Hearing of Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins' plan to renovate the City Dock causes an uneasy feeling of deja vu.
The $10 million project to repair the dock's pavement, bury power lines and shore up the bulkheading is being presented with many of the same glowing promises that presaged the reconstruction of Main Street in the state capital a few years ago.
Although the Main Street project had been talked about for years, when it came down to getting the final approval of Annapolis' Historic District Commission, the squabbling began. Business owners fretted over lost parking spaces, residents worried about sidewalk cafes, preservationists debated the width of sidewalks, and the project fell behind schedule. Now crews will have to work double shifts to meet a deadline of Dec. 1. A number of downtown business owners say they aren't sticking around for the work to be finished; some are moving their stores and others are closing up shop altogether rather than deal with the traffic disruptions.
While Main Street is Annapolis' main artery, the City Dock is its heart. And the work envisioned there is bound to raise the same concerns that caused the delay of the Main Street reconstruction. The mayor had hardly announced his intention to seek $5 million from the state to help pay for the project when the grumbling began. City Council members were upset that they were not briefed about the plan before the administration approached state legislators. Merchants said they worry that the disruption, coming on the heels of the Main Street tumult, will break their businesses. And it became clear that disagreement exists over what the dock should be. Some favor turning it into a pedestrian mall; others think the dock area should continue to provide parking.
The mayor wants some of the bulkhead work and landscape improvements to be completed before the Whitbread Round the World sailing race docks in Annapolis in the spring of 1998. Some maintenance work may be needed, but the city should not rush into a full-scale renovation of the dock. Annapolis should have learned from the Main Street controversy that a project of such magnitude cannot be done without careful planning, community participation -- and plenty of time for disagreements to be resolved.