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Market House art project: If you install it, will they come?

Supporters of some mildly controversial -- and temporary -- cosmetic changes to Market House faced a few voices raised in opposition at an Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission meeting this week. The proposal calls for a rooftop art installation as well as improved lighting and some Maryland flag pennants on the historic City Dock building.

The renovation and reopening of Market House is important to the revitalization of City Dock as a whole. In March, when Mayor Joshua J. Cohen announced the roster of vendors slated for the building, he stressed that the city had worked hard to find the right mix of tenants for the 225-year-old structure. Now that the tenants are signed, the city need to attract customers.

Historic buildings can be challenging on a number of levels. When it comes to leasing, tenants want to be assured that the renovations have kept the building's character and that systems are state-of-the-art. Customers want to have that historic flavor, but they also demand modern conveniences, and one thing that Market House has lacked has been adequate exterior lighting.

It is hard to tell that the building is open, according to officials, and there are a few easy steps the city can take to rectify that. If, of course, the commission agrees.

The city and Annapolis' Artwalk believe they have a unique solution. The want to install abstract fabric shapes they call "colorforms" on three sides of the building. The colorforms resemble awnings and would be above the entrances. In addition, the partners would install lights to outline the building's eaves. The installation would not be permanent; everything would come down after a year.

A representative of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau said the installation is important to the vendors. The bureau has first-hand experience with the building not attracting foot traffic: The number of visitors to their offices dropped precipitously when they moved to the harbor area.

The few objections registered concerned the installation's impact on the historic exterior of the building. While the art itself may not be a problem, it does not match Market House's character and historic integrity.

The commission's vote is due in June. The Maryland Historical Trust must approve the project first.

Source: Capital Gazette, "Supporters rally for rooftop art on Annapolis' Market House," Elisha Sauers, May 16, 2013