Permits delay opening

Market House officials rush to meet July 1 rent due date

May 21, 2006|By JAMIE STIEHM | JAMIE STIEHM,SUN REPORTER

The long-awaited debut of the new Market House in Annapolis will have to wait a bit longer, since most food vendors signed on to move into the shuttered downtown hangout didn't apply for permits until after the expected May 1 grand opening.

City officials and Site Realty Group, the Silver Spring-based company that will manage the mix of food stalls, say they're scrambling to meet the first rent due date of July 1.

So far, only one of 11 announced vendors has been issued the required county health and city construction permits. The Fractured Prune doughnut shop, which is moving from South County, is approved to set up its operation, city officials said, and a fudge stall is close to completing the permit process.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer expressed chagrin that the casual city marketplace remained dark during the Volvo Ocean Race stopover and the Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival, which drew huge crowds to City Dock earlier this month.

"We prepared the building and bricked the sidewalk," Moyer said, noting that the city completed a $1 million upgrade of the building's roof and infrastructure. "And when we had so many people from so many countries, it would have been nice to have the market open."

A manager for one pastry vendor estimated Friday that the opening is at least "a good month away" but said he could not be more definite.

Site Realty Group, which is leasing the market property and working with the city's central services director, set its own timetable. Once the city and county issue permits for most of the vendors, Site Realty officials said, the market will open 30 days later.

If all goes well, that could beat the July 1 date, which is when the city will start to collect about $100,000 in annual rent.

Anxiety is high when it comes to the venue, which has been closed for 17 months.

Initially, city officials predicted the upscale New York grocer Dean & DeLuca would be ready to reopen the rundown building as a showy new place for the September 2005 annual boat show.

When the New York company withdrew last year, Moyer set a reopening date of April 15, which was later pushed back to early May for the Volvo Ocean Race tourist draw.

In Moyer's view, missing the May 1 date could have been avoided if construction workers had worked alongside city-employed contractors.

"I wanted them to work simultaneously," she said. "That didn't happen."

Richard D. Cohen, Site Realty Group's vice president and general counsel, said managing the public facility has been fraught with political static, but he believes the end is in sight.

Site Realty was selected only after the city's top choice, Dean & DeLuca, balked at signing a contract, a fact that did not surface until months later.

"We're staying on top of things and coordinating closely with the city on permits," Cohen said. "We're going to open with a bang with a quality mix, which will quell the hubbub over the Market House."

Cohen blamed several city aldermen for delaying the permitting process a month, during which they raised legal questions about the lease. "Quite frankly, they scared some vendors."

City legal experts found the objections baseless, and all the original vendors are in the mix.

Ward 1 Alderman Richard E. Israel, a retired assistant attorney general whose downtown district includes the Market House, believes the city code does not permit the marketplace to be outsourced under the authority of a management company.

Yet even opponents agree that with no more political votes, hearings or other shoals in sight, the shared object is to get the Market House open and looking trim, after a battering by Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003.

Gary Amoth, owner of the nearby Hard Bean Coffee and BookSellers cafe, said he was hardly concerned about coffee and latte competition with Vaccaro's, an incoming Market House bakery, operated and owned by a well-known eatery in Baltimore's Little Italy.

"I'm anxious for it to open," Amoth said of the Market House. "It will bring more people down here."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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