Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said this week that the city should move ahead with a plan to have a local food company take over Market House downtown despite protests from some city officials who think the deal is improper.
Moyer (D) said in an interview that the 20-year lease the city signed this month with Annapolis Seafood Markets is a good one that should not be abandoned. Starting the search for a tenant all over again would only delay the opening of the popular lunch spot at City Dock, she said.
"It's time to move forward," she said.
The deal, which has been controversial from the start, got even more complicated last week when city officials announced they had signed a lease with Annapolis Seafood and not Dean & DeLuca, the upscale New York retailer that had originally won the contract to manage the historic Market House.
In July, the city was informed that Dean & DeLuca was backing out and that Annapolis Seafood would be taking over Market House. At some point after Dean & DeLuca beat out Site Realty Group for the contract a year ago, it formed a separate Maryland corporation to run Market House, and then transferred that entity to Annapolis Seafood, said Bob Agee, the city administrator. That move disturbed some city officials who'd thought they were getting Dean & DeLuca and now say they feel duped.
"I think this whole lease process has been done in a way that is full of deceit at the very minimum," said Alderwoman Louise Hammond (D-Ward 1).
When Moyer's administration realized that Annapolis Seafood, and not Dean & DeLuca, would be operating Market House, "they should have gone and looked at the other bid or opened it back up," Hammond said. "They shouldn't have moved forward with the lease."
That is what should happen now, Hammond said. She has suggested reopening bidding for the contract or giving Site Realty another look. Site Realty was the only other company besides Dean & DeLuca to submit a bid last year. A subcommittee of the City Council is expecting to hear from both Annapolis Seafood and Site Realty at a meeting next week.
Richard Cohen, Site Realty's vice president and general counsel, has said the company is still very interested in running Market House and has the experience to do it. The Prince George's-based company manages Eastern Market in the District. Cohen urged the city to revisit the bid Site Realty submitted last year before moving ahead with Annapolis Seafood.
But Moyer said Site Realty's bid was rejected last year because it involved multiple vendors instead of just one.
Meanwhile, Alan Hyatt, an attorney representing Annapolis Seafood, has said the company would provide the city exactly what it was looking for within several months: a nice spot to buy fresh food and sandwiches in the middle of the downtown historic district. But he also said the company is willing to walk away from the deal if the County Council so desires.
That's not what Moyer wants.
"We have a legal lease and a signed contract," she said. "I think the public would like to see the market open."
She said the deal represented "the best of both worlds" because Market House would be run by a local vendor that would sell its own fresh produce and seafood as well as products from Dean & DeLuca.
"I don't see the fuss of saying we have to go out and bid it again," she said. "It's time to move off that and get it open. The more roadblocks we have in the way, the longer it takes to get it open."