Sailing fans who were looking to tour a new National Sailing Hall of Fame (NSHOF) at a renovated Armory building next spring will need to revise their plans. The NSHOF, which is moving from Annapolis, Maryland and was originally expected to open in 2020, will not welcome visitors to the museum and exhibit space until 2021.
“For what we’d like to create, which is a world-class exhibit and museum, it just takes time,” said Heather Ruhsam, who took over as NSHOF executive director on May 1. “We’d rather do it right than open with something that isn’t to the level our sailing community and public deserve. By the end of this year, we’ll know exactly what the museum will look like interior wise, and we’ll begin building the collections [of artifacts] and fabricating the exhibits.”
The NSHOF plans to host some events next spring and invite the public in to see what’s coming, but the official opening won’t be until around Memorial Day 2021.
Ruhsam has lived in Newport for six years and was previously a principal with Seaworthy Consulting, a local company that provides strategic consulting services to businesses and nonprofits in the marine space. She also served as stewardship director of Sailors for the Sea, a conservation organization that works to educate the sailing and boating community toward healing the ocean.
“Sailing is in my wheelhouse,” she said. “I grew up sailing between Connecticut and the Caribbean on a classic wooden boat.”
The delay in opening, she said, is due to the timeline required to collect sailing artifacts and design an interactive exhibit space. The NSHOF has hired HealyKohler Design to create and fabricate the exhibits. Among the Washington, D.C. company’s past projects are the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the Soccer Hall of Fame and presidential libraries for Jimmy Carter and Ulysses S. Grant. The NSHOF was scheduled to hold its first concept meeting with designers this week.
“We interviewed three designers [before hiring HealyKohler] and all of them told us a realistic timeframe for getting exhibits designed and built is 18 months,” said David Elwell, a member of the NSHOF board of directors. “The delay has nothing to do with money; it’s about the reality of getting the exhibits designed.”
Ruhsam said the NSHOF also remains “actively engaged” in talks to bring the America’s Cup Hall of Fame to the Armory. “In a couple months’ time, I will have far more information to share,” she said.
The NSHOF is currently in the planning and permitting stage. It has received preliminary approval from the state historic commission to construct a porch, with windows and doors, on the rear water side of the building. Final approval won’t come until the NSHOF submits working drawings, Elwell said.
Major renovation, including installing a new slate roof, will not begin until after the Armory Antiques Marketplace departs the property on Oct. 31.
The NSHOF purchased the Armory building for $1.685 million in March. Under the terms of the sale, the city retained ownership of the building’s lower-level unit, which serves as the home of the Newport Maritime Center. It will also continue to maintain exclusive rights to the adjacent Ann Street Pier, beach and right of way.
Originally, the estimate for the renovation of the building was between $1.25 and $1.5 million, with another $1 million needed to set up the museum, offices, library and meeting rooms. But those numbers remain in flux. The design and building of the exhibit space could run as much as $1.5 million more than projected, while replacing the roof could also prove more costly than anticipated. That could mean that upwards of $2 million still needs to be raised.
But Ruhsam stressed that those figures are not set in stone. “I’m hesitant to put numbers out there because we’re still in the design and planning stage, and I don’t want to misrepresent what it will cost,” she said. “This is an old building and we may find we need to do more or do less. With the exhibit space, we might find we don’t need as much money.”
In April, the NSHOF reported approximately $300,000 in savings and donor commitments of $1.5 million. It also has a donor match commitment of $1 for every $5 raised up to a $1 million maximum. The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation has also approved a $200,000 grant to the NSHOF, but that money won’t be received until renovations are completed and the museum officially opens.
“We are in the leadership phase of our capital campaign and it’s going very well,” Ruhsam said. “The initial support is incredible … We are looking at this as an opportunity to create something totally amazing. As soon as we got into it a little bit further, we recognized the value of taking more time and spending a little more money to make it an incredible experience for people.”