Change afoot for Annapolis' Market House

Alderman wants governing body

mayor calls for ideas

March 28, 2010|By Nicole Fuller |

Annapolis Alderman Richard Israel wants to create a governing body to revitalize and manage the ailing Market House, which has been troubled by chronic vacancies and legal problems in recent years.

Israel said he's in the process of drafting legislation that would incorporate a seven-member body to permanently manage Market House. The ordinance would allow Mayor Josh Cohen to make appointments to the authority, but the city council would be required to confirm the nominations. Israel said the ordinance would also require that four of the authority's members have marketing experience; two would be city residents and another member would own or manage a nearby business. Israel said he plans to introduce the bill to the council next month.

"My legislation deals with the long-term," said Israel, a Ward 1 Democrat.

Cohen said Israel's plan is "worth looking at," adding that it mirrors a recommendation made by Cohen's Market House "Idea Team," which he appointed shortly after he took office.

"The Market House is a public asset and the city government has the responsibility to make sure it's a success," Cohen said. "The city council has to determine the mechanism by which we make that happen."

Market House appears primed for an overhaul after tumultuous events in recent years. A 2003 flood cost the city more than $1 million in damage to the 18th-century structure. Last year, the city paid $2.5 million to Rockville-based Site Realty to settle a lawsuit and regain control of Market House, once called "the cafeteria of Annapolis." Legal troubles between the tenants and Site Realty also led to a series of high-profile departures, leaving several empty stalls.

Currently, the 5,000-square-foot building holds just three businesses: BankAnnapolis, the Italian bakery Vaccaro's and the deli Atwater's.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen businesspeople have expressed interest in Market House after Cohen's call for an "open audition of ideas" on how to revive the City Dock fixture, coupled with a call for businesses interested in operating at Market House on a short-term basis. Cohen spokesman Phillip McGowan said the inquiries were preliminary, and the city has not yet received any written proposals. Cohen set a deadline of April 9 for submissions, saying he hoped to have short-term leases agreed upon by the end of April.

The mayor's spokesman said once the city receives written proposals, they would be posted to the city's Web site so "the public can get a sense and flavor" of Market House's possibilities.

Cohen "wants to really have a very open and collaborative process," said McGowan. "The mayor wants a lineup that is distinctly Annapolis and reflects the community and the promise and vision of City Dock. He wants to see the innovative thinking, the entrepreneurship, and draw out the best proposals so that the community can help decide that."

Among those interested in participating in the building's revival is Harvey Blonder, a prominent Annapolis businessman who operates 73 businesses nationwide, including many in downtown Annapolis. Blonder, who works alongside his sons Michael and Kevin, said he's interested in partnering with the city to "buy, lease, joint-venture [or] manage."

"We're very qualified to make it work," said Harvey Blonder. "Nobody else has been able to make it work. Main Street is really hemorrhaging now. The merchants and the restaurants are having very tough times right now. And we think we can get this thing ticking and help it survive. We have businesses downtown, and that almost-vacant building helps no one."

McGowan said the city has no plans to sell Market House, but Cohen wants to meet with the Blonders to discuss their ideas.

Michael Blonder said he envisions a throwback to earlier days, when Market House was a community gathering spot where patrons could buy raw oysters and fresh vegetables.

Blonder said that he and his brother work six days a week closely managing the family's downtown businesses and they would devote the same work ethic to making Market House successful.

"It's in my family's best interest to get Market House opened and operated correctly," Michael Blonder said. "I think the Market House as it sits now is a deterrent to business. Empty spaces are not good in the retail environment."

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