Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Market House

I promised myself I would write a blog post over the weekend, but since there aren't any consequences for breaking a promise to yourself, I decided to update my strategy for what I would do if I won the lottery in lieu of blogging about politics.

I did not attend the Market House Charette, mainly because I thought 'charette' was a made-up word. I later learned that 'charette' was a common word in the design/construction community, and basically means a brainstorming session about designing/building. For the 3 of you that were wondering, 'charette' comes from the French word for 'chariot'. Apparently, French design students would often make intense last-minute revisions to their projects while riding on their chariots to class. I prefer taking my chariot only on trips to the pharmacy, but I suppose having it on campus makes you the envy of all your classmates.

The Market House has to serve a variety of interests: local residents, tourists, students from nearby schools, Midshipmen (which are distinguished from other students due to their unusually high consumption of chocolate milk), and boaters. First of all, there's gotta be a market component. Selling meat, produce, dairy, and bread in grocery form would appeal to residents and boaters. And no doubt, there's gotta be a vending component. Food always tastes better when someone else makes it for you, and having someone make food for you in a historical building on the water sounds great. Maybe something like this would be appropriate.

I was speaking with somebody who actually attended the forum, and he brought up the idea of closing a portion of that area to cars, laying down bricks, and having a pedestrian-only area to accentuate the attraction of visiting the Market House. I thought to myself:

-Do I like to sit down when I'm eating? Affirmative.
-Is there room inside the Market House for tables and chairs? Negative.
-Are there a bunch of tables outside for people to sit at? Negative.

After those 3 thoughts, I began to like the idea of eliminating some of the vehicle traffic in that area. Let's take a look at the map.

......Damn it, the Google map isn't working and it crashed my internet explorer 3 times, so to see the map I'm about to talk about you have to click here.

Ok, we know that Randall St. (between MH and water) has to stay open for cars. People need to get down Dock St. and to the Naval Academy. So, we must consider closing all or portions of Market Space, which is the area in between the MH and City Dock Coffee, Federal House, etc. There are 3 streets that connect with that area: Pinkney St. going away from the MH, and Fleet and Cornhill streets, which flow towards the water. In my view, the elimination of vehicle traffic would have to follow the following model:

-leave Pinkney St. the way it is, maintaining vehicle traffic that passes between McGarvey's and Maria's
-close Market Space to vehicle traffic from Maria's to Buddy's, effectively making all of Market Space available only to pedestrian traffic
-change the traffic pattern of Fleet St. to go away from the MH

I think that could actually work. That area of downtown would become much more appealing to people, and it seems to me that traffic would flow better. An astute observer would note that the elimination of parking spaces downtown is not prudent; however, there are certainly ideas that can be implemented to increase parking downtown and make up for the lost spaces.

The issue concerning the MH that I struggle with is that of the management structure. Typically, I would say that the government lacks the expertise to be a private landlord, that the space should be professionally managed, and the tenants subject to market forces. But, we have seen how that works. Market forces lead to market results: speculation, risk-taking, and high turnover. Moreover, since the city would never conceivably cede ownership of the building to a private entity, there would always be a struggle between the management company and the city with regards to infrastructure improvements.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Market House is special--that it must enjoy special treatment and favor in order to maintain its viability and therefore also maintain the image of the city. There is precedent in the city, such as the Boat Show, where the city is responsible for the decision of which business will best serve the interests of the city. For the Market House tenants, the same process should be applied. There is, however, in important part of this process: market rent. Tenants would be selected, presumably, on the basis of historical success and contribution to the community. Once the worthiness of the tenants is established, they must pay the market level of rent to maintain competitive equivalence with the other businesses that are not in the MH.

Almost every city resident mentions the Market House as an embarrassment to the city. Having the MH operated by the city, and therefore giving citizens their due opportunity to prevent any future embarrassment, seems like the way to go.

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