Annapolis halts market challenge

City drops appeal in bid to attract vendors to site

May 23, 2008|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Sun Reporter

The city of Annapolis has backed off part of its legal challenge to the company that operates the struggling Annapolis Market House, in hopes of making it the vibrant marketplace it was designed to be.

But an official with the management company, Market House Ventures LLC, said the city continues to impose unreasonable demands for prospective vendors and wants to exercise veto power on who occupies the space - an attempt to overreach the authority outlined in the 2005 lease.

Six of the 13 stalls are empty at Market House, and its anemic sales draw a sharp contrast to the bustling boutiques and restaurants surrounding a newly rehabbed City Dock. Four of the vendors decided to close shop this month, packing up overnight.

The city announced yesterday that it has dropped its appeal of an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court ruling that required the city to start processing applications from prospective tenants. The ruling was a partial victory for Market House Ventures, which had sued the city for $6 million, alleging the loss of rental income because of the city's failure to install an air conditioning system and to allow it to rent sidewalk space to vendors. But the city's appeal continued to block applications.

"We just feel this gives us a chance to see some more vendors in there," said Ray Weaver, a spokesman for Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

But Richard Cohen, an official with Market House Ventures, said the city is continuing to impose "a laundry list of new and different roadblocks whose net effect is to prevent us from putting vendors in." Cohen said the city seeks to require prospective vendors to provide architectural renderings before approval, for instance.

"No vendor is going to want to invest the time and energy it takes to work up those architectural renderings unless they know for sure they're going to be allowed to occupy that space," Cohen said. "It's unreasonable. Our goal here is to get the Market House back on track, but we can't do it with these kinds of demands on the table."

The city says it's trying to ensure that Market House resembles the vision hammered out three years ago.

"A place where downtown residents and workers could stop in for a gallon of milk, get some flowers for your wife when you're in the doghouse," the city's Weaver said. "This is what the residents tell us they want and we're just looking for that right mix."

"We're hoping for a more productive relationship with" Market House Ventures, he added.

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

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