Future of Market House murky


A fresh round of developments has reopened a favorite subject of speculation, chatter and argument in Annapolis: the future of Market House, all fixed up with a new roof but still a blank, boarded-up space on the bustling City Dock this summer.

City officials confirmed last week that Dean & DeLuca, the New York gourmet grocer that was signed up with much fanfare to run the 146-year-old landmark, had backed out of a deal to set up shop there.

Annapolis Seafood reached an independent agreement with Dean & DeLuca to become the main Market House operator.

It is unclear when Dean & DeLuca had the change of heart, but a city official who asked not to be identified said the company might have decided as far back as last fall.

In March, the city was talking about plans to rename the building Dean & DeLuca Annapolis Market House.

The city's law office confirmed that Annapolis Seafood is within its rights to operate as long as the company abides by the tenets of the lease, which was approved by the City Council in May.

Alderwoman Louise Hammond blamed Mayor Ellen O. Moyer and the city administrator, Robert Agee, for what she said was a disappointing outcome.

"This has all been dragged out. This clause where they could flip it [the lease] was, we were concerned, very fishy," Hammond said. "The mayor and Mr. Agee failed us. It should have come back to us, the City Council or the second bidder, Site Realty for Eastern Market."

Moyer said the arrangement with a locally known vendor is proper.

Annapolis Seafood just completed the lease with Dean & DeLuca to take over as the main Market House operator, said Alan Hyatt, attorney for the seafood company.

Hyatt has said that his client will only proceed in an atmosphere of good will.

"It doesn't do Annapolis Seafood any good to have a hostile community," he said. "My client is ready to tear the lease up and walk away."

When the news was announced at a City Hall hearing last week, Hammond and Alderman George O. Kelley Sr. - who is seeking to unseat Moyer in the mayoral race this fall - expressed displeasure that Dean & DeLuca had decided against operating in the state capital. They asked whether any company representatives had come to Annapolis to speak.

The company did not return calls asking for comment. Chief executive Dane Neller issued a statement saying the company was pleased to have been "invited to offer Dean & DeLuca specialty products in this wonderful, historic setting," the Annapolis Capital reported Friday.

Reached at her home, where she is recuperating from surgery, Moyer said, "Let's be prepared to proceed and have the best of both worlds, a local vendor with some Dean & DeLuca products.

"This has been a political football with a lot of misinformation," Moyer said. "Opponents would like nothing better than to see a green hut sitting there empty come Christmastime." (The boards covering the 5,000-square-foot structure are green.)

The mayor's remark touched on a sore point between Moyer and her critics: The newly renovated Market House is likely to remain closed - a "vanilla box," in retail terms, awaiting a design team - when the annual boat shows come to the city in October.

Kelley, a Republican, said negotiations between the city government and Dean & DeLuca resembled a "covert operation."

Early this year, the city evicted the market's seven vendors in preparation for $1 million in public improvements, including a heating and cooling system.

In the meantime, denizens of downtown Annapolis are missing its most down-home place to perch and pass the time of day.

"There's no place to grab a coffee, soda, sandwich and go sit outside. The place is boarded up," said Steve Machoian, 44, an auto district sales manager.

"It will be boarded up in October," he said.

We want your opinions

ISSUE: New York specialty grocer Dean & DeLuca will not be operating the historic Market House in Annapolis when it reopens, possibly in the fall.

Instead, an Anne Arundel County seafood wholesaler plans to take over the space under the lease negotiated with Dean & DeLuca and sell the New York company's products.

City officials say they plan to go ahead with plans to turn over the renovated 146-year-old landmark near City Dock to Annapolis Seafood, but some say the city should reopen the bidding. The operator of Washington's Eastern Market expressed interest in the site last year.

The city evicted the market's seven vendors this year when their leases expired.

YOUR VIEW: Should Annapolis officials re-open the bidding for leasing Market House?

Tell us what you think at arundel.speakout@baltsun.com by Thursday. Please keep your responses short and include your name, address and phone number. A selection will be published Sunday.

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