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Annapolis whiffs on City Dock again

Mayor yields to noisy special interests as developer bolts

Susan Reimer

1:18 PM EDT, July 10, 2013

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Annapolis has been giving in to angry citizens since the burning of the good ship Peggy Stewart for violating the tea boycott in 1774. Now a plan to polish the aging City Dock is about to go up in smoke, too.

Mayor Josh Cohen has yielded to a group of fusty historic types who don't want to see a brick moved, merchants who fear competition and Edward Hartman, who holds the city hostage for two boat shows a year and doesn't want to lose a square foot of vendor space.

The hastily formed coalition calls itself Save Annapolis, but, as Mayor Cohen quite rightly said before he folded, all it has succeeded in saving is a cinder-block eyesore that has been empty for three years — the old Fawcett Boat Supplies, once the most complete ship chancery between New England and Florida.

The group's threat of public protests caused a developer for the Fawcett building site to walk away from a $20 million investment that would have revived a barren stretch of waterfront along Ego Alley without the loss of any of the precious parking merchants howl about.

Instead of focusing on a single development planned by a team of investors led by Sunrise Living CEO Mark Ordan, the mayor has thrown open the door to a public hearing on the redesign and flood-proofing plan for the entire City Dock. The mob scene is scheduled for July 25.

He might as well have tied a rock around the hopes for a revitalized downtown Annapolis and thrown them off the deteriorating bulkhead at the bottom of Main Street.

Indeed, the public has a right to be heard on any plans for City Dock, but we all know how this is going to end. Those who think they know what is best for the historic preservation and the economic vitality of Annapolis will talk any plan into the drink.

We've seen it before. Most recently in the debacle of Market House, the one-time food court serving tourists, locals and Midshipmen that was closed by flooding in 2003. Plan after plan, hearing after hearing, and another promise from the city that it will reopen "soon."

Any possible reconciliation with Mr. Ordan's group will be lost in all the hot air of those public hearings. Also lost is the waterfront promenade, the 2.5-story mixed use center set away from the water to afford better views, the underground parking, the outdoor seating and the green space he was going to pay for — all of it safe from floods that come just about every hurricane season.

"There is a balance with being deliberative and taking the big-picture approach while also responding to specific development opportunities," the mayor said in May.

Exactly.

Instead, Mr. Cohen has yielded to a noisy bunch allied with the powerful financial interests of Mr. Hartman, and the result may yet be another City Dock study just like the one Annapolis has just spent two years writing. If the accounting of some observers is correct, this would be No. 27 since 1986.

Annapolitans are at their best when they are lamenting change and waxing nostalgic. I know, I am one of them.

But the Playhouse Theater is gone, the vintage soda fountain at Reads Drug Store is gone, Sadler's Hardware and Stevens Hardware are gone, and so is Pete's Pool Hall, and the city hasn't turned into Ocean City yet.

The historic natures of the buildings have been preserved when possible, and they are occupied largely by local merchants and restaurateurs. The power lines have been buried and the streets repaved with brick. And the city has held the line against the rank commercialization of its downtown streets for decades.

In the mid 1970s, for example, more than 1,000 Annapolitans protested against the possibility that McDonald's might move in by marching to City Dock pushing a boy dressed like Ronald McDonald in a wheelbarrow. When they got to the water, a man dressed like Paul Revere dumped him in.

They pulled the kid out of the harbor, and he was fine.

I'm not sure this latest city dock plan will be as lucky.

Research Librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this column.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.