In the last few months, two groups have popped up to protest two specific projects that potentially may be built in Annapolis–the Crystal Spring Farm complex off of Forest Drive and a proposed re-development of the former Fawcett’s building on Compromise St.
These projects are complex and are not simple. There are many facets that come into play including mis-information, emotion, business climate, and hesitancy to converse. Fair warning, this editorial may be rambling and long, but I think there are some valid points to ponder. Today I am focusing on the 110 Compromise Street project–later for Crystal Spring!
Both projects are being fast-tracked by Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, and that alone is of concern. History has shown the City is unable to do anything fast–Market House anyone? So, there very well may be a hidden agenda present in this election year that just recently developed two opponents for the Mayor.
Social media is a great equalizer. It gives the little people a voice and when used correctly, it is a great asset to the cause. Conversely, when used incorrectly, it may not have the desired outcome.
Save Annapolis was hastily formed when the City introduced an ordinance to change the zoning of the Fawcett property away from a maritime use to potentially facilitate the sale of the 3 year vacant eyesore. The group is opposed to the spot zoning and feels that it would set a precedent for many other properties in the City looking to develop away from maritime use. They state they are opposed to the City Dock Master Plan in general and have made 110 Compromise Street their focus.
While the coalition accuses the potential buyer and the City of not being transparent, they are guilty of the same. They have based much of their arguments and reason for support on emotion and false information.
Stop preying on emotion
At a press conference this week, the coalition launched a bunch of balloons surrounding the Fawcett building to demonstrate how tall the proposed building might be. It was a very strong visual and the crowd seemed very offended. What was not disclosed is that the proposed ordinance they oppose has nothing to do with the height of any building. In fact, the height they mentioned, 45′ tall, is already in the zoning regulations! If Fawcett’s was operating there today and needed more space, they legally could add a floor and a half. The Fleet Reserve Club was very much opposed to the height because it would block their view. This is akin to the person who buys an apartment in New York City and afterwards complains about the traffic noise.
Yesterday, Save Annapolis posted a copy of the architect’s rendering along with the comment. “Here is what the developer is proposing. This is the view from Main Street. What do you think? Look historic?” Of course it doesn’t look historic. It is new construction and looking historic was nothing but a red herring to garner support.
I commented on the post saying that no building on the water side of Compromise Street is historic looking. I suggested that the building proposed is much more attractive than the existing Fawcett’s building that most closely resembles a very large pile of cinder blocks.
Compromise (not the street)
To my knowledge, the Save Annapolis leaders and the prospective developers have not had a conversation about their concerns. The knee-jerk reaction was to form a coalition and kill it for the sale of killing change in Annapolis. No one likes change; but sometimes is is a necessity. Our downtown area is dying despite the rosy picture painted by the Annapolis Economic Development Corporation. We have dozens of vacancies on Main Street, a Market House that still remains to be seen if it will work, the vacant restaurant that was Hell Point Seafood, and of course Fawcett’s among others. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that these vacancies were created due to a lack of business. So, why are people resisting change that might actually help revitalize parts of downtown?
The Business Climate
Annapolis City does not have a reputation as a business friendly city. You can ask the owners of the dog wash that just opened in the Eastport Shopping Center or the owners of the Fox’s Den that it valiantly trying to open. You can ask any new business about their experience with the City and you will hear a predominantly negative experience. That is one issue that keeps business away–or at least soured, on Annapolis.
The other are the merchants themselves. Some get it. Most don’t. The fact that you exist and have a sign does not mean that you should be successful! I have asked countless merchants on Main Street and Maryland Avenue why they are not open later in the evening? With few exceptions, they all said that it doesn’t work. Yet those same people had never tried it for a reasonable and measurable period of time. Nine to five is a thing of the past. I challenge a merchant to monitor the cash register for a year. Open from 9 to 6 for half of the year and tally the sales between 9 and noon. Open from noon to 9 and tally the receipts between 6 and 9pm and see which is more! For the past three years I have seen more than a thousand people gathered around the City Christmas Tree in November. And I have seen thousands head home because the only thing open were the bars and restaurants. Businesses are chasing their own market away. In a nutshell, the residents of Annapolis are NOT supporting downtown merchants for a variety of reasons–needed businesses are at the mall and Annapolis Towne Centre, covered and plentiful parking, convenience to a commute, or something else.
Today’s consumer is not Ozzie and Harriet. They are a two income family with kids. In this economy, they are likely working multiple jobs and longer hours. They have homes to maintain and children to raise. So, between the honey-do list, the little league games, the piano recitals and just having some pure down time, when are they expected to shop? Does anyone really think that it is between 9am and 6pm in downtown Annapolis? Why are they flocking to the mall and ATC? Maybe because Target is open late so they can get there after the kids go to bed. There are a myriad of reasons.
Who knows. I am not saying I agree with the building or the project. At this point there is too little info out there now.
Residents of Annapolis certainly have an opinion on the matter and it is important. But we also have a commercial district that is (for various reasons) not fully supported by locals. We do depend on tourism to a great degree in this City and we probably ought to ask the tourists how they feel? Would you eat here, buy a cup of coffee, stroll and visit any of the inside shops, plant your butt on the bench and enjoy a snack from the Market House, etc. We do need to appease our residents for sure, but we also need to cater to the tourist and out of town visitors.
Annapolis is indeed historic, but sometimes, things do ned to change. Last time I checked we were not tossing buckets of human waste into the gutters to run into Spa Creek. Fawcett’s is not only a vacant building, but has become a big grey eyesore and something needs to be done.
Yes, we need more information to make an informed decision. Yes there are a lot of concerns. Yes, they need to be addressed before anything happens. Yes, the Mayor and Council seem to be fast tracking this for some reason. Reportedly, the deal may die if the zoning is not permitted, but that’s OK. There is not (that I am aware) a specific date required; and there is not a long line of buyers waiting to put a bid in on the property. If the buyers are truly serious about being good neighbors and working with residents, they will wait and let the process happen and allow all the questions to be answered.
And speaking of questions, here are a few of mine. Without the benefit of a tape measure, I find it hard to believe that a building of what appears to be a significant size can fit in the spot–especially when you shave 50′ off the waterfront. Is this possible? Or just an architect’s drawing done from some Google map?
The project looks large. Do the investors have enough financing lined up to do this. I have heard the projected cost is $20 million. But to me, admittedly naive in terms of commercial real estate and construction is it enough? They need to acquire the property, obtain permits,demolish the old building (and pray for no leaky hidden tanks or ancient bones), clear the land, build an underwater garage, perform street improvements and streetscaping, and than build the building! Is $20 million enough? The last thing we need is an unfinished, unfunded halfway done project on the waterfront.
Again, I am not saying it is a good project or bad; I am suggesting that there is not enough information available yet to vehemently oppose or feverently cheer.
And, I kind of like the look of the building. The street side looks reminiscent of downtown with varying facades and the end seems to have maritime ties and is not too dissimilar from a cruise ship.