Market House opens quietly

After 19 months closed, not all vendors open as problems continue at Annapolis landmark


But for the free doughnuts, no one might have known that the long-shuttered Annapolis Market House reopened yesterday.

With neither fanfare nor public notice, the first few stalls in the historic dockside marketplace, closed for a problem-beset 19 months, quietly opened to customers.

Those who came in found the owner of the Fresh Stop blending fruit smoothies and workers at the Fractured Prune franchise urging passers-by to try a hand-dipped doughnut.

Four of the seven other stands are expected to open this week, said Richard Cohen of Site Realty Group, which is leasing the building from the city.

The "soft opening" surprised Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

"Well, I wasn't there," she said yesterday in her City Hall office, a short walk from City Dock. "Those small business should have been open a couple months ago.

"But they [Site Realty officials] act like they own the market and are not answerable to anybody, which is not the case. They've thumbed their nose at us."

The building has been empty since the start of 2005, when the city decided not to renew its leases with the longtime vendors offering fast food, sandwiches and other cheap lunch fare geared to downtown workers and tourists.

Several months later, the city chose a master lease holder for the 5,000-square-foot site. New York grocer Dean & DeLuca was to offer gourmet and high-end products sought by many affluent city residents. Company officials later backed out.

Site Realty, which lost out to Dean & DeLuca in the first bidding process, won the second. The company, which also manages Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, rounded up its own mix of vendors, including some well-known franchises and local eateries.

The city, meanwhile, spent $1 million on infrastructure improvements to the 19th century building.

Its reopening has been delayed several times, and Moyer has been openly critical of Site Realty.

Cohen has said approval was delayed by infighting among aldermen on the city council.

Moyer said the latest goal is to have a grand reopening once all booths are running and the signs and other details are in place, as soon as September.

For now, she estimated, at least two of the 11 vendors have not yet received the necessary city and county permits.

In the latest sign that all the wrinkles haven't been worked out, the air conditioning was broken yesterday, causing the indoor temperature to climb to nearly 100 degrees and preventing a few vendors from opening.

For Fenton Galway, an Irish pub food merchant with employees ready to serve customers yesterday, the heat was a recipe for frustration. Frying lunch food was out of the question, he said.

"We've talked for five months about air conditioning, and today we hear they're working on it," Galway said. "It's either on or it's off. But we as vendors can't get any answers, because everyone blames someone else."

Annapolis officials did not comment on the lack of cooling ventilation in the refurbished rectangular structure, except for Moyer, who said only: "For crying out loud."

Cohen, who declined to be interviewed, said in a written statement that the city will be "making final adjustments to the building mechanical systems installed as part of their work to the Market House."

Among the first to open were Gary Guzzi and Mike Lemmon, partners in running the Fractured Prune doughnut stand.

"We were anxious to get the doughnut machines cranking," said Lemmon, "even if there's not much business."

Christ Matten, an Annapolis resident who inspected the unfinished premises, said the new interior contrasted with the former concrete no-frills look. "I'm surprised, getting reacquainted with it. ... Looks nice, with a whole new feel to it," he said.

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