Council lets go of lease, but Moyer takes flak

9-0 vote releases Annapolis Seafood from deal to move into Market House

`The city has lost credibility on the issue'

September 14, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

Let the bickering continue.

As the storied Market House has remained closed over the summer, some Annapolis city council members have turned up the heat in criticizing Mayor Ellen O. Moyer over her handling of the bidding on the prized retail space.

The frustration boiled over briefly Monday night at the city council meeting, but subsided long enough for members to unanimously vote to release Annapolis Seafood Co. from its deal to take control of the 146-year-old city-owned building by the City Dock.

The 9-0 vote, however, didn't come close to ending debate on a matter that is likely to rage through the campaign season.

"The city has lost credibility on the issue because the whole story has not been told," said Alderwoman Louise Hammond, a Democrat.

That story started with New York-based Dean & DeLuca, the upscale grocer that was long anticipated to be the main tenant of Market House. The council approved a 20-year lease for the site in May, but the space remained empty.

City leaders confirmed last month that Dean & DeLuca had backed out of its lease, but one Annapolis official said the grocer might have made that decision last fall.

Dean & DeLuca transferred the management lease to Annapolis Seafood Co. But by the end of August, Annapolis Seafood owner Nick Bassford requested to be released from the agreement after some members of a city council committee criticized him at a hearing.

While city attorneys said the lease transfer from Dean & DeLuca to Annapolis Seafood was legal as long as the terms of the lease were followed, council members reiterated Monday night that it was best to start the bidding from scratch.

`Get out of it'

"Let's just accept their resignation and get out of it," said Alderman Michael W. Fox, a Republican. "We don't need to beat up anyone else."

Moyer, a Democrat running for re-election, reopened the bidding two weeks ago after Annapolis Seafood requested to break the lease - raising the ire of some council members, who say they've been kept in the dark about the mayor's planning.

The deadline for new bids is Oct. 6, with spring set as the target time to reopen. The city council must approve the leaseholder chosen by a city committee.

Hammond questioned whether the "next bidding process will be any more credible."

`Truly embarrassed'

Alderman George O. Kelley Sr., Moyer's Republican opponent for this fall's mayoral race, concurred with Hammond.

"Things have not been done openly, honestly and publicly," he said. "I am truly embarrassed that we as a city have reached this point."

Moyer shot back that voting to remove Annapolis Seafood from its lease obligation was in the city's interests, in order to settle on a tenant for Market House. She said her administration "has acted truthfully and honestly," adding that "we need to leave the past behind."

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