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Annapolis council approves $300K for Market House fixes

The Annapolis city council voted Monday night to spend $300,000 in to renovate Market House, the city-owned public market that has cost millions of dollars over the past decade in repairs and legal fees.

The council voted 5 to 4 to approve funding to relocate the closed historic market's plumbing and electrical wiring to allow for waterfront views, add seating and increase bathrooms. Republican Frederick M. Paone, of Ward 2, and Democrats Ross H. Arnett, III, of Ward 8, Ian Pfeiffer, of Ward 7, and Matthew Silverman, of Ward 5, voted in opposition to the measure.

In blistering comments before the vote, Paone called the funding request "absolutely outrageous." He later apologized to administration officials who pushed for the project — including David Jarrell, director of the city's Department of Public Works and Market House Manager Richard Sharoff — saying he was frustrated by the market's long history of failure.

"This isn't the Taj Mahal; This is the Market House we're talking about," said Paone. "These renovations can be done with less money. … It's a ridiculously bad business deal and we need to put a stop to it at some point, and that point is here."

The council's finance committee signed off on the expenditure last week. City officials are hoping the changes to the market — along with a heating and cooling system that was recently installed — will transform the now-closed, 1890s-era building to a bustling destination for tourists and residents alike.

Mayor Joshua J. Cohen, a fierce advocate for revitalizing the market, which was flooded in 2003 and cost the city $1 million to fix, said the latest repairs will transform the market. Following the flood, a series of tenant deals fell through, and in 2009, the city paid more than $2 million to escape a long-term lease with a company hired to manage the market and its tenants.

Since then, the mayor and the council have struggled to find consensus on the future of the market, which has been alternately occupied by short-term tenants and closed for business in recent years. City officials are hoping to finish renovations by the end of the summer.

"This is a smart and responsible decision to do what needs to be done to fix market house," said Cohen. "Almost everybody agrees: the current layout is no good. … It does not provide a real community gathering place. … I'm very confident that if we do this we'll be successful."

Alderwoman Sheila M. Finlayson, a Ward 4 Democrat, voted for the measure but warned she would not likely vote for additional market funding in the future.

"We're all at a point, if this doesn't work, we will not own the Market House," said Finlayson.

"Second!" Arnett, who has long advocated for the city to sell the market, called out jokingly.

Finlayson continued: "I think collectively we will all agree that someone else needs to own it. I grew up here. I remember what it used to be like. … We're going to give you a good chance at making this work."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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