Through the winter and into the spring, workers renovated the Market House in downtown Annapolis. For nearly eight months, while it sat empty in the middle of the city's tourist district, they primped and primed the popular lunch spot, getting it ready for the new tenant that city officials hoped would come.
Finally it has.
But it's not Dean & Deluca, the upscale New York retailer the city had been courting for months. And the 20-year lease the city signed with Annapolis Seafood Markets, a food supplier, could still fall apart.
In other words, a complicated deal that has been fraught with all sorts of problems since its inception a year ago again could be on the verge of collapse.
Then again, maybe not.
The deal the city struck last week with Annapolis Seafood means that the company would manage the venerable structure on City Dock and supply the products and staff. If given the green light, it could be running within six to eight months, said City Administrator Bob Agee.
The company could open a portion of the Market House, which has been closed since January for renovations, by the end of October, when hundreds of visitors descend on downtown for the Annapolis Boat Show, he said.
But not wanting to be entangled in a political tussle, the company also has told the city it is willing to walk away if that's what the city wants, said Alan Hyatt, an attorney for the company. "Being a local business with a reputation to maintain, we do not want to start off with a bad relationship with the City Council," he said.
Agee said the city should welcome Annapolis Seafood, which he said was a good local company, well entrenched in the community.
But that's not the plan the city initially sought. A year ago, the City Council chose Dean & Deluca to manage the Market House over Site Realty Group, a Prince George's County firm that manages Eastern Market in the District's Capitol Hill neighborhood.
At the time, Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D) gushed over the deal, as did Dane Neller, president and chief executive of Dean & Deluca. "We couldn't be more delighted," Neller said. "We are very excited about the Market House, and we believe Dean & Deluca is a perfect fit."
But soon it became clear that it wasn't going to be a perfect fit. Dean & Deluca formed a Maryland entity and then transferred it to Annapolis Seafood, Agee said. And suddenly Dean & Deluca was out of the picture.
Some city officials are not happy with the change because the initial contract was awarded to Dean & Deluca -- not Annapolis Seafood. "It just looks bad for the city," said Alderman Louise Hammond (D-Ward 1), whose district includes City Dock. "It looks bad in so many ways."
The city is left with three options: stay with Annapolis Seafood, take another look at Site Realty or reopen bidding. "We're not looking at anyone being in there anytime soon, so we could open it up again," Hammond said of the bidding process.
For its part, Site Realty still is interested in managing the Market House, said Richard Cohen, the firm's vice president and general counsel.
Because Site Realty was the only bidder other than Dean & Deluca in the initial process, "we think it's incumbent on the city to come to us first before any other party, including Annapolis Seafood," he said.
"If they selected us from the get-go, people would be eating there right now," he added. The Market House "wouldn't be a boarded-up ghost town."