Thursday, August 2, 2007

Market House: A History

Yesterday somebody asked AP the history of the market house, with specific emphasis on the mayor's mistakes. In the 24 hours since this was posited, AP has determined 2 facts to be true:

1. For a foul-up of this magnitude, there is plenty of blame to go around.
2. I didn't know the history well enough.

So, I did some research with the intent of gaining a more complete understanding of the events that have brought us to where we are today. This post is meant to be an evolving one, so if you--the honorable citizen--have insight or can provide some context, email me and we can add to the story.

So here is the story as I know it to be:

History of the Process:

The market house has been around for a LONG time--over 300 years, with the current location existing since 1858--and has not been without controversy. Many have debated the proper use of the space, and several notable political attempts have been made to drastically alter, or even raze, the structure.

The current situation has its origins circa 2004. The city was the landlord of the market house property, and the leases of the tenants were due to expire. It was determined that the market house was in a state of disrepair, and needed to be renovated. The existing businesses, which were profitable by most accounts, failed to come together and present the city with a proposal to return to the space after it was renovated.

The Moyer administration then decided not to renew the leases of these tenants, opting instead to pursue an agreement with a New York based upscale grocer, Dean & Deluca. On March 21, 2005, the city announced that the market house would be operated by the joint interests of Dean and Deluca, and Annapolis Seafood. The only problem was that Dean & Deluca announced 5 months earlier that they would NOT be a part of the market house. According to their attorney:

On or about Nov. 9, 2004, Dane Neller, the CEO of Dean & DeLuca, advised representatives of the City of Annapolis that Dean & DeLuca would not be going forward with this transaction,"

He then elaborated:

Dean & DeLuca will not be joint venturing with Annapolis Seafood in the operation of the Market House," Dahlgren said. "This is absolutely not the case. Dean & DeLuca will not be a tenant of the Annapolis Market House nor have any interest in any entity which may ultimately become a tenant in the Annapolis Market House.

Fleetingly, the Moyer administration tried to cover its tracks. According to a Washington Post article on September 29,2005:

Agee and Moyer said they could find no record of the Nov. 9 communication referred to by Dahlgren.

If this is true, how do you explain the fact that:

On Nov. 10, one day after Dahlgren said Neller made it clear that Dean & DeLuca wasn't interested, three members of the city's negotiating team made train reservations to visit him in Manhattan.

Two of the people who went to this meeting were Emory Harrison, the then-director of central services, and Mike Miron, the then-and current-director of economic development. They were so disconcerted by the meeting that they recommended scrapping the deal. On December 8, 2005, Harrison sent an email to then-and current-city administrator Bob Agee, stating:

(We should be) placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of D&D....The City lived up to it's end of the deal, D&D did not.

Agee retorted.....

Am very optimistic things will be working out well...Do not know why we need to have notes flying about dealing emphasizing blame etc.

....apparently writing this email with his new pair of rose-colored glasses. Agee and Mayor Moyer continued in a state of denial, asserting that D & D's refusal to sign the lease was merely a negotiating tactic!! Agee and Moyer undertook a media effort--or propaganda campaign to use AP's preferred linguistic style--that tried to paint a pretty picture to the public. This less-than-accurate portrayal took its toll on the people who had to maintain the facade:

"What was that fairy tale about spinning straw into gold?" wrote city spokeswoman Jan Hardesty in an internal e-mail. "Rumblestiltskin? I'm beginning to feel that's my new role in life."

It was rumored that D & D was in danger of bankruptcy, and was on the verge of being acquired. Evidence seems to support the plausibility of this theory, as there were major changes to the management of D & D during this period.

As the Moyer administration began to accept that D & D was out, she tried to give the deal exclusively to Annapolis Seafood. But this was illegal, since D & D was the winning bidder for the property. The next proposed solution was to have D & D sign the lease, then turn over its interests to Annapolis Seafood. But several alderman rightly objected. It was then decided that the city would get out of the landlord business, and the lease to the property was given to the orginal runner-up bidder: Site Realty.

The Problem With the Result

There are 2 major areas of concern with the current site: design and content (tenants).

The first design flaw may just be my opinion, and it involves the layout. There are two main entrances, on either width of the building, that create a corridor for walking the length of the building and patronizing the shops. This single corridor is divided by chest-high counters through the middle of the aisle. The result is a capacity of about 3 people that can be in line at any given time at any given merchant. I'm no feng shui guru, but it seems to me that this could have been done better, perhaps with more than 2 doors.

The second design flaw is indisputable: the air conditioning. One of two things happened:


1. the original engineer/contractor screwed up by installing an HVAC unit that is woefully inadequate


2. the original design was correct for the D & D plans, but the higher amount of heat produced by the current tenants required more power, and the result is an HVAC unit that is woefully inadequate

The world may never know who is to blame for this, but there are many aspects of the HVAC unit that are woeful. It is ugly, takes up parking spaces, still does not cool properly, and just the temporary unit costs the taxpayers multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The city wanted to use the same company to fix the HVAC that installed the first unit, and the bottom line is that while the mayor jet sets around the world, this is still not fixed.

The second problem is the tenants. Pretty much all commercial franchises. The aforementioned Emory Harrison was the person responsible for selecting from the 75 applicants:

When making his decisions, Harrison "tried to keep the market's product distribution in line with the goods and services that the public would want. For example, there will be no crafts or tee shirt shops," he says.

Is this really what the public wants? A food court? What data do you have that supports this? Promising some semblance of a market, Mr. Harrison remarked:

There will also be some seasonal outdoor vendors under the eaves of the Market House...selling fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers, but not in the plaza area....The city will be giving preference to local farmers.

If this has happened, I have yet to see it.

Who Can I Blame?
Frankly, everyone. As my friend pointed out, something so big and so wrong cannot be achieved by one person. My personal opinion is that the person at the top has to take responsibility. We are not talking about construction problems or technical oversights; this project suffered from a lack of strategic vision, poor and divided leadership, poor oversight, a failure to address the facts, and apparent unwillingness to assess and provide for the actual wishes of the public. If you ask me, Mayor Moyer is at fault. But, here is a list of others who can share in that blame, and why.

-Mayor Moyer: with great power comes great responsibility.
-Bob Agee: conspirator in effort to ignore facts and mislead public
-D & D: for starting negotiations they could not finish
-Emory Harrison: for selecting the tenants
-the HVAC conglomerate: for messing up the air conditioning
-the old tenants: for failing to unify and preserve/improve the market house
-you and me: for allowing the mayor to be re-elected in the middle of all of this

So, What Now?

We have to accept that the market house is what it is. We have to fix the air conditioning, and restore the market house to a central, attractive city fixture (or at least as close as it can get). After that, the rest is up to the consumers. If we like the market house--if we find it useful--we can go there. If we like it enough that it is profitable, it will stay there. If not, businesses will start leaving, and the city will have to go through this again. Hopefully by that time we can decide what we want our market house to be.