Main Street plan snags on issue of sidewalk cafes

November 14, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Annapolis restaurateur Jerry Hardesty steps on one of his best business opportunities every day; the porch of the Middleton Tavern on Market Space.

Customers are willing to stand for an hour for the opportunity to eat and drink at one of Mr. Hardesty's 40 outdoor tables near the City Dock. And Mr. Hardesty, 52, argues that other downtown restaurants should be able to set up their own sidewalk cafes.

The potential for sidewalk cafes has been near the center of the battle over the reconstruction of Main Street. Plans for the $5 million face lift call for sidewalks wide enough to accommodate cafes at the foot of the street.

Work is to start in January, but the plan has not received final approval from the city's Historic District Commission, partly because of the argument over the sidewalks.

Downtown residents complain that the plan would turn the picturesque street into an overrun pedestrian mall and that the cafes would contribute to noise, trash and aggravation.

But restaurant owners say the reconstruction plan would make Main Street a natural place for dining alfresco.

Mr. Hardesty argued last week that he should have tables on the narrow spit of concrete outside his newest acquisition, O'Brien's Oyster Bar & Restaurant on Main Street.

Craig Purcell, an Annapolis architect and one-time local political candidate, has collected more than 340 signatures from residents, restaurant owners and barkeepers in favor of outdoor dining, hoping to jump-start a bill now before the city council that would allow sidewalk cafes downtown.

"Sidewalk cafes are important to the life of the city," Mr. Purcell said. At sidewalk cafes, people do more than just eat burgers and fries amid the elements, he said. They have a communal experience.

But residents of the historic district are skeptical.

"Effluent, sea gulls poopin' on peoples' heads, all for one or two tables where people can eat," sniffed a critical Dr. Paul Elder, who sits on the board of the Ward 1 Residents Association.

But restaurant owners such as Kathy and Mike Greentree, who own Greentree's on Main Street, argue that sidewalk cafes would exist as much for the local people as the tourists.

"The basis of our business during the week are other local business owners and downtown residents," Ms. Greentree said from behind the counter of her ice cream and coffee shop. Outdoor cafes would enhance the city's social network, she said.

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