The contentious process of revitalizing the Market House in Annapolis could finally be reaching its conclusion.
The city council is set to approve a proposed lease with upscale New York food retailer Dean & DeLuca when it meets tomorrow night, according to city officials.
The council's Economic Matters Committee approved the language of the lease Thursday by a 3-0 vote, clearing the way for a full council vote. Aldermen George O. Kelley Sr., Louise Hammond and Michael W. Fox, the committee members, also added an amendment that prohibits a cafe in the city-owned structure.
Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said shortly after the committee vote that she was relieved the Market House lease is on the city council agenda for tomorrow, but she was annoyed that it took several tense weeks to get it there. The mayor said the delay brought progress on the Market House's makeover to a standstill this spring.
Moyer, a Democrat, said Hammond, also a Democrat, and Republicans Kelley and Fox jeopardized approval of the lease in an "adversarial" process in which they ignored her request to meet to move the bill sooner.
Moyer's timeline is to have the new Market House open to the public when the annual boat show comes to Annapolis in early October.
"They were creating the circumstances to kill the lease," Moyer said in an interview. "And that's not to do with public service but political purposes."
Hammond said after Thursday's vote that a closed meeting last month with city attorney Shaem C. Spencer was necessary to iron out details of the lease.
"We didn't refuse or delay," Hammond said. "It was all a matter of attorneys waiting to have discussions. The city attorney helped with the questions we had."
She said of Dean & DeLuca, "I like them, but we have a job to do."
Kelley changed his party registration to Republican this year, shrinking the Democratic majority on the council to 6-3. Kelley and the mayor recently clashed when he publicly criticized the city's police chief for allegedly threatening him in a telephone conversation. The state's attorney's office declined to investigate the matter.
With the city-owned structure on the City Dock in disrepair for years, the stakes are high in the nearly $1 million revitalization project. Moyer said city contractors have finished all the capital improvements that can be done without the participation of Dean & DeLuca's design team.
The building, a municipal mainstay for more than a century, needed a complete overhaul of its heating and cooling systems as well as a new roof. The city evicted the food merchants at the end of last year and went looking for a food retailer with an overarching contemporary signature - which is where Dean & DeLuca entered the picture as a prospective single tenant.
City officials acknowledge there is another hurdle: Dean & DeLuca must sign the lease.
A representative for Dean & DeLuca, which started in New York, declined to comment Friday.
A Green Street resident, Mark Pipkin, said he often travels to New York on government business and is excited about Dean & DeLuca coming to Annapolis.
"They seek out small bakeries, independent cheese manufacturers and artisan growers," Pipkin said, adding that downtown neighbors were eager to have the empty space bustling with activity again.