2018-08-16 / Around Town

Shipyard Celebrates Two Decades

By James Merolla
Photos © Michele Almeida/MISTE Photography

Vinnie Pattavina, Samantha Pattavina, Caitlin Niemic, Andrea Lazor, Jared Lazor. (Photos by © Michele Almeida/MISTE Photography) Vinnie Pattavina, Samantha Pattavina, Caitlin Niemic, Andrea Lazor, Jared Lazor. (Photos by © Michele Almeida/MISTE Photography) The Newport Shipyard celebrated 20 years on July 28 with a party and a concert from the reggae band, Toots & the Maytals, thanking customers, employees, tenants, supporters and friends who have helped make them what they are since 1998.

A few months back, managing partner and majority owner Charlie Dana attempted to convey all that the shipyard has meant to Newport, in a 75-minute historical presentation at Seamen’s Church Institute during its annual meeting and speaker series.

In the presentation, Dana took the assemblage back to 1977 and the shipyard’s inception, walking them through the evolution of the waterfront, the growth of the shipyard, and the synergies of institutions along the shore, such as Seamen’s, IYRS, Sail Newport and others, that are further improving the health of the marine industry.

Chelsea Meissner and Nick Dana Chelsea Meissner and Nick Dana The slides showed the area improving over time, both in and out of the water, as it became capable of accommodating large yachts, including some of the most famous in history, such as Athena, Marie, Topaz and Comanche.

He also showed slides of the hollowed-out property, covered with debris and machinery three decades ago, and spoke of his receptionist, who lasted through all four of the previous bankruptcies. “She knows where the bodies are buried,” said Dana to laughter.

“As time went on, we had a lot of great things go on there,” he said. “We actually had the America’s Cup come in with the Brinks truck in the morning and go out at night. And all-night dock parties. As a philosophy, we wanted them to feel good when they were there.”

Dana and several partners, who he eventually bought out, purchased the property at 1 Washington St. after its fourth bankruptcy. They then turned it into what Seamen’s President Richard Thursby called “A world class, multi-dimensional facility,” that now hosts “the lion’s share of mega-yachts in the harbor.”

Mary and Bruce Brakenhoff Mary and Bruce Brakenhoff He spoke of first arriving in the city in 1977 with Ted Turner and the America’s Cup race, and staying through Dennis Connor’s team in 1980 and 1983 when the New York Yacht Club lost the Cup. “We had to reinvent ourselves,” he said.

He said Newport has figured into NYCC’s direct plans since 1844 when it was founded on the deck of a ship in New York Harbor and sailed to Newport the next day.

When he began taking out 32 permits on his property, for every- thing from milk and liquor to docks and parking, he expected to be snubbed. “I was expecting them to say, ‘Here comes the New York Yacht Club and who do they think they are?’ But that was not the reaction we got,” he said.

Jeff and Annie Beneville Jeff and Annie Beneville Breton Cove, he said, was divided into condominiums and some parts of the harbor were disappearing. Later, the shipyard was sold into timeshares. “I think that they felt, and rightly so, it was their harbor, it was everybody’s harbor. We went through the process, as arduous as anything could be [to rebuild his part of it],” he said.

Taxes got lower, boats got bigger and the yachting world was changing. “[It was] tough sledding those first five years,” he said. “We cut a lot of checks and, at times, you just shook your head and said, ‘Wow! We ain’t ever going to make it.’”

The shipyard was only a part of the restructure of the harbor, he said, citing the efforts of Seamen’s, Bannister’s Wharf, Bowen’s Wharf, Gurney’s and Sail Newport.

Ryan McGowan, Casey McGowan, Tom McGowan Ryan McGowan, Casey McGowan, Tom McGowan Now world renowned, with its great mooring spaces, restaurants, shops, and top-notch facilities, Dana said, “We can have as many as 300 people in there [working on a busy day].”

He said a dollar spent in the shipyard turns over seven times. “We shouldn’t take all the credit. We are part of it, but so is Seamen’s Institute. We are all part of this same harbor,” he said.

Dana has often spoken publicly about the shipyard. He addressed it at City Hall several times last year during Newport’s exploration into the feasibility of enticing the National Sailing Hall of Fame to move from Annapolis, Maryland into the former Armory building on Thames Street.

As Dana posted the final slides, he spoke of the “synergies in the harbor.”

Lindsey Soper, Alexandra Flynn and Bridgid Murphy Lindsey Soper, Alexandra Flynn and Bridgid Murphy “Things have come on the horizon really since 1977,” he said. “Bannister’s hit its stride on that summer, [and] 1977 is when Newport, as seen from the candy store, really got on the map and it stayed there. We are very lucky.”

Ellie Huntley, Rose, Lauren, Eli and Eli Jr. Dana Ellie Huntley, Rose, Lauren, Eli and Eli Jr. Dana

Return to top