Annapolis Mayor Joshua J. Cohen has asked the City Council to consider spending up to $400,000 on renovations to the long-troubled Market House, a request that has drawn sharp criticism from several members of the council.
David Jarrell, director of the city's Department of Public Works, presented three renovation options Monday for the 19th-century market, once dubbed "the cafeteria of Annapolis." In recent years, Market House has been opened to the public only intermittently, mired in legal and political disputes.
City officials hope the proposed renovations could be completed sometime this summer. Measures under consideration include added seating, which would cost $40,000, and upgrades to the women's restroom, which would cost $80,000. Cohen favors a plan that would change the layout to accommodate water views and cost $200,000.
"We just cannot continue to spend this kind of money on the Market House," said Alderman Ross H. Arnett III, an Eastport Democrat. "Just throwing more money at it is never going to make it work."
Previous renovations to the historic waterfront and a series of legal battles have cost the city millions, and the future of the market has been the subject of fierce debate. Market House was closed last month for the installation of a long-needed heating and cooling system.
A council committee will vote Tuesday on a plan to borrow money for the upgrades, and a full council vote is expected Feb. 27.
Cohen said taxpayers would not bear the brunt of the cost, but instead the market's tenants would pay the debt service through rental payments.
"I'm optimistic that we're finally going to get this fixed," said Cohen, a Democrat.
Arnett said no more public money should be spent on the Market House — and the city should consider selling it.
"The mayor wants to make Market House the way it was when he was a little boy and he's willing to throw millions of dollars at it to make it happen," said Arnett. "It's not feasible."
The mayor disputed Arnett's comments.
"The Market House is never going to be the way it used to be back before" said Cohen. "But I believe we can and should take some of the strength from that iteration of it, rather than let ourselves be trapped by the current floor plan, which is poorly done."
Cohen said selling the market is not in the cards. "The Market House is a core service of the city, and I know we can do it right."
Alderwoman Sheila M. Finlayson, a Democrat, said she was concerned about continuing costs.
"If we don't want to deal with it, let's sell it," said Finlayson. "Do we let it continue to drain [the city's finances]? … I'd like to know how much it's costing us to sit there empty day after day, month after month."
Richard Sharoff, a consultant whom the city hired last year to manage the market, said if the city makes the necessary changes, it could net some $3 million in annual revenues.
"We're talking about creating an ambience — not just supplying seats," said Sharoff. "We're trying to create an inviting retail environment, which will make the whole facility more attractive."