Residents oppose changing historic Market House

June 10, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

The Annapolis City Council wanted to know what residents think about the city's Market House by the City Dock.

Residents gave their answer at a public hearing last night: "Don't fix what ain't broke."

That comment from resident David Lasher was representative of the views of about 20 people who testified at the City Hall hearing.

With the leases of the current nine merchants in the 126-year-old Market House expiring at the end of the year, the council's Economic Matters Committee decided to find out if citizens wanted any changes.

Speakers ranging from a St. John's College student to a former councilman all agreed that the Market House should be kept the way it is. Most of those testifying were Market House business owners, who feared that the city would not renew their leases.

"If my lease is lifted, I will be bankrupt," said Millicent Hughes, owner of a deli.

Ms. Hughes said she borrowed $150,000 four years ago to buy her business. For two years, she lived on a houseboat without running water in order to meet her loan payments.

Now, she lives in a one-bedroom apartment, but said she would have no way to repay her loan if she is forced to close.

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, defended the public hearing, saying the city must consider whether public property is being used in the best way.

He said the committee would decide at its June 23 meeting whether to seek requests for proposals from other businesses wanting to open stalls in the Market House.

A separate committee is exploring whether the products sold in the Market House should be changed or whether the lease structure with the city should be modified.

The Market House has changed little since it was restored and reopened in 1972. Although only two of the original tenants remain, new tenants operate virtually the same kinds of businesses as their predecessors. The market's wares range from fried chicken to frozen yogurt, raw oysters to pizza, cupcakes to polish sausages. Altogether, the Market House tenants pay the city about $110,000 a year in rent.

Legal obligations dating more than 200 years limit the possibilities for changing the facility. When merchants and planters deeded the land to the city in 1784, they stipulated that the property had to be used as a market or returned to the original owners or their descendants. Also, the building's uses are specified in the city code, which says the Market House will carry products to serve residents, boaters and tourists.

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