Annapolis Yacht Club Commodore James Ellis gets the question every day, usually more than once: When exactly will the overhaul of the yacht club be complete?
“Soon,” he says cheerfully, showing off the club’s new exterior last week. “We’ve been under construction forever.”
He’s aiming for a commissioning ceremony in mid-August for what will be a $20 million clubhouse and said the yacht club is on track to open a new sailing center across Spa Creek in early September. A separate family activity center is set to open in the fall. The three buildings represent a $40 million upgrade of the 1,600-member club.
Platinum Clubs of America, which evaluates private clubs around the country, has included the Annapolis Yacht Club among the top five yachts clubs in the country along with San Francisco’s iconic St. Francis Yacht Club and the ornate New York Yacht Club. The Annapolis club has been shuttered since December 2015 when a fire ripped through the main clubhouse building, destroying much of it. Since then, the club has been operating in a former restaurant on Dock Street.
Before the blaze, the club was planning to construct the two new buildings across Spa Creek. The sailing center is on track to be open by Sept. 9, when the club hosts the J/22 World Championship regatta, Ellis said. A separate building with a pool and fitness center will be complete in the fall, he said.
“The composite of all of it will make the Annapolis Yacht Club one of the best sailing centers in the world,” said Gary Jobson, a long-time member and president of the Sailing Hall of Fame.
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley stressed the importance of the club to the bayside town.
“When you come to the city it says ‘The Sailing Capital of America,’ ” Buckley said. “Without this institution we shouldn’t have a sign that says that.”
The club is scrambling to complete construction with 40 to 60 people working daily on the project. New carpets were recently installed. But much of the interior is still a work in progress, Ellis said.
Opened in 1963, the Annapolis Yacht Club was built in a style that Ellis calls “Japanese colonial.”
At first glance the new clubhouse is similar to the old one, but there are subtle changes. An elevator shaft has been moved, making the building more open and airy. Those walking over the Eastport Bridge now can look though the building. A peaked dome on the roof that neighbors have derisively called “the rocket launcher” is gone. The grand stairway in the front is centered on the building.
“It’s more open than before,” explained Ellis. “It’s an updated design.”
Metal siding will be replaced by ipe wood, a dark hardwood that requires minimal upkeep. And the interior, too, will be fresher. The old drop ceilings will be replaced with wood paneling designed to muffle noise.
There are other touches planned. The New York Yacht Club commissioned an oil painting for the Annapolis Yacht Club to replace one that burned. And Annapolis Yacht Club members raised money to replace the 50 to 60 silver trophies that melted in the fire. Some of the china was salvaged from the blaze, but additional tableware was ordered.
When the fire occurred, the club was already considering a massive expansion, intended to add amenities like a pool and fitness center to attract younger members – and that’ll be opening soon, too.
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“If we had put that on hold we would have lost momentum,” said Ellis.
The three-floor sailing center on the Eastport side of Spa Creek will be used for the club’s bustling youth sailing program. It includes classrooms, office space for coaches, and a bay to repair club-owned boats. A massive room on the second floor will be used for post-regatta parties, relieving some of the crowding at the main clubhouse.
The activity center is set to open last — in October or November, Ellis said. It will include an outdoor recreational swimming pool, a snack bar and a casual dining room. Upstairs, members will have access to a fitness room.
“We want it to feel like a second home,” Ellis said, “where people can chill out.”
Doing it all at once has been tricky and the rainy weather hasn’t helped. The club has been cited and fined for runoff by the city multiple times. “Anytime there is runoff you can count on us to be disappointed that it happened and immediately on top of it,” Ellis said.
Jobson predicted the amped-up development will draw more international regattas to the club.
“We should have a signature event and a major regatta every year,” he said.