Their heart is in the right place. And if that is all it took for the Market House to succeed, I would say go for it. But unfortunately for the past 15 years the City of Annapolis has proven time and time again that it is no longer capable of managing what was a once-thriving market place loved by all.
Maybe times have changed and the market house concept of 2000 is no longer viable. Maybe it is. But what is clear is that what is currently there is not working. Despite the Mayor’s assertion that the money is rolling in from the Market House, just take a walk through there almost any day and you will see that it is struggling. The City, via their lease, has essentially shackled the success of what many consider the”crown jewel” of Annapolis.
Now, Alderman Budge is introducing two bills to hopefully re-invent the Market House and put the “market” back in it. You can read about it in Chase Cook‘s article in the Capital. I laud Alderman Budge for bringing this up now as the current lease expires in December (which will be here VERY quickly), but this seems more of a case of doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Many people use that line to define the word “crazy.”
Budge wants to open the bidding up to all ideas. We did that. Harvey Blonder was chosen for the best one. He wants to have open discussion with constituents as to what they want there. We did that. Ellen Moyer had her charettes. He wants to have a master tenant who will find sub-tenants. We tried that. Anyone remember the Lehr-Jackson debacle? And to be honest, that is essentially what we have right now. Aside from Blonder’s stalls and the Gelato place, all of the original smaller tenants have snuck away from the Market House in the middle of the night like the 1984 Colts. With vacancies, Blonder stepped to the plate and filled the stalls–candy store, icee machines, burger counter, and more.
Meanwhile, the City still owns at least 3 multi-million dollar air conditioners for the various tries to get it right.
So, what is the solution? Sell the thing. Make some bucks, and get it on the tax rolls and let a private entity operate it as they see fit–not as a bunch of political hacks think it needs to be operated. Some say that it cannot be sold. According to a conversation I had with on-again-off-again City Attorney Mike Leahy, there is adequate precedent to allow for the sale. If the City is not comfortable with that, then put a very non-restrictive covenant on it and enter into a long-term simple lease and allow a private entity to operate it as it sees fit and as the market allows. The City can collect a straight forward rent and have responsibilities for the structure. Let the tenant make use of the building and Hopkins Plaza as he sees fit–of course in accordance with the standard regulations to which businesses must adhere.
At this point, we are on the precipice os asking ourselves “how many DECADES will it take for 9 politicians to get this right?”
As a friend said to me over text…
A few things…no one has ever EVER taken responsibility for the utter failure that is the Market House. In fact, Bob Agee has a plum job with the city after costing it what, $10 million? In fact, every administration from Moyer to Cohen to Pants has put lipstick on this hog, pretending that it is humming along nicely when, in fact, it has never come close to replicating its pre-Isabel success. Ask ANY of the vendors there now or previously what the problem is, and they all say and said that it is a lack of marketing support from the city. The city insists on having a puppy, but neglects it and won’t take care of it. Of course, city businesses can say the same thing but, arguably, the city does not have a financial stake in them except in the abstract. Three administrations have had a crack at it and none can make it even remotely relevant. Admit defeat and let it go.