Market House lease gets nod, 9-0

Annapolis council gives control to a market operator in D.C.


After more than a year of intense debate, the Annapolis city council voted, 9-0, last night to approve a lease turning over the historic Market House to the operator of Washington's Eastern Market.

The collapse of a deal to bring specialty grocer Dean & DeLuca to the renovated 19th-century structure became a major issue in the fall mayoral campaign, but city officials now are optimistic the market can be reopened by spring.

The meeting was the council's last before five new members are seated Dec. 5.

In 2003, city officials announced a $1 million renovation for the 5,000-square-foot facility, a task that would begin once the leases for the seven active merchants expired at the end of 2004.

Many of those merchants complained that the city was intent on pushing them out - a charge that city officials denied.

While nearly 20 groups had expressed interest in the lease in the original bidding process last year, Eastern Market and Dean & DeLuca were the only two parties to submit bids to take control of the property near City Dock.

Into the spring, city officials expressed confidence that Dean & DeLuca would agree to a lease. In March, they said the grocer could take over the facility by the end of the summer, and the two sides were close to reaching agreement.

The council agreed to a 20-year lease in May, but the 147-year-old building remained vacant over the summer. By August, Dean & DeLuca told the city it would not open a store there and was transferring its lease to Annapolis Seafood Co., which was to have supplied the grocer with seafood and produce.

But some city officials were saying that the Dean & DeLuca deal had been falling apart as early as November 2004. As the market remained vacant and Mayor Ellen O. Moyer's opponents on the council criticized her handling of the situation, the city confirmed in August that the New York grocer was entitled to transfer the lease.

Annapolis Seafood backed out that month after facing criticism for taking over the Dean & DeLuca lease. The council formally severed ties with a unanimous vote in September.

The city got seven new bids Oct. 6, including the one from Eastern Market's operators.

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