Countdown to a reopening

Crews work to finish interior of the renovated Market House by late next month as announcement of vendors is awaited

March 12, 2006|By JAMIE STIEHM | JAMIE STIEHM,SUN REPORTER

The long wait is nearly over. The historic Market House, mostly renovated but still closed since early 2005, is about to reopen.

As crews put the finishing touches on the 19th-century waterfront building, Annapolis officials are preparing to announce a list of about a dozen vendors for the 5,000-square-foot structure.

BankAnnapolis has already revealed plans to open a small branch in the building.

Other anticipated tenants include well-known local names in the dairy, fudge, ribs and seafood retail businesses. An Irish pub, an Italian bakery and a minimart-style convenience stand also are expected to be included, city officials said. Residents and tourists are expected to shop at the site, as well as downtown workers seeking a simple lunch or cup of coffee.

Surveying progress last week, Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who was sharply criticized during last fall's political races for her handling of the Market House project, said she was eagerly looking forward to the reopening.

"In six weeks we'll be open," the mayor said. "It will be a bright, fresh and happy place."

For city officials and residents, it's been a long wait. In January last year, the city evicted the Market House's vendors to clear the way for New York specialty grocer Dean & DeLuca and $1 million in renovations.

But Dean & DeLuca later backed out, choosing to sublease the building to a local company, Annapolis Seafood. Nevertheless, Moyer and city officials announced plans for the "Dean & DeLuca Annapolis Market House," even though the local company would operate it and sell Dean & DeLuca goods.

Moyer's critics hammered at her handling of the issue during her re-election campaign, and Annapolis Seafood withdrew last summer. The project was re-bid, and the former runner-up, Site Realty Group of Silver Spring, landed a 20-year lease in November.

Site Realty operates the popular Eastern Market on Capitol Hill in Washington. Company officials have declined to discuss their plans.

Annapolis officials say they're aiming for a late-April reopening of the building, which now has large windows that allow the sun to shine in.

Emory Harrison, the city's central services director, is working with Site Realty to develop the mix of goods and services offered by vendors. While the list of 12 is not finalized, the recent opposition to the bank branch has caused unease inside City Hall.

A few city council members have raised questions about installing a BankAnnapolis branch, with ATM access and a coin change machine, inside the Market House space.

Preliminary plans call for two teller stations and a customer service desk. BankAnnapolis is a community bank with six offices in Anne Arundel and Queen Anne's counties.

Alderman Richard E. Israel, who represents Ward 1 and lives nearby, said, "Having a bank there isn't consistent with the city's title and legal advice, which says the market is for the sale of food."

On Thursday afternoon, a flurry of construction and cosmetic work was taking place.

A new tile floor will soon be laid over the concrete. New lighting and coats of white paint are going up on the ceiling of the simple rectangular structure. An exposed brick wall resembling a fireplace lent a historic touch to the room. A heating and air conditioning system and a slate roof were added to the municipal facility, which was badly battered by Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003.

Wary of exposing other small businesses to political winds, Moyer refused to disclose specifics about the vendors.

"I don't want to be piecemeal about this," she said. "But I do think we should have seasonal favorites -- fruits and flowers --displayed outside."

"There's been a consistent uproar over what market goods and services are, every 20 years or so," the mayor said of the Annapolis mainstay.

"It's taking shape," Moyer said, noting with pleasure the green and aubergine paint scheme, similar to those on the nearby bridge to Eastport. "See these 19th- century colors."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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