Correction: Over the past few months, I was under the assumption that Public Works was to be completing these renovations in house in order to keep the $600K cost to a minimum. I was informed yesterday that the intent was for Public Works to design the project internally and put the work out for bid as they would for any other large scale project. (JWF)
It has taken over six years for Annapolis to finally come up with a plan for the long neglected Market House. The issue was a polarizing one for the last administration and figured heavily in the elections that saw former Alderman Joshua Cohen seated as Mayor of Annapolis. Many have said that this issue will make or break his political career. That remains to be seen. Unfortunately there also remains a lot to be seen surrounding the market house.
In December, the Mayor presented a lease to the City Council for the Market House. It was full of holes, blank pages, and questions. In mid January, some of the holes were filled and the document raised several questions. Many of which remain unanswered.
Last night, the mayor introduced yet another lease for presentation to the council. The electronic version is not yet available nor is a complete list of the changes between the two.
For now, the issue is delayed once again as the Council rightfully refuses to vote on such an important matter with so little information. However, at last night’s City Council meeting, several more issues came up.
- Public Works, the department tasked with handling the exterior renovations, does not have a clear idea of the costs or the scope. Testimony offered last night indicates that it is quite possible the roof will not be able to support the chillers required for the building. Furthermore, they are not able to offer any reasonable estimate without having the exact tenant layout. Last week, we were told that the City had contracted with an engineering firm to corroborate the Public Works estimate of $600,000 and they did. However, last night the $600,000 had increased to nearly $800,000 which does not include any structural issues with the roof.
- Alderman Sheila Finlayson has been asking for a Marketing Plan for many months from Lehr Jackson and Gone To Market. It was presented last night to the council last week. From the document, it appears that Gone To Market is not intending to do any marketing other than a grand opening and appealing to local and regional media for favorable press and any of the tenants he is able to acquire.
- The timetable for the Market House has been pushed back yet again. Public Works testified that they are anticipating delivering the Market House to Gone To Market on August 1, 2011. However, if it is delayed (which is very likely) Gone To Market will not take possession until January 2012 with an opening scheduled for March 2012.
- Gone To Market has presented a “sustainability” plan that indicates (as expected) a loss for the first three years with the City beginning to see a revenue share in year 5 of $8,778 and increasing to $31,951 in year 8. All told, for the first decade of operation, it is estimated that the City will receive under $150,000.
The Mayor argued for acceptance of this lease to an unconvinced City Council. The public has spoken out against this lease and the Mayor has argued for it. he Mayor’s argument is that it is not a conventional lease nor a conventional building. The public argument is that it is a financial loser for the City.
Some have suggested that Public Works is not the entity to do any renovations on the historic property. Does the department have experience with projects of this scope? With historic buildings? Does it make more sense to put these renovations out for bid where the City is protected by a performance bond, liquidated damages, and a mechanics lien? Putting the renovation out to bid will insure that the City has several options to review, and will also insure (to an extent) that the work will be done to specifications by a qualified contractor, not a crew that may be called to plow snow or vacuum leaves at any given moment.
In speaking with City residents after last week’s meeting, contrary to Mayor Cohen’s assertion that the issue is the finances, most residents felt that the City was unprotected from a vacant Market House once again. There are provisions in the lease that allow Gone To Market to simply walk away. Some of them are without impunity and others will demand a penalty.
With each passing day, there seems to be more and more uncertainty surrounding this deal and maybe the solution is to take a pause and really think this through thoroughly from beginning to end. We have survived this long without a Market House, and it is doubtful that the presence of a revamped Market House will be the cure for all that ails downtown.
This whole process seems like buying a car. We have seen the latest model and it has all the bells, whistles, and options and would be a really great car to have. But the salesperson just passed us off to the manager who has jacked up the price because of the extreme interest. The finance manager has developed a way to pay for the car that we really quite can’t afford right now.
One of the cardinal rules of buying a car is to be willing to walk away when you are overwhelmed. Maybe you return back to the dealer or maybe you end up somewhere else. Just like on West Street, there are many choices. With the way this is playing out, the City must choose very wisely.
What are your thoughts on the Market House? Please leave a comment!