Market House returns to auction block

Firm withdraws plans for Annapolis building

August 30, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Annapolis' historic Market House is apparently up for bid again after the company that had taken over the lease for the shed-like building withdrew from the project.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said yesterday that bidders will have until Oct. 6 to submit new proposals for the 146-year-old city-owned building by the City Dock, which has been vacant all year. Aware that the Market House's fortunes has become a hot topic of conversation and a political issue in November's mayoral election, she said she was eager for a fresh start.

"The whole issue has been demagogued so long and the opposition wanted to use the Market House as a [campaign] centerfold," said Moyer, a Democrat running for re-election.

Annapolis Seafood Co., which was willing to take over the Market House space as recently as last week, has requested a "mutual release" from the deal with the city, a lawyer for the company, Alan J. Hyatt, said.

"Our client was prepared to go forward, but it didn't really make sense to continue with this time, money, and delay," Hyatt said yesterday.

"In this season, [Market House] is caught up and slanted with politics of the moment," he added.

Annapolis Seafood was poised to step into the place of New York-based Dean & Deluca, which the city had selected last year as the Market House's main operator. The upscale grocer had a change of heart several months ago and turned over the management lease to Annapolis Seafood. After considerable acrimony over the terms, the city council approved the lease in May.

Republican Alderman George O. Kelley Sr., who is running against Moyer, sharply questioned Annapolis Seafood owner Nick Bassford at a hearing last week. For months, the committee has been a chorus of criticism of leaving the landmark property languishing with an uncertain future.

During the hearing, Kelley requested that all city documents relating to the Market House be handed over to the committee. A Democratic candidate for alderman, Richard E. Israel, also stated his legal opinion that the city's lease might not be legal.

Democratic Alderwoman Louise Hammond, who joined Kelley in the pointed questioning of Bassford, expressed anger yesterday upon hearing of the mayor's decision to rebid the Market House contract.

"Given the cloud this is under, I'm surprised they [City Hall officials] are going ahead without giving the aldermen the courtesy of informing us," she said.

Kelley also said that he had not been told of the latest move.

"That's typical of this administration," he said. "Mayor Moyer does things without informing the council. But I'm glad the process is moving forward."

Hammond said the only other original bidder last year, Site Realty, deserved a chance to step forward to take over the Market House lease.

"That's the only fair thing to do," she said.

Moyer, by contrast, seemed to extend a conciliatory hand toward Bassford yesterday.

"While I'm disappointed that Mr. Bassford experienced personal attacks and hostility from members of the city council, I hope Annapolis Seafood submits their proposal for managing this market," the mayor said.

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