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Failed Developer Promises?

This article was published in the Annapolis Capital on September 25, 2006. The City Council approved an MOU to have Parks build a parking garage on the Annapolis City Playground.

Cityscape: Park Place arts center nonprofit falls short of expectations

About five years ago, developer Jerome J. Parks announced with much fanfare and hoopla that he was going to build a huge new complex on West Street called Park Place.

According to news stories in The Capital at the time, it would have a mix of sophisticated shops, apartments, condos, a hotel and, most impressive of all, a top-notch performing arts center.

The local arts community, cautious at first, eventually became quite pleased with the idea. It generated goodwill for Mr. Parks with the city, which helped him along with zoning decisions and a special $25 million bond issue to fund part of the parking garage.

Now, as anyone driving on West Street can see, Park Place is nearing completion. The shops and condos will be up and running, but as yet there is no sign of a performing arts center.

It was precisely this point that was addressed in a recent story in The Capital.

With much less fanfare and hoopla, Mr. Parks announced that he is setting up a nonprofit organization to build and operate the promised 1,200-seat center.

The catch, though, is that Mr. Parks won’t be paying for it – the new nonprofit will have to raise the money itself. It will end up costing tens of millions of dollars, far more than local arts groups have ever raised before.

What happened here?

It’s hard to say for sure. Although Mr. Parks apparently made no firm promises to build the arts center, he certainly allowed the community to believe he would.

Over the past several years he has never stepped forward to correct the impression given by those first news stories that he was going to bankroll the center from Park Place profits.

True, Mr. Parks is donating the land for the center and some seed money for his nonprofit, and that is good as far as it goes. But the burden of fund-raising – which could go as high as $40 million – for the center itself will be on the already strapped local arts community.

This just isn’t fair. Mr. Parks got favorable attention and substantial funding for his project at least partially because he included the enticement of a new performing arts center in the package.

Now he is passing responsibility for its completion to others just as he is getting ready to cut the ribbon on Park Place and make some serious money on his investment.

If Mr. Parks wants to deliver on even a portion of his implied promise to the arts community, he might think about taking some of that money and becoming the largest single contributor to his fledgling nonprofit organization.

The full text of the article is available in the newspaper’s archives.




City Council Passes Divisive Garage Resolution

Coverage of the City Council meeting and vote from Annapolis Patch:

A controversial proposal to build a parking garage at the site of a school playground is moving forward.

Following a highly emotional—nearly four-hour—public hearing, the council passed a resolution early Tuesday morning directing the city to negotiate a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Compromise LLC, a local developer that plans to build a parking garage on top of the Annapolis City Playground.

The garage, which would also include retail and office space, would allow the city to remove about 200 parking spaces from the city dock to create a more “green” space.

“It’s an MOU only that we’re voting on,” Alderman Fred Paone (R-2nd Ward) said. “It’s not a contract per se. It’s nothing anywhere near a completed deal.”

Alderwoman Classie Hoyle (D-3rd Ward) said she supports the proposed garage. She said she was struck by Compromise LLC’s willingness to help the city. The developer intends to privately finance the construction of the garage.

Hoyle said that in the future, 95 percent of the kids using the playground, located on Compromise Street, will forget about it.

“This is the direction we need to go in,” Hoyle said. “I think six months from now it won’t be an issue.”

Mayor Josh Cohen, Alderman Ian Pfeiffer (D-7th Ward) and Alderman Richard Israel (D-1st Ward) voted against the proposal.

Cohen, who had previously supported the proposal, said he now doesn’t feel the project is the right use of the space.

“What we need is an overall vision, and a plan to achieve that vision,” he said. “Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that this isn’t right for the site.”

City Hall was packed with residents and merchants who attended the public hearing prior to the vote. At one point, Cohen told the crowd that the fire marshal said six people would have to leave the room because it was over capacity.

About 50 people shared testimony before the council.

Orlando Ridout V strongly opposed the proposal because he said it would disrupt a planned $27 million renovation to Annapolis Elementary School, which is in front of the playground.

“We have to recognize a train wreck when we see it coming,” Ridout said.

Some merchants supported the proposal because they said they feel it could alleviate the loss of parking expected during the renovation of the Noah Hillman parking garage—located near the center of downtown—scheduled for 2015. The overhaul is expected to take two years to complete, which could hurt the businesses.

Sean O’Neill, president of the Annapolis Business Association, said the garage is critical.

“What we want to make sure we’re aware of is that we need convenient parking for a vibrant community,” O’Neill said.

Delegate Ron George (R-Arnold) said he doesn’t know the issues well enough to take a stance but, as a business owner, he said convenient parking is essential to the survival of businesses.

“Parking has not been an issue lately because there are so many empty storefronts,” George said.

The full text of this article is available at:

Motion to Vote on Parking Garage MOU Fails

Annapolis Patch reports:

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education chose not to move towards a vote in establishing a memorandum of understanding with the Annapolis City Council.

A proposed downtown parking garage is facing yet another hurdle.

A motion to act on a memorandum of understanding with the Annapolis City Council regarding the project failed to pass with a 3-2 vote Wednesday by the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.

The memorandum is an agreement between the Anne Arundel County Board of Education and the City Council to work cooperatively on the proposal, if it passes the council.

The vote Wednesday wasn’t to determine if the memorandum would be reached, only to see if the board would actually vote on the matter.

“We don’t have any specific plans, that’s right,” Alderman Ross Arnett (D-8th Ward) said. “We have not been given the signal to go forth,” regarding the lack of a memorandum.

If plans for the parking garage are approved, it would sit on top of the Annapolis City Playground, which is situated near the historic Annapolis Elementary School.

Patricia Nalley, president of the Board of Education, expressed her disapproval of the overall project.

“I don’t see any good this does for the children,” Nalley said.

Board member Eugene Petersen abstained from voting, citing a conflict of interest because he’s a city government employee.

Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson (D-4th Ward) urged the Board of Education members to go forward with the project stating that the proposal includes plans for a new, larger waterfront playground and a new, smaller school playground.

“I ask you today to allow us to move forward,” Finlayson said.

Bob Burden, president and CEO of the Annapolis Chamber of Commerce, asked the Board of Education to vote in favor of the memorandum in order to open a constructive dialogue.

“We’re here to ask you as a stakeholder in engaging this vision and this idea, and looking at how this idea and its possibilities exist,” Burden said.

Chris Stelzig, the president of Annapolis Elementary PTA, who also started the anti-garage petition, previously told Patch that he doesn’t believe the city would deliver on its promise for a new playground and that the proposed location by the waterfront is unsafe. He shared his displeasure for the project at the meeting.

“I want my spring back, I want my day job back. I’m tired of having to come here and refute arguments that the city leaders should not be making,” Stelzig said.

The City Council will host a public hearing on the matter at its April 23 meeting. The Board of Education will revisit the memorandum item during its May 2 meeting, according to schools spokesman Bob Mosier.

The full text of this article is available at:

The Ninth Ward: Of politics, parking garages, playgrounds and developers named Parks

This editorial in the Annapolis Capital sums up the garage proposal:

Mayor Josh Cohen has gotten religion and will no longer support destroying the beloved playground and park to make a garage on downtown’s Compromise Street.

This garage is the most horribly wrong-sided, idiotic and foolishly insane boondoggle ever to come here for so many reasons including the fact that the deed apparently stipulates that the land is always to be for a playground yet Aldermen Ross Arnett and Sheila Finlayson urge us to move quickly because the Board of Education owns a parcel and is poised to act. I predict that an outpouring of citizen protest will likely grow. Perhaps they should follow Cohen’s example and get out while the getting is good. Politics, baby.

Rumors of political intrigue are flying rampant. Criticize Cohen on the budget, or his many other ongoing blunders, but not for his decision on the parking garage, regardless of why he reversed himself. Of course the key to all of this is quite simply a matter of the ‘’P word’’ — politics. And you thought I meant parking?

Parents and children gathered to show their support for retaining the park before the “emergency” City Council meeting Monday. Annapolis has done fine since the 1600s without a garage on Compromise Street, and without cars until about a century ago. We’ve known for many months about the complicated timing for plans for this property but it’s suddenly an emergency to Finlayson and Arnett. They are drinking the punch of having a sole-source and unsolicited proposal from local developers Jerry and Jeremy Parks who will build this for “free.”

Emergency! We have to move quickly. We need this garage! At the “emergency” meeting, Jeremy Parks testified along with former city administrator and Ward One Resident’s Association President Doug Smith, the former chemical engineer who has apparently found a new stint testifying with the deep-pocketed Parks while none of the residents, his former constituents, including the many children who came to protest, were allowed to speak — but Parks and Smith gave their slideshow.

It’s quite amusing to see the once-feuding Smith and Finlayson apparently playing on the same team for some change, I mean for a change. Even more puzzling is hearing the tax-and-spenders Finlayson and Classie Hoyle praise Parks for his entrepreneurial spirit! They could certainly learn a thing or two about that spirit.

Smith came to Annapolis and co-led the effort to create a council-manager form of government, then abandoned it and silenced himself to be Cohen’s highly-paid city administrator — the antithesis of what he had previously supported.

Only Alderman Dick Israel of Ward 1 seemed to raise the one real and pertinent question, namely, why do we need another garage? The issue remains: Is our historic, waterfront downtown to be for parking cars or for people?

We have thousands of on-street, off-street, aboveground, underground, surface and multi-level spaces, many of which are often underutilized. We have congested roads but we only have one real downtown playground. Kenny Kirby likes the basketball court at the park but seemed to support the garage anyhow. Fred Paone again acted incredulous that he did know anything. Well, duh! The other aldermen similarly rambled, acted clueless or were silent.

A viable, attractive downtown must not be based on inviting and accommodating more cars. It must be for people. Cohen’s decision is a step in the right direction but I hope we still move forward on transforming our City Dock from a parking lot to a park — and the car situation will sort itself out. Seriously, it will. Supply of spaces is not the issue. Demand for them is the issue. Parking is not the problem downtown and it can be handled with existing garages. Who will come downtown if we have fewer attractions but more garages and congestion?

Proponents will be taking on the children of Annapolis and this is not child’s play to them. Will we have more Parks, parks, parking lots or just politics?

The full text of this article is available here:

School board stalls garage talks again

The Annapolis Capital reports:

The county Board of Education again refused to enter into discussions with Annapolis officials about building a parking garage behind Annapolis Elementary School.

Board members said Wednesday the city failed to answer their requests for information. They were concerned about holding up renovations to the downtown elementary school, which are scheduled to begin in July.

This was part of a jam-packed school board agenda that included discussions of redistricting and County Executive John R. Leopold’s $572.5 million fiscal 2013 school budget.

Speaking at the meeting Wednesday, Annapolis officials said city staff had been working closely with school employees for months to answer every question posed about the garage proposal.

Developer Jeremy Parks of Compromise LLC wants to build a $25 million garage at no cost to the city government.

That proposal calls for a garage to be built on the school’s parking lot. It would require the playground to be moved.

The site now includes an 8,800-square-foot playground, a 6,700-square-foot asphalt play area, a 5,850-square-foot basketball court and the 7,000-square-foot Newman Street Park.

The playground is owned by the city.

Members of the school community have signed petitions against the proposal, and board members said they’ve been bombarded with calls and emails from people on both sides of the issue.

“It’s a divisive issue,” said Andrew Pruski, the board’s vice president. “The biggest piece is getting all the facts. The whole board needs clarity.”

For example, he said, he learned through an article in The Capital that Mayor Josh Cohen was withdrawing his support for the idea but has yet to hear directly from the mayor or his staff.

“I would like it in writing,” Pruski said.

The full text of this article is available here:

City Council delays garage vote

The Annapolis Capital reports:

The City Council didn’t pave the way for a City Dock parking garage Monday — nor did it hear from people opposing the plan, which would shrink a neighborhood playground.

Instead, city officials listened to developer Jeremy Parks of Compromise LLC, which wants to build a $25 million garage at no cost to the Annapolis government.

But some say there is a cost.

Before the “emergency meeting” of the City Council, about 100 people rallied at the playground beside Annapolis Elementary School, some with signs that said “Build a community not a garage.”

Mayor Josh Cohen, once an enthusiastic backer of the garage plan, reversed his position over the weekend because of concerns that Annapolis Elementary would not get enough play space. But Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, along with Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, is sponsoring the bill to negotiate with Compromise LLC.

Finlayson supports the garage, despite the vocal opposition.

“How many of them want to take a shuttle and park out of Park Place and bring their kids downtown?” she said.

The site includes an 8,800-square-foot playground, a 6,700-square-foot asphalt play area, a 5,850-square-foot basketball court and the 7,000-square-foot Newman Street Park.

Parks said under Compromise LLC’s plan a 6,600-square-foot playground would sit at the back of the school, with a 925-square-foot kindergarten play area on the side; a 4,000-square-foot pickup basketball court would be pushed below Newman Street, with about 8,000 square feet next to it for the Newman Street Park, he said.

Across Compromise Street, Compromise LLC would consider building an 11,000-square-foot City Dock park where the Donner Parking Lot is now, and an 11,000-square-foot city playground below the old Fawcett Boat Supplies building.

Former City Administrator Doug Smith said the offer represents a rare opportunity to get rid of the cement surrounding Ego Alley and resolve long-standing parking problems facing downtown.

For months city officials have worked on a deal with Compromise LLC to develop a parking garage on land straddling city and school properties near City Dock. The plan includes retail and office buildings.

The county school system would have to agree. Construction would also have to coincide with Annapolis Elementary School’s construction this summer.

City officials have other issues with the project, including he inability to build the garage underground because of the floodplain and stipulations in the historic deed for the playground property that the site’s use not change.

The clock is ticking for the city, and Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, said its officials need to act.

“This council and this administration have to have the political courage to look at what is in the best interest of the downtown area — period,” he said. “Part of that’s a playground, but it’s a lot more than that.”

One sticking point is whether the city should negotiate solely with the developer without soliciting other bidders. Supporters of the plan said because of time constraints, it wasn’t realistic to request other offers.

But Alderman Ken Kirby, D-Ward 6, wondered why city officials wouldn’t want to hear from other bidders.

“If this project was so viable, I just would think people would be beating down doors to compete,” he said.

Alderman Dick Israel, D-Ward 1, said the key unanswered question is whether the city needs another parking garage downtown if many of the existing city garages go empty.

At the afternoon rally, Chris Stelzig, one of the organizers, said many residents wonder why the city never studied whether another parking garage was necessary.

He and others used a megaphone. Silvia Underwood, a first-grader with long braids, interrupted an adult speaker to shout to the crowds.

“We are not going to let those people turn our playground into a smelly old garage,” she said, hoisting her hands in the air. “Are you with me, people?”

The mayor and aldermen will hold a public hearing at the April 23 meeting.

The full text of this article is available at:

Playground Saving

Posted on What’s Up? Kids!

Right now, the City Council is holding an emergency meeting to explore moving forward with the Compromise LLC plans to build a parking garage where the playground and basketball courts adjacent to Annapolis Elementary now stand. Earlier this afternoon there was a “Save the Playground” rally at the playground to show support for the school and to protest the proposed development. Mayor Cohen has done a 180 on this, coming out recently against the parking garage plans and urging the council to do the same (you may remember his earlier interview here on the subject).

Here’s the thing: emotions run high when it comes to our kids and our city, but no matter your opinion about the possibility of paving paradise in Annapolis (yes, I do have a strong opinion on this!) it would be hard not to feel at least a little civic pride swelling in your chest at the rally today. Parents of infants, parents of teenagers, neighbors, teachers, local reporters, PTA leaders, and lots and lots and lots of kids came together to make their voices heard. People from all walks of life and all corners of this city are passionate about saving play space for kids. Awesome.

You should have seen the children who boldly climbed the plastic mountain on the playground and rallied the crowd, urging them to show their support for children, open play space, a school food garden, the basketball courts, and a community gathering place. Civic leaders in training! The show of people at the playground today was evidence that the space is truly beloved by all kinds of people in this town. And it was a fantastic, hands-on example of what democracy is all about for the kids in attendance, whether they were hanging from the monkey bars or listening quietly to the speakers.

You know? This town ain’t bad.

The full blog post is available here:

Mayor wants to put the brakes on garage plan

The Annapolis Capital reports:

Mayor Josh Cohen is backing away from a plan to build a $25 million parking garage near Annapolis Elementary School after months of negotiations with a developer and county schools.

Yet some members of the City Council are fighting to keep a private developer’s proposal alive.

Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, and Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, have called an emergency meeting Monday evening to vote on a resolution solidifying the City Council’s interest in the garage construction project. The legislation also would set a course for sole negotiations with Compromise LLC, a group led by developer Jerome J. Parks, on a contract to build and manage it.

Cohen will vote no, he said.

Though he has been the project’s most vocal advocate, referring to it as a once-in-a-lifetime development opportunity and a way to enhance City Dock revitalization efforts, it became clear to him over time that the proposed site wasn’t a “viable” location, he said. Construction difficulties, the displacement of a popular playground, a strict timeline and space constraints are among the challenges, he said.

Engineers discovered the garage can’t go below ground because of the floodplain and it couldn’t go many levels up because of zoning height restrictions, he said. It can’t expand outward because the property is landlocked, he said.

“We just can’t fit a square peg in a round hole,” Cohen said.

He also realized the loss of sufficient recreational space at the school — a playground and the basketball court — were deal breakers.

The full text of this article is available at:

Finlayson Calls For Emergency Meeting To Vote On Compromise Garage

As reported on Eye On Annapolis:

Alderman Sheila Finlayson has called for an emergency meeting on Monday, April 16, 2012 to bring the matter of the Compromise Street Garage to a premature vote before the City Council.

The garage has been a hot topic for many downtown residents, in particular the Annapolis Elementary School PTA which currently utilizes a city owned park for recreation. The park is located on the proposed site of the garage.

The resolution calls for negotiations with Compromise, LLC for the lease on the building and to work with the Anne Arundel County Schools to facilitate their timetable for reconstruction of the adjacent Annapolis Elementary School on Green Street.

You can read the resolution and the request here.

The original article is available here:

Rally To Protect and Preserve the Downtown Community Playground

Get Behind Our School RallyFor Immediate Release
Contact: 1-410-991-6566,
“Get Behind Our School” rally

A Rally To Protect and Preserve the Downtown Community Playground
and Oppose the Proposed Parking Garage on Compromise Street

At 4pm on April the 16th a rally will be held at the downtown Annapolis playground to oppose the city’s effort to put a parking garage on top of:

  • The site of a historic waterman’s community that has never had a thorough archeological excavation.
  • The site of the only downtown basketball court,
  • The site of a community park that the Annapolis Elementary School PTA helped to pay for, and last (but certainly not least),
  • The downtown playground that is used and loved by the wider community and serves as the only playground for the historic Annapolis Elementary School. This is a playground that the city promised in 1987 to forever preserve.

The City of Annapolis has put the wrong foot forward on this proposal. Rather than conduct a parking-needs study, determine if more parking is needed, review possible locations, and then solicit bids from possible developers, the city is rushing into a half-baked plan because of an artificial timeline.

According to Chris Stelzig, co-organizer of the Save the Annapolis Playground petition, “While we all support the city’s desire to green downtown, it cannot be on the backs of some of our city’s most needy children. There are literally dozens of alternative and less impactful ways that parking can be improved downtown and still green the City Dock area. But the city has thus far refused to consider them while this parcel of land remains in play.”

The city is seeking to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the County Board of Education at the April 18th BOE meeting.

The April 16th rally will include speakers, community leaders, the outline of the proposed garage, and a kickball game on the plot of land that the city wants to pave. For more information on how you can help preserve this community resource, call 410.991.6566.