Starbucks renews effort to open in Maryland Inn

Revised Annapolis plan to be voted on tonight

June 13, 2006|By JAMIE STIEHM | JAMIE STIEHM,SUN REPORTER

Starbucks is renewing its efforts to put a 21st-century coffee shop in the 18th-century Maryland Inn in Annapolis.

The idea drew protests when it was first raised a few months ago, but the Seattle-based corporation has modified its plan and won some important supporters for the idea of opening a high-end coffee shop in a place that once housed a tavern visited by George Washington.

The Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission is scheduled to consider tonight proposed changes to the property's exterior to accommodate a Starbucks-licensed store - similar to a franchise.

The commission threw out a Starbucks application for the site last winter because it lacked a disability-access plan for a proposed coffeehouse on the hotel's ground floor.

The original plan has been amended to include a wheelchair platform lift, city officials said, which would require some minor demolition of existing stairs. The plan has cleared all other city agencies, leaving the commission vote as the final hurdle.

A Starbucks spokesman in Seattle, Alan Hilowitz, said yesterday that the company intends to honor the venue's history with a simple period setting.

"We've done this before, and we like to preserve the flavor of the neighborhood that we're in. When we go into a historic building, we try to preserve the detail, the character, the architecture as much as possible," Hilowitz said.

In recent years, a Starbucks store was opened in a 300-year- old former boarding house in Doylestown, Pa., near Philadelphia. The wheelchair lift and other modifications have won the support of the leading local preservationist group, Hilowitz said. The Historic Annapolis Foundation, a nonprofit known for policing the looks of the downtown district, is supporting the current plan - despite reservations from other experts.

The architectural consultant to the city's commission, Richard Bierce, expressed concerns in writing, asking whether, as he put it, "the ubiquitous corporate image diminishes the integrity of this historical resource."

But Gregory Stiverson, the Historic Annapolis Foundation president, said yesterday he supports the revised proposal and plans to address the commission at tonight's hearing. The five-member panel is expected to vote immediately on the matter

"It allows the space to be open to the public," Stiverson said. "It makes a historic building [Americans with Disabilities Act]- accessible. It's as good as a plan can get to preserve historic fabric."

The proposed space is a cozy den-like setting that once hummed with American Revolutionary ferment. Lore has it that it once contained a secret passageway to the State House, but that has not been confirmed. It is also said that George Washington once lost a horse in a game of cards there.

Marshall Feldman, a 25-year-old mortgage loan officer patronizing the adjacent Treaty of Paris restaurant yesterday, said he didn't see the point of adding to the Starbucks count of 7,950 stores nationwide.

"All Starbucks look the same so it's hard to see how one would preserve the [tavern's] uniqueness," he said yesterday. "It has to be done in a tactful manner or it will be defaced."

To comply with historic district requirements, an archaeological team has been hired to excavate and inspect any historic artifacts found during the project, said Shellie H. Gazlay, the architect and project manager.

If approved, a new coffeehouse would be in place and ready to open in about six months, she said.

Besides a wheelchair lift on the Main Street side of the inn, a 3-foot Starbucks logo would be placed on the facade, Maryland Inn representatives said. New windows, landscaping and ornamental ironwork are also part of the proposal. The inn is now undergoing renovation.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said yesterday that while the powerhouse coffee chain's move is legal, she'd rather see something like a jazz club occupy the inn's former King of France Tavern, which she said attracted droves of musicians and listeners from across the region in 1970s.

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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