2018-10-04 / Around Town

Council Approves Agreement with Sailing Hall of Fame

By Rob Duca

The National Sailing Hall of Fame edged one step closer to relocating to Newport when the City Council passed a condominium agreement on Sept. 27 in which the Newport Armory building on Thames Street will house the Hall of Fame, while the city retains ownership of the basement-level Newport Maritime Center.

The measure passed 5-2, with councilors Jamie Bova and Kathryn Leonard opposed.

The armory will be divided into two condominiums. Ownership of the first and second floors will be transferred to the National Sailing Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame will utilize the main floor of the building as a nonprofit museum, with the second floor reserved for office space. Under the agreement, the museum cannot be used as an event center.

In addition to the Newport Maritime Center, the city will retain ownership of the beach area at the rear of the property, the Ann Street Pier and the Ann Street right of way.

“I’ve initiated discussions with the Aquidneck Land Trust and executive director Chuck Allott about getting them involved in the beach area to perhaps impose a consistent and open space easement… that gives access to the public in perpetuity,” City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. told the council. “That fits neatly in our wheelhouse with the so-called harbor walkway that we’ve discussed for many years.”

The Hall of Fame is expected to make approximately $1.5 million in capital improvements to the building, including the addition of a rear deck off the main floor that Bova feared would “extend over the beach” and “infringe onto beach access.”

“The only sandy area where this balcony could possibly be over is approximately 170 square feet,” Nicholson said during the meeting. In an earlier memo to the City Council, he said the deck would not impact the beach area.

Leonard questioned an agreement that will have the city and the Hall of Fame as equal owners. “I don’t really feel that it behooves the city to have an actual condo relationship with it being 50 percent 50 percent in terms of how things are governed,” she said.

Councilor Susan Taylor suggested the need for a dispute resolution mechanism, rather than solving disputes between the two parties by going directly to arbitration. “In my experience as a lawyer, I’m a fan of mediation,” she said. “I think when two parties enter into a contract, both of them with so many goals in common, as is the case here, that mediation is a smart way to go.”

The prospect of relocating the Sailing Hall of Fame to Newport was first raised in August 2017 when Mayor Harry Winthrop and Nicholson suggested the move to the organization after learning it was experiencing difficulty raising the necessary funds to construct a museum at its long-time home in Annapolis, Maryland. Negotiations on buying the property didn’t begin until December 2017.

The council voted on July 25 to approve the sale of the armory for $1.685 million. David Elwell, a Sailing Hall of Fame board member, said in a phone interview on Oct. 1 that the organization currently has $2 million in cash and $1 million in pledges, and needs to raise an additional $2.5 million to cover the purchase and cost of capital improvements.

“The transaction is largely complete, subject to couple of minor issues related to zoning, and then it will go before the Hall of Fame board for a vote,” Elwell said. “That should happen in the next two weeks, if not sooner.”

Asked his sense of how the board would vote, Elwell said, “We wouldn’t be pursuing this if we didn’t think the board was behind it.”

The arrival of the Hall of Fame would mark the departure of the Armory Antiques Marketplace, which has offered space to more than 70 vendors on the building’s first floor since 2013.

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