Leaders of the National Sailing Hall of Fame and Museum are moving closer to reaching an agreement with the City of Newport while still holding out hope a solution can be found to keep the organization in Annapolis.
Gary Jobson, president of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, confirmed that negotiations have been ongoing to purchase the Newport Armory on Thames Street. Jobson said the NSHOF Board of Directors will vote on the proposal once it is approved by the Newport City Council.
“We have the basic framework of a deal with Newport. There are some outstanding issues to discuss, but we’re darn close,” Jobson said.
Newport City Manager Joe Nicholson has recommended a sale price of just shy of $2 million for the armory facility, which is comprised of three levels. Jobson said the National Sailing Hall of Fame, featuring exhibits and interactive displays, would be on the main floor.
Under the proposal, the City of Newport would remain in the building by renting the basement that houses the Newport Maritime Center. The National Sailing Hall of Fame would use the top floor for offices and might sublease space on that level.
Jobson said the deal would include waterfront access via an existing dock the National Sailing Hall of Fame could use for exhibits, berthing of historic yachts and public outreach activities.
“I think we have most of the information we need about Newport,” Jobson said. “Now we need to get some information from the state of Maryland.”
The National Sailing Hall of Fame has been in Annapolis since its inception in 2005, operating out of a building leased by the state at City Dock. Plans from the outset called for converting the historic 19th-century waterman’s home into an operations center and museum.
Last February, the state extended the lease on the Captain William Burtis House at 69 Prince George’s Street for three years. But the state required the Hall of Fame to file an annual update on the requirement that it raise $9.5 million to begin construction.
Jobson said in August the Hall of Fame has $2 million in the bank and a state promise for a $1.25 million grant. An anonymous donor has pledged another $1 million. That leaves the project well short of the $9.5 million package set by the state.
Fundraising hurdles are not the only issues surrounding the Burtis House, which previously served as headquarters for the Department of Natural Resources police. Jobson said there are flooding issues, asbestos and structural problems.
“The problems with that piece of property are many. Frankly, the building is in terrible shape,” he said.
The National Sailing Hall of Fame is waiting for Gov. Larry Hogan or someone with his office to provide a more definitive explanation for how the property can be used.
“There is a directive for adapative use, but nobody has ever truly defined what that means,” Jobson said.
Jobson said newly-elected mayor Gavin Buckley has engaged with NSHOF leaders with regard to finding a solution more than predecessor Mike Pantelides.
“I think Gavin Buckley has been a breath of fresh air. He has been very supportive, which is helpful and encouraging,” he said.
Shareese N. Churchill, press secretary for Governor Hogan, issued the following statement regarding the National Sailing Hall of Fame. Churchill said the the National Sailing Hall of Fame has received $1.25 million in funding from the state thus far.
“The state has given the National Sailing Hall of Fame extension after extension for fundraising purposes, which they have consistently failed to meet,” Churchill said. “Currently, the administration is in discussions with Mayor Buckley’s administration and will continue to explore all options.”
Newport emerged as a contender for the National Sailing Hall of Fame and Museum in August when Mayor Harry Winthrop offered the armory building as a possible headquarters. Representatives of the NSHOF and City of Newport officials began negotiating a sale price for the property in December, both sides confirmed.
The National Sailing Hall of Fame Board of Directors met Jan. 8, and Jobson said Newport officials were in attendance to provide “more facts and figures.” Jobson said he is prepared to convene another board meeting as soon as the Newport City Council approves the sale proposal.
“I believe we are very, very close to an agreement,” said Winthrop, adding that he hopes to gain City Council approval in February. “The city manager has negotiated a price that he feels is equitable, and he will be bringing that to the council, hopefully, sometime this month, for them to make a decision on it.”
The National Sailing Hall of Fame overwhelmingly rejected a third proposal from US Sailing to create a virtual Hall of Fame. That idea was voted down 21-3 at the January meeting, Jobson said. Four of the board’s 28 members were absent.
While Jobson and other board members with strong local ties would prefer the NSHOF remain in Annapolis, it is a national organization and “we do have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the Hall of Fame as a whole,” he said.