Firms to rebid on Market House

Deadline set for proposals on uses for historic building

'The door always swings two ways'

September 02, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Soon after Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer acknowledged she was back to square one" over the sagging fortunes of the Market House, two merchants familiar with the process said they might submit new proposals for managing the storied dockside space.

The deadline for new bids is Oct. 6, said Moyer, with spring set as the target time to reopen. The city council must approve the leaseholder chosen by a city committee. If the process follows the proposed schedule, the council would conduct a public hearing by Oct. 24, and its vote could come as early as Nov. 14, Moyer said.

The effort is a second chance for the mayor to put her imprint on a central public gathering spot that has been clouded by uncertainty all year.

Annapolis Seafood Co. owner Nick Bassford, 68, said this week that he would reconsider his decision to withdraw from the project.

"The door always swings two ways," Bassford said. "You never close doors."

Bassford's company had been 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 sold its management lease to Annapolis Seafood. The city council had approved the 20-year lease in May.

After being sharply questioned last week at a city council committee hearing, Bassford said his first thought was to back out "gracefully."

But, he said, "It's water over the dam."

If Bassford makes a new bid, as the mayor has urged him to, he will probably face a competitor familiar with the process.

Richard D. Cohen, a principal of Site Realty Group, said his Lanham-based company was certain to bid again to manage the municipal market.

"We will resubmit a multi-tenants proposal, very similar to what we did before," said Cohen, whose company manages the colorful Eastern Market in Washington. "We'll capture the flavor of the Chesapeake with food and artisans."

Site Realty's original proposal was passed over in favor of a Dean & DeLuca plan that would have seen the upscale grocer occupy the 5,000-square-foot space.

As the city negotiated with Dean & DeLuca - and told the local merchants there that their leases would not be renewed - Market House received a nearly $1 million facelift to upgrade the 146-year-old facility and fix damage caused by Tropical Storm Isabel in September 2003.

But then, as spring stretched into summer, Market House stood empty and - until late last month - boarded up.

Tempers flared on the city council this summer as the unoccupied Market House looked bleak during the state capital's prime tourist season.

"It doesn't look like a thriving city when you have an empty building just sitting there in the middle of everything," Alderwoman Sheila Tolliver said.

Moyer met a storm of criticism - especially from Alderman George O. Kelley Sr., a Republican running for mayor - when it became apparent that Dean & DeLuca dropped the deal. Kelley last week demanded the city attorney and administrator turn over all Market House-related documents to his Economic Matters Committee.

This week, spurred by Ward One Democratic council candidate Richard E. Israel, Tolliver and Alderwoman Louise Hammond questioned the legality of the city's turning management of Market House over to a commercial food supplier.

Tolliver said she intends to introduce a bill that would allow the city to proceed with the second round of bids.

Moyer promised that the selection jury would include three city residents.

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