Annapolis thrives on tourists, politics

Capital: The historic city by the water draws visitors to its shops, restaurants, boating facilities and halls of government.

May 16, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

It may be the capital of Maryland -- and the seat of Anne Arundel County government -- but the historic city of Annapolis continues to draw much of its identity from Chesapeake Bay and the rivers that make it so attractive to boaters and tourists alike.

"Annapolis is a special place," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

About 4 million people visit the city annually, according to Annapolis officials, and much of the town's culture revolves around the water.

Many of the city's best-known restaurants are clustered around City Dock, the city-owned boating facility at the base of Main Street, and on warm days tourists and boaters can be seen sitting outdoors or on their boats, enjoying a snack from nearby eating places.

Every spring, sailors traditionally burn their socks in preparation for the warmer weather and many of the T-shirts sold in stores around City Dock feature pirate logos or sailing slogans like: "Annapolis, a drinking town with a sailing problem."

The Naval Academy is also close to City Dock, drawing visitors to its campus and athletic events.

The city protects its historic image. Annapolis established a historic district in the downtown area around Main Street, preserving red-brick roads and rowhouses. Residents who want to make even minor changes to their homes or business must apply to the city's Historic Preservation Committee.

The historic district suffered some of the city's worst damage during Tropical Storm Isabel. Water rose several feet above City Dock and residents frolicked in the brackish water, swimming along Dock Street and even putting a pair of goggles on the statue of Kunta Kinte.

But the celebration died when the damage was assessed. Nearby stores were flooded and merchandise was ruined. Most businesses reopened quickly, but several were shuttered for months and two went out of business. The historic McNasby Oyster Co. building was also badly damaged and has yet to reopen.

The overall recovery was relatively quick, given that work done in the historic district normally takes months. Even small construction projects in the area can come unglued because of historic concerns. (A recent attempt to renovate Church Circle at the top of Main Street was temporarily halted because workers discovered historic human remains on the site.)

While sailing sustains the city during the warmer months, politics takes over when the weather turns cold.

From January to April, 188 state-elected officials travel to the city for the state's annual legislative session, and talk quickly shifts from sailing to politics as legislators, aides and lobbyists crowd into restaurants and hotels.

Many of the local hotels cater to the lobbyists by offering them discount packages for the entire session and other perks such as yoga classes and low-carb meals.

Not only do the legislators bring a buzz to the city, they also sustain local businesses during the cold months. "Unlike a lot of towns like us, we don't have a downturn [during the winter]," Moyer said.

But Annapolis has its struggles. There is a perpetual parking shortage and the city is bracing for more than 30 road construction projects during the next two years, including plans to upgrade the Weems Creek and College Creek bridges on Rowe Boulevard, one of the main roads into town.

The city is also working to increase its police presence in its nearly 1,100 units of public housing, which politicians and police agree are the city's most troubled areas. Three of last year's five homicides in Annapolis took place on public housing property.

The city and the local housing authority -- which oversees public housing -- recently agreed to split the $300,000 cost for extra police officers to patrol public housing.

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