2014-09-25 / Front Page

Yachting Center Sold

End of road for entertainment events
By Barry Bridges

After hosting a full slate of summer performances that resulted in almost a dozen noise ordinance violations, the Newport Yachting Center is in for some changes. The Newport Harbor Corporation (NHC) announced on Tuesday, Sept. 23, that it is selling the entertainment venue to the Peregrine Group, an East Providence real estate management firm.

Peregrine will focus on the marina and parking businesses at the site and has no plans to host the Newport Concert Series, the Newport Summer Comedy Series, and the various music festivals that have called the Yachting Center home. The ice skating rink will also be shelved.

In a statement, Paul O’Reilly, president and chief executive officer of NHC, wrote that “we have made a decision to sell the property we own on the downtown Newport waterfront. The primary reason we made this decision is to invest into our expanding restaurant and hotel operations, where we see excellent growth opportunities.”

Through a sale and lease-back arrangement, NHC will continue to operate the Newport International Boat Show and the Charter Yacht Show, as well as The Mooring and Smoke House restaurants and its banquet/wedding private events business on Marina Point. “The only thing we are selling is our downtown property; all of our other restaurants are not part of the sale,” O’Reilly said Tuesday.

The Yachting Center’s ongoing noise problems appear to havebeen a factor in NHC’s decision to divest its interests. The center has butted heads frequently with nearby residents over noise levels emanating from the facility during its live events.

As the summer season was about to launch, Michael Martin, the center’s director of waterfront events, told City Council that staff was working to minimize the effect of performances on abutting neighbors.

“We have made a conscious decision not to invite certain acts, and we are also implementing sound attenuation devices. We’re investing $100,000 in an abatement program,” he said in May. Plans called for panels to be placed along the fence on America’s Cup Avenue, while velour floor-to-ceiling curtains were slated for the back and sides of the tent. “The idea is to cut down on the reverberation within the tent, improve the sound quality, and maintain or lower the sound volume,” Martin told councilors.

However, those efforts apparently fell short, and later in the summer O’Reilly hinted that the city’s noise ordinance may be incompatible with a waterfront entertainment operation. He told Newport This Week in August that the sound buffers that were installed along the side and rear of the concert tent did help in “reduc[ing] the amount appeared on behalf of the Yachting Center in municipal court to answer to the 11 noise violations that were issued over the last few months. The most recent citation was from two days earlier. Walsh agreed to resolve the charges by pleading no contest to 10 of the 11 counts. The court is considering the total fines to be assessed, which it will impose at its session on Sept. 29.

O’Reilly’s comments on the sale confirmed the difficult dynamics that have existed between the Yachting Center and adjacent residents. “We have reluctantly made the decision to exit the concert and festival segments of our company. The current local city noise ordinance is not designed for a concert business.”

Elaborating in a phone interview, O’Reilly reported, “We had originally planned to lease back the concert business, but since we do no not know whether we will continue to have a city-issued entertainment license, we decided against it.”

He said that the tent will come down for the winter at the end of October but will not go back up in the spring. “Very little will change on the waterfront except for the closing of the concert series, festivals, and skating rink,” he added.

Newport Mayor Henry F. Winthrop offered his perspective from City Hall, remarking that "there's not a single member of the council who wanted this venue to go away. There was never a formal request for a noise variance for the summer entertainment events, so we never had the opportunity to have a discussion."

In a letter to NHC employees, O’Reilly acknowledged the impact on company jobs. He wrote, “The concert business has become such a controversial local political issue that we simply could not commit to a long-term lease and invest capital into a business that had such an unpredictable future.” He continued, “Unfortunately there will be some job loss… . We will ensure that those who have lost their jobs will have opportunities to interview for openings in other parts of our company that may fit their skill sets, and we will assist them in any way we can to find new positions outside our company.”

The possible broader economic impact of discontinuing the popular summertime events has not gone unnoticed. Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport, noted the Yachting Center’s role in bringing visitors to the city. “We expect the economic impact caused by the loss of these many events to be felt throughout the hospitality industry, most significantly with the loss of local jobs. Our local restaurants, shops and lodging partners will also experience a substantial loss. It is our hope that the events will continue at alternative venues within our destination,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jobs for Newport, a pro-casino organization working to realize the vision for an expanded casino at Newport Grand, announced that the solution to lost jobs on the waterfront could lie at 150 Admiral Kalbfus Road.

The group said that “the sale of the Newport Yachting Center creates a real danger that jobs will be lost and the economic activity from the entertainment at the venue will be lost to the city. To prevent this, we are committed to working with all parties to preserve those jobs and that activity by hosting future events at the Newport Entertainment Center [the proposed expanded casino]. We’re prepared to … save those jobs and keep that economic activity in Newport where it belongs.”

The sale of the Yachting Center is anticipated to close in November. Peregrine stated that it “very much looks forward to continuing to operate and enhance the property, and to being an active contributor to the success of the City of Newport.”

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