Market House closing put off

Plan to upgrade air-conditioning will go ahead

April 04, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

Annapolis officials will delay until January a plan to temporarily close the Market House to install a new air-conditioning unit, postponing the work until the busy tourist season is over, officials said yesterday.

Market House was originally scheduled to close this spring.

"This is the time of year that they make the most money so I don't want to shut them down now," said Rob Schuetz, acting director of central services. "It would be like having Macy's shut down from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It just doesn't make sense."

Nevertheless, cooler days are likely ahead as plans move forward for a temporary upgrade of an air-conditioning system that left Market House customers and merchants hot and bothered last summer.

The city will replace the outside unit and expand the temporary duct work for better distribution.

An air-conditioning unit will be mounted on the sidewalk behind a fenced-in area, and powered by a BGE hookup, rather than a generator, which produces exhaust fumes.

City residents and tenants have complained that the current makeshift system is a noisy eyesore that takes up four parking spaces and blocks doorways.

The new configuration, expected to be in place by May 1, will be less unsightly and take up no parking spaces, Schuetz said.

He did not have a cost estimate for the temporary upgrade or the long-term fix, but said the upgraded system would be cheaper than the current arrangement.

The progress comes as a relief to some tenants, who struggled last summer with unbearably high temperatures and a delayed opening that led to a business downturn.

"Everything is going smoothly, and everything is going forward," said Gary Guzzi, co-owner of the Fractured Prune doughnut shop. "The tenants seem to be happy about it, and the city is communicating with us, and it makes things a lot easier for us."

It is the latest chapter in a tale in which the city was often viewed as the bad guy. The city declined to renew former tenants' leases in hopes of offering more high-end and local products, only to see its negotiations with Dean & DeLuca, a New York gourment grocer, collapse.

After major flood damage, the building sat empty from January 2005 to August of last year. The city pumped $1 million to install a new ventilation system and roof.

Shortly after the unheralded reopening, the building's air-conditioning unit proved ineffective, and temperatures inside the building on City Dock soared above 100 degrees, driving away customers.

City officials later said they misjudged the amount of heat generated by food ovens, and were unprepared for a record heat wave.

They installed the temporary outdoor unit and predicted they could replace the indoor unit by November.

In January, however, the city council decided that outside reviews of the site designs completed by Timonium-based engineering firm Schlenger/Pitz & Associates Inc. were necessary, further delaying installation.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said the work should be done as quickly as possible.

"I think we ought to bite the bullet and do it as the equipment arrives," she said. "If merchants want to wait until January, I want them to sign in blood that that's what they want."

Last month, merchants sent a letter to Site Realty LLC, which holds a 10-year lease for the 19th-century building, requesting the delay, and the management firm then notified the city of the request. Representatives of Site Realty did not return phone calls for comment.

Still, the city should have moved faster, a merchant said.

"This stuff should have been done months ago. I'm annoyed; I'm frustrated, and the only losers are the tenants. The city gets paid; the landlord gets paid; everybody gets paid but us," said Cecelia Benalcazar, who owns the Fresh Stop smoothie shop. "It's been a very long, hard winter and we just hope the numbers justify themselves this summer."

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