Annapolis to seek formal bids for Market House management

Despite pending approval for Market House lease, potential operator pulls out amid community opposition

February 15, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Annapolis city officials plan to establish a formal bidding process for operation of the city's historic Market House, after a Baltimore-based developer slated to transform the ailing market pulled out of a proposed lease with the city, citing overwhelming community opposition.

The Annapolis City Council was poised to vote on whether to approve the proposed 30-year lease agreement between the city and developer Lehr Jackson, through Gone to Market LLC., on Monday night. Mayor Joshua J. Cohen, a strong proponent of the plan, had enough votes on the council to win approval, but Jackson, who has developed public markets across the country, informed Cohen late Monday afternoon that he would not continue in the process. Jackson did not respond to a message seeking comment.

"My priority, and the priority of the City Council, is to reclaim the Market House as a vibrant gathering place for our community, as an authentic part of our historic fabric, and as an economic engine for downtown," Cohen said in a statement.

"Although the votes were there to pass the lease last night, we will press the reset button on the selection process for the Market House operator. Establishing a new, objective bidding process will allow for a more transparent selection process, and in so doing should achieve a broader consensus of support among the City Council. This support will be critical, because whoever ends up operating the Market House will need the full and enthusiastic support of our community and the City Council to be successful."

City officials said a formal request for proposals, or RFP, would be rolled out in the next few weeks. The city plans to forge ahead, however, with renovations to the aging structure.

A preliminary lease was introduced to the council in late December, and in a subsequent public hearing, a majority of community members who spoke urged lawmakers to reject the lease, saying it put the city at too much financial risk.

Alderman Ross Arnett, who opposed the lease, calling it bad for the city, said he was "relieved" that Jackson pulled out.

"He heard what the public was saying" said Arnett. "The mayor just wanted to bulldoze it through. The lease was very bad for the city. It was sending us down a very bad path. Thank God Lehr Jackson had the integrity that he does."

Also at the meeting, the council approved a $500,000 budget transfer to pay for repairs to the market, including a new HVAC system, sprinklers and a reconfiguration of the utilities.

The council also passed a resolution to request $250,000 state support for the Market House.

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