Over the next two weekends in Annapolis, more than 100,000 people will descend on City Dock for annual fall shows showcasing powerboats and sailboats. The shows are a staple in the downtown area, but this year's editions mark a changing of the guard.
As recently as this summer, the future of the boat shows was in doubt, as longtime show owner Ed Hartman and Mayor Josh Cohen battled over potential rezoning for a key part of the City Dock waterfront that's used by the shows.
Hartman eventually struck a deal to sell the shows to a group of investors, and Cohen — while still pursuing his rezoning plan — pledged to work with the new owners to keep the popular attractions sailing along.
Paul Jacobs, general manager of the shows under Hartman and one of the new investors, said the fall shows have a bright future. But he noted that this year's events "are still Ed Hartman's boat shows."
The investors have a contract to buy the company, and the deal is expected to be completed by the end of the year, Jacobs said. Other buyers include Sheila Jones, the current show manager; Peter Trogdon, owner of Weems & Plath, a nautical instruments company in Annapolis; Bob Crain, whose company, Applied Lighting Services, provides lighting and electricity for the shows; and Mary Ewenson, owner of SpinSheet and PropTalk magazines.
Jacobs expects little to change once the ownership transfer is complete.
"I can't even think of what would change. … The biggest change is there will be one empty desk," he said. "The company is in very good shape."
Hartman had been considering selling the boat shows when his conflicts with Cohen arose this spring and summer. He said he received a clear message from Cohen that his opposition to the mayor's proposals would pose a problem for the events. For each show, the mayor and city council must pass a resolution authorizing the city to lease space on land and in the water.
Hartman opposed a proposal from Cohen to rezone the Compromise Street side of City Dock because, he said, it would lead to the elimination of key space that's used by show vendors. Hartman says 21 percent of his vendor space would be lost. He also has concerns about a broader City Dock master plan that's under consideration, because he said it would allow for changes on the opposite side of the dock that could also lead to lost show space.
He said after a tense meeting with Cohen in July, he felt compelled to speed up the sale of the shows — in fact, he said, due to haste and financing issues, the sale price was 46 percent less than what was originally discussed.
"I'm taking a pretty good hit, but if it saved the shows, it was fine with me," Hartman said.
Cohen disputes Hartman's version of events, but acknowledges that the two sharply disagree on the future of City Dock. Cohen said he took issue with Hartman using influence as owner of the shows to fight plans for City Dock.
"His boat show business does not own City Dock," Cohen said. "City Dock is a public asset, and I have a real problem when a private business owner tries to torpedo a 3-year-long process to enhance City Dock."
That aside, Cohen said he and city officials want the shows to continue and never cut off communication with Hartman. He said he's happy with the new ownership group and is hopeful the city can work with them on how changes might affect the shows.
The new owners were warmly received when they introduced themselves to the city council this month.
"They have valid concerns … to make sure the boat shows will remain viable, and I know I and the entire city council are committed to ensuring that happens," Cohen said. "Unlike Ed, the new ownership team isn't going to hire a raft of attorneys and architects and PR firms to torpedo something they disagree with."
The boat shows' relationships with Annapolis politicians are crucial because of annual leases. At a council meeting, Jacobs said securing the lease for the 2018 boat shows was necessary "to complete this transaction." (Boat show leases are authorized through 2017.)
Full speed ahead
In the meantime, the team is moving ahead with this fall's boat shows: the United States Powerboat Show is Oct. 3-6 and the United States Sailboat Show is Oct. 10-14.