Thursday, March 17, 2005

Dean & DeLuca the Other Way

A long, long time ago, like decades and decades ago, the family that owned the property where the Market House currently sits deeded the property to the City of Annapolis with the specification, roughly, that it remain a market to serve city residents. Those long ago owners had remarkable foresight. One wonders if they foresaw how difficult it would be for the City to live up to that required mission. There is no question downtown Annapolis needs a location, in walking distance of downtown homes, that can provide basic foodstuffs and groceries. Given the wild success of farmers' markets all across the County, it's difficult to understand why there weren't stronger recent efforts to make room in the Market House's stalls for local farmers.

After removing the various vendors who recently occupied the Market House, the City put the management of the space out to bid. Apparently, only two qualified bids came in, one from Dean & DeLuca, an upscale gourmet grocer, and the other from the group that runs Eastern Market in Washington, DC. I'll confess to a strong preference for the Eastern Market group. While Dean & DeLuca may have a more polished and refined image, as anyone who has been to Eastern Market can attest, it possesses a local character and bazar-like atmosphere that is really a pleasure to behold. By comparison, Dean & DeLuca seems a bit sterile. Nevertheless, for reasons of which I am not fully aware, the City chose to go with the proposal by Dean & DeLuca. The Market House is now boarded up, and undergoing $900,000 in renovations.

The City is apparently offering Dean & DeLuca a real deal on the property ($20 a sq/ft as opposed to a going rate of $40 sq/ft). Dean & DeLuca will have a 20-year lease, where they pay the City $100,000 per year, adjusted for inflation. I'm of a mixed mind on the "deal." Under normal circumstances, I'd oppose any sort of favoritism towards businesses in a City-owned space, but this situation is rather unique in that the tenant is obligated to provide certain additional civic goods to the community. The key, really, is going to be to see if the City can ensure that Dean & DeLuca is providing the services that it's obligated to for City residents. Given the City's less than stellar record managing the property in the past, that job may well fall by the wayside.

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