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Martinsburg to lease part of market house to Mexican restaurant

August 13, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- The Martinsburg City Council on Thursday is expected to formally approve a lease agreement to bring a Mexican restaurant to the city's historic market house building downtown.

A six-page agreement signed by Charlotte Zawacki of Habanero Mexican Grill Inc. and City Manager Mark Baldwin was included with the agenda for Thursday's regular meeting.

The proposed lease charges the restaurant $994 per month for 1,704 square feet of first-floor space at 100 N. Queen St., in the first year of the agreement. One dollar per square foot increases in 2009 and 2010 would increase the monthly rental rate to $1,136 and then $1,278.

The city would agree to pay heat and water, but all other utilities are the restaurant owner's responsibility, according to the lease agreement.

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Zawacki could not be reached for comment, but the lease indicated the restaurant's anticipated opening was Sept. 1 and signs affixed to the restaurant's bay windows announced "Habanero Mexican Grill opening soon."

Extensive work to reconfigure the restaurant and replace the bar area was under way Tuesday, and Ward IV Councilman Roger Lewis said he was told by the owners that the food would be mostly prepared there.

"They'll make everything you want in front of you," Lewis said.

Lewis said the new tenants are paying for changes to the flooring, interior design and other renovations of the space.

"They have the background and commitment to make it," said Lewis, whose ward includes a large chunk of the historic downtown business district.

"It's a good addition for our downtown," he said.

Habanero Mexican Grill is the third restaurant to open at the city-owned site since Thomas and Amy Carte sold the Market House restaurant in 2003, Lewis confirmed.

The most recent restaurant tenant closed in less than a year, according to state records.

Built in 1847, the first floor of the market house building was used as open air marketplace, according to historical accounts.

The building was built by the county government in partnership with the Odd Fellows and Free Mason fraternal organizations, which used entrances on Queen and West Burke streets to access their separate meeting halls on the second floor. Neither group has met there for several years and the space has remained largely unused since, records show.

The city acquired the building from the county in December 1872 and agreed to maintain a market house there or elsewhere within the city, according to deed records in Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr.'s office.

Aside from the restaurant ventures, the city also rented space in the building to the Berkeley County Development Authority and West Virginia Housing Development Fund until earlier this year. The Development Fund relocated to the city's historic train station and railroad hotel building off East Martin Street. The Development Authority moved to office space off Foxcroft Avenue.

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