Cooler heads

The Baltimore Sun

There's yet another push to resolve the dispute over conditions at the troubled Market House in downtown Annapolis. Upset over the lack of tenants in the historic market, the Annapolis Business Association has collected 500 signatures on a petition urging city officials to resolve their differences with the management company of the city-owned market. The city was sued by Market House Ventures LLC more than a year ago over the city's alleged failure to upgrade the historic building's air conditioning system.

It's been a nasty volley of charges and counter charges since Market House Ventures filed the lawsuit in December 2007, which is now seeking $11 million in damages.

The Market House is a shell of its former self, and with spring approaching and the summer sailing season not that far off, area businesses' frustrations over the stalemate are understandable. Market House is in a prime spot, at the foot of Main Street and across from the City Dock. It should be a vibrant gathering spot for Annapolis tourists drawn to the state capital for everything from June week at the Naval Academy to the boat shows in the fall.

The who-struck-John of Market House Ventures' dispute with the city is grist for trial, set for June 9. Market House Ventures isn't talking, and city officials blame "unreasonable demands" for spoiling previous efforts to settle the case.

But Mayor Ellen O. Moyer should deliver a pre-emptive strike: Install a more powerful air conditioner in the Market House. It would resolve a key complaint and provide a fresh opportunity to resume talks. A trial will be costly for both sides.

Mayor Moyer was ready to upgrade the market's 15-ton air conditioner in 2007, but merchants didn't want to lose business during the busy summer season, and the city complied. She should seize the moment now. With only a few businesses operating in Market House now, it's an ideal time for repairs. The longer the dispute drags on, the more potential income is lost. Annapolis and Market House Ventures should sit down and work out a reasonable compromise. And at the earliest opportunity, city lawyers should revise terms of the management lease to better protect the public's interest and ensure the market's continued operation.

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