2018-08-02 / Opinion

Devil in the Details


A t last week’s regular Newport City Council meeting on July 25, the council was divided over continuing with the next step in the process regarding the potential sale of the Armory building on Thames Street. At the conclusion of the half-hour discussion, the vote was 4 to 3 to approve the Purchase and Sale Agreement, which will give the National Sailing Hall of Fame the green light to continue with their due diligence and put financing in place.

Mayor Harry Winthrop began the discussion by outlining the recommendations by the city administration for the $1,685,000 sale, which stipulated that the city would retain ownership of the basement level unit Maritime Center and the beach. And further, that the beach be dedicated for the public at large, like many other city parks.

The video can be viewed by visiting cityofnewport.com. On the left side of the page, part way down, under “Frequently Visited Pages,” click first item; City Council video. On this new page under Available Archives, click City Council. The July 25 meeting is the first item, it indicates the meeting was 1 hour and 9 minutes long, go to the far right and click video. (http://cityofnewport.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_ id=1&clip_ id=79)

Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano opened the council discussion by saying she had several questions about the condominium documents and gave a foreshadowing of what was to come by saying “the devil is in the details.” (time stamp 38:15)

A back and forth ensued for the next 20 minutes between councilors and the city solicitor and city manager. The volley of discussion was fraught with questions and statements that leave us really unsure where this is all heading. One very compelling statement from the Mayor stands out. “Mr. Solicitor, what you haven’t said yet, is the condominium documents come back to the council for public hearing; we review them in detail; if we don’t like them, we vote them down and the deal dies.” (time stamp 46:42)

The council vote is a reflection of similar division by residents; four people from the audience came to the podium to speak, two with general questions. Newporter and board member of the Hall of Fame, David Elwell, stood to speak about the organization’s financial security (time stamp 1:00). Resident Hilary Stookey, who spoke immediately preceding the vote at 1:05, asked if they were aware of the 2,000 signers of a petition, reminding them of a 2010 Harbor Management Plan that says the city should retain the Armory. She challenged the council about the process, the lack of involving the public, and the impact of the “120 people cost” the sale could have on antique dealers at the Armory.

Anyone concerned about the sale should watch the video. If residents want more involvement, call for a public workshop, learn more about the pros and cons and the council’s reasoning. This process is only a precursor to what’s coming. The Cranston-Calvert School sale is imminent and to understand it more there needs to be more discussion.

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