Annapolis: A Mayor in Motion

Three months into his mayoralty, Gavin Buckley is in the vision business. Still. Just like his campaign last fall. Morning ’til night, the Mayor is out drumming up support for a vision of Annapolis remade.
In separate conversations several weeks ago and this past week, he described his vision of a different, more vibrant Annapolis:
” A remodeled, more inviting Market House, open and operating, he hopes, by May 1
” A repaved and redesigned Main Street, with a bike and trolley lane and expanded sidewalk dining
” Pedestrian and bikeways across busy thoroughfares like Forest Drive and Spa Road
” Improved public housing and expanded after-school programs.
” Swimmable creeks and coves
” Most ambitious of all, a completely redesigned and inviting City Dock area that he hopes will prove to be a magnet for Annapolitan families and visitors alike.

It’s an expansive agenda and being Annapolis, it will take time. Nothing happens quickly here, nothing. Especially not when you have to build coalitions among preservationists who treasure this lovely city’s rich history, and others who respect the past but want to embrace the future. Molasses, it seems to me, moves faster.
But Gavin Buckley is a mayor in motion. He has been out rallying support at community meetings and visiting, when he can, innovative city redevelopments elsewhere. Just recently he went to see and admired The Wharf, the completely transformed, newly hip waterfront shopping, dining and entertainment area in Southwest Washington D.C. He came back with photos on his cellphone that he displays to anyone who will take the time to look. Just ask him.
Of course, it all takes money. And he still has to balance a budget, negotiate with city employee unions, hire a new city manager and deal with all the daily crises that arise in this or any busy community. Inevitably, there will be opposition to many or most of his ideas.
But he is nothing if not enthusiastic.
“I’m loving it,” he says of his still-new job. “I’m going at twice the pace I did during the campaign, which I didn’t think possible.”
Of all of Buckley’s visions, he is most excited about the transformation he wants to see take place around City Dock, where a parking lot currently occupies the best real estate in Annapolis and cheapens the waterfront view.
In its place, he sees a piazza, a hardscape public plaza that he wants to call Lafayette Square, with a spray park for children and open seating, a promenade around the waterfront, a pumping station and two-level underground garage, a “Cannery” arts center like the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria and, as an anchor, a boutique “Maritime” hotel with a penthouse-level terrace bar overlooking the harbor. A raised sea wall would provide an added three feet of protection against the sort of “nuisance flooding” that inundated the area during high tides last week.
In Buckley’s vision, a public-private partnership between the city and a development team led by the entrepreneur Harvey Blonder, the Washington architect Peter A. Fillat III and others would invest some $65 million in the hotel and underground garage. The city’s contribution would be the land, probably as a lease.
If the details can be worked out, the National Sailing Hall of Fame could be housed in the hotel or an adjacent building.
A few weeks ago, it looked as if Newport, Rhode Island, which thinks of itself as the “Yachting Capital of America,” might lure the financially-troubled Hall of Fame with an offer of a large waterfront building.
Not so fast: what seemed initially like a generous proposal has been watered down and has not yet been approved by the Newport City Council, so the Hall of Fame may well remain in Annapolis, especially if Gavin Buckley has anything to say about it.
“I hope we can keep it here in Annapolis,” he said last week. “It’s added value to our identity as the ‘Sailing Capital of America.”
That remains to be seen. But the Mayor in Motion wants movement, not the “analysis paralysis” that he says has been the city’s specialty in years past.
“We have a wonderful, beautiful city,” he says. “But we can make it better.”