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What's Up Magazine

High-Rise of Annapolis’ City Dock

Jul 01, 2018 12:00AM

By Ellen Moyer

It was Annapolis first and only waterfront hotel built in the 1960s that set the tone for the City Dock we see today. A new generation decries the dullness of parking lots in what some declare should be a more dynamic, lively visitor destination. 

Sixty years ago, Annapolis was economically suffering. The city’s Main Street was abandoned for a new shopping center with parking in Parole. (By 1990 Parole Plaza, too, was abandoned.) 

Stressed Alderman talked about paving over the Ego Alley for parking. The editor of The Capital, who had no love for Historic Annapolis, proposed turning the Market House into a high-rise retail/office center. Hoteliers saw an economic opportunity to build multiple hotels on City Dock and an election was coming with a vote to approve the City as a National Historic Landmark District. Businessmen scoffed at the notion but every ward in the City returned a favorable vote establishing Annapolis National Historic Landmark District as the only one in America determined by popular vote. The Market House was saved and redesigned.

The land around the harbor was purchased by the City and designated open space for downtown parking lots and parks for concerts and historic ships and festivals, such as the boat shows, protecting the city from walled-off access to the water. By 1970, the economically-distressed city was on the comeback trail.

Four million visitors flocked to Annapolis, a city that soon became recognized internationally and nationally for its Georgian and human-scale architecture, and the stories told about the beginning of America’s national history.

Times change. Today’s society is looking for variety, a thrill a minute. Parking lots are decidedly dull. And so, the move is on to create another high-rise hotel with underground parking to replace the current parking lot—with a bus turn around (really), a restaurant, and the removal of  the historic Burtis home, which is owned by the State and occupied by the National Sailing Hall of Fame (which is being courted away from the Nation’s Sailing Capital by our maritime competitor Newport, Rhode Island).

To achieve this, the City Council must, by five votes, change the zoning. A bill was proposed to rezone this dock area to mixed use and remove the total area’s (spot zoning is illegal) height restriction, which controls the human-scale that helped establish the city’s economic vitality. (A May vote killed the proposal; however, Mayor Buckley will reintroduce the bill.) Whether this change would jeopardize the city’s National Historic Landmark Designation is unknown. Thirty miles away are two urban centers, Baltimore and Washington, with tall buildings. Much smaller Annapolis within the triangle, has always been more laid back. Its casual yet elegant culture of a historic and art center defines Annapolis as someplace original and special. It is, after all, the Colonial Athens of America and a government center. 

A creatively designed boutique inn and plaza within the current zoning and height limitations could meet the assets that make this city special. Before the city dashes into a large hotel, should we at least look at a visionary design and economic impact analysis for the dock area in question?

Should the experience and expertise of representatives from Historic Annapolis, Historic Preservation Commission, Annapolis Architects and Artists, and interested citizens in every ward be included in the revitalization design of the dock area? Or is the transformation to a high-rise cluster along dock street buildings okay in our minds’ eyes?