The Annapolis Business Association has started a petition to encourage city officials to pass legislation that would permit the Market House at City Dock to be occupied as soon as possible - a move the mayor said would be a "bailout" for the company managing the property.
The Market House has been a point of debate for city residents, officials and business people for years. Mayoral hopefuls, in fact, are using their plans for Market House as campaign pitches to appeal to residents who want to see something done about the near-empty waterfront property that's snarled in legal woes and maintenance issues.
The ABA announced the campaign last week and plans to collect signatures through the end of the month. Jessica Jordan, the association's president, said the 150-member nonprofit came up with the idea for the petition at its annual meeting this month.
"It's hurting our businesses," said Jordan, owner of Paradigm boutique on Main Street. "We definitely think it's a crisis situation.
"If people come downtown ... and they see the Market House like it is and the empty store-fronts, what is it going to take to get them to come back?"
The association expects to collect thousands of signatures by the end of the month. The goal is to see viable tenants in the Market House by the spring.
Mayor Ellen O. Moyer called the petition a "bailout" for Site Realty, the private company that has been managing Market House since 2005. In 2006, an air-conditioning failure prompted some tenants to leave. Then in 2007, Market House Ventures, a subsidiary of Site Realty, sued the city, saying it breached its contract because of a loss of revenue. The city brought a temporary air conditioning unit on the sidewalk outside as a result.
The litigation continues, and in the meantime, a judge ruled last year that Market House Ventures did not have to pay its annual $125,000 rent until it's over.
"I don't know how they see the petition helping the city," Moyer said, adding that the city should not "roll over on its back" about the lawsuit. Many Annapolitans have publicly blamed Moyer and the city council for the Market House's troubles, but she contended that city business owners and residents wanted to see the property's management privatized.
"Be careful what you ask for," Moyer said.
Jordan said that as of Thursday, Moyer did not respond to an e-mail requesting a meeting to talk about the Market House situation, but the association planned to meet with some city staff members.
"Our concern is that our elected officials are the ones who are held accountable," Jordan said. "I think the petition is a tool that we want to use to show the city that it's not just three or four people. ... We've got overwhelming support. The petition is just a way of saying, 'It's time to listen. People really care about this.' "
where to sign
* Artini: Randall Street
* Diva: Market Space
* Paradigm, Peppers: Main Street
* Peake House, Sitting Pretty: Maryland Avenue
* Rams Head, A La Mode, West Street
Source: Annapolis Business Association