joining the corporation last spring and concluded, "This guy's ripping the city off, and we should start eviction proceedings. . . . There wasn't any reason to keep this guy running the marina any more."

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