Annapolis city council may delay reopening of renovated Market House

December 24, 2010|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Ambitious plans for a renovated Market House to reopen in downtown Annapolis this spring may be stymied by the Annapolis city council, which is calling for more time to consider a new lease proposal with the Baltimore-based company selected to revive the historic market.

Mayor Joshua J. Cohen unveiled a proposed 30-year lease with Gone to Market LLC, headed by developer Leer Jackson, at last week's council meeting, in hopes of getting the group's approval by early next month. Cohen has proposed holding a public meeting on the lease Jan. 3 and a council vote Jan. 10.

But several members of the council voiced concern at the proposed timeline, arguing that they need more time to examine the 36-page document and its implications for the city.

Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson called the presentation of the lease to the council "a waste of time," saying she wanted to read it herself and then come back with more informed questions.

Alderman Ross Arnett agreed, saying the council was feeling "quite gun-shy" because of "mistakes of the past" regarding Market House.

"I think we're all glad to finally have this in our hands," said Arnett. "And we're all very interested in doing what is in the best interest of the city. … I understand the reason for wanting to hasten this, because the sooner we can get an agreement, the sooner we can get the market reopened … but I expect we're going to want to work equally hard. … We're going to need some time and some considerations of our schedules as well. We can shoot for your targets, but I'm not optimistic we're going to meet it."

Cohen, who said the lease was designed to protect the city financially and give it a "world-class public market authentic to Annapolis," said he is sensitive to the council's concerns.

"We're going to take as much time as the council wants," he said.

Under the terms of the proposed lease, details of which are still being negotiated, Gone to Market LLC would get a five-year lease with options to increase it in increments up to 30 years, and would split half of the profits with the city.

The tentative agreement allows the city to terminate for any reason after the first five years, although the city would have to pay Gone to Market a still-to-be-negotiated fee that would reflect its most recent profits. City officials said the company is likely not to make a profit for the first few years, and the five-year time period allows for it to gain its footing. The lease also contains another safeguard for the city, allowing the termination of the lease if the company fails to meet several "performance standards" the city has set forth in the lease.

The lease proposal calls for the city to fund renovations to the structure, including a new heating and ventilation system and moving the utilities away from the windows, giving passers-by a better view of the market's amenities, at an estimated cost of $600,000. The 5,000-square-foot building would also be transformed to hold about a dozen stalls, including vendors of fresh flowers, seafood and a French bakery. An outdoor farmers' market would operate on the plaza outside the market on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Cohen has made reviving the market a priority of his administration, naming top adviser Doug Smith to oversee the process and hiring a Baltimore-based law firm specializing in real estate deals to oversee the lease negotiations. Cohen had originally hoped to open the market by April, but pushed the date back by another month as negotiations dragged on.

Smith presented the lease details to the council Monday night.

Market House has gone through a series of problems in recent years. Once a thriving market, it was flooded in 2003 after Tropical Storm Isabel. After $1 million in renovations, it reopened, but an air-conditioning malfunction during the summer forced out many tenants. In 2009, the city had to pay Site Realty $2.5 million in order to regain control of the market.

In April, Cohen called for proposals to revitalize the market on a temporary basis while the city worked to come up with a long-range plan. After receiving about 15 proposals, city officials realized they had the opportunity to make a long-term fix. Gone to Market was one of two finalists in that process, and in September, after the other finalist dropped out, the city entered into exclusive negotiations with the group.

Cohen said he expected a lease would be completed before the end of the year for submission to the council's Economic Matters Committee.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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