2017-11-22 / Front Page

Sailing Hall of Fame Home Still Under Discussion

Armory lease extended until September 2018
By Bob Rulli

The armory building. (Photo by James Merolla) The armory building. (Photo by James Merolla) After the Newport City Council held a workshop in October regarding the potential move of the National Sailing Hall of Fame from Annapolis, Maryland into the Newport Armory on Thames Street, Mayor Harry Winthrop sat down with Newport This Week and said the city is still considering options that include a long-term lease or a direct sale of the property.

“We’re doing our due diligence on the condition of the building and [the Hall of Fame] is getting it validated, so we can see if this is a match,” Winthrop said.

He added that a term sheet had not yet been prepared. “The staff, [City Manager] Joe Nicholson and [City Solicitor] Chris Behan will present a proposal to the council,” he said.

Gary Jobson, president of the Hall of Fame, confirmed in a phone conversation from his Maryland office on Nov. 20 that the Hall of Fame’s board members, David Elwell, of Newport, a past commodore of the New York Yacht Club, and David Houck, of Maryland, are working on evaluating all the possible locations: staying in Maryland, moving to Newport, or a cyber component with U. S. Sailing in Bristol.

“I’m allowing everyone to do their part in this process. All the materials [proposals] are due to me on Nov. 30,” said Jobson.

“We will know soon enough,” Jobson continued, “The three proposals will be passed out to the 28 people on the board at our Dec. 4 meeting. We will reconvene on Dec. 12 for a vote.”

When Jobson addressed the council at the October workshop in Newport, where the discussion of the Hall of Fame moving into the Armory was the focus, he said that more than $10 million was needed to build a new Annapolis facility. Reasons for a new structure he had previously cited included insufficient space for their program needs, mold, flooding issues, and a dock in disrepair.

In Newport, there has been no further discussion regarding the fate of the Armory Antiques Marketplace and its many vendors, the mayor said, and that a separate workshop could be scheduled to discuss the future of the Armory. “There has been no request for a workshop about the building’s use,” Winthrop said. “If someone wants one, they need to contact the city.

“I’m looking with an eye to get the best deal for the city. I want the highest money possible and the best use for the building.”

The management of Armory Antiques Marketplace said “no decision has been made at this time,” about requesting a workshop. However, the group has engaged Robert M. Silva as legal counsel. Silva, of Middletown, has practiced law for 44 years and is well known for his specialized knowledge of zoning law and real estate development law.

In the meantime, the current lease for the antique vendors expires on Dec. 31. Winthrop told Newport This Week that the lease is being extended until Sept. 1, 2018.

The Hall of Fame has been attempting to build a museum in Annapolis for more than 10 years and has downsized its original plans several times, leasing historic Burtis House and space on the city dock for $1.

Hall of Fame fundraising, in the eyes of some in Maryland, has been slow. “I just don’t understand why they are having such difficulty raising the funds,” Annapolis State Delegate Herb McMillian told Newport This Week. “It seems to me that they spend more money on travel and events than they do putting money aside for the building… I don’t object to the museum project. I just want accountability,” Mc- Millan said.

Regarding that perspective, Jobson said, “Inductions are paid for by individuals and sponsorships. We only pay for airfare of the five or six inductees each year, their dinner and two nights stay. Even spouses are required to pay their own expenses.

We have spent more time and money on programs versus fundraising, and maybe we should have done more to raise money. At the Newport induction, Rolex and Mount Gay Rum were major sponsors, and about 18 individuals bought tables of 10,” Jobson said.

Jobson reiterated in the phone conversation, “Over the 12 and a half years we have raised more than $6.3 million, but we spend about $400,000 a year in salaries, programs, and overhead costs, like utilities and insurances. We’re staffed with two full-time and two part-time employees, and believe me they’re not getting rich. We have $2.1 million in the bank and the organization has no debt.”

There are several amendments to the annual $1 lease payment, and several yearly appropriations or grants from Maryland that would benefit the Hall of Fame, if matching funds had been forthcoming.

Recently, McMillan offered an amendment to the funding bill in the House of Delegates that would have required the Hall of Fame to contribute a 25 percent match to any state funding, highlighting that the state requires other nonprofits to make a 50 percent match. The amendment failed to pass.

The Maryland Department of Legislative Services, a non-partisan financial review agency, issued a critical report that said, “The state has provided the [Hall of Fame] every opportunity to succeed…which has led to an essentially free 50-year lease on prime Annapolis real estate worth $2.36 million with sovereign immunity from local planning and historic preservation laws…yet, it does not appear [that the Hall] has been able to fulfill any of the trigger events included in the agreement to-lease, most importantly the demonstration of financial and administrative capacity.”

In referencing a lease extension, Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp said, during a Board of Public Works hearing, “There [must] be conditions, including reports of progress towards fundraising goals…to support yearly operations.”

“The sailing community, for the most part, have above average financial resources,” she said. “Why are they not reaching into their pockets to support this? Why isn’t [media mogul and sailing enthusiast] Ted Turner writing a check for this? Maybe it just isn’t a very good idea.”

Jobson responded to Kopp’s comments. “Bill Koch gave us a matching grant up to $500,000 and he was really good about sending matching checks. We’ve had other matching fund programs too.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has asked the Hall of Fame for a report in February 2018.

Jobson responded, “We will do that and we should have made substantial progress by then.”

Contributions by Lynne Tungett

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