Newport Pursuing Sailing Hall of Fame

Published on October 19th, 2017

Newport has stepped up its pursuit of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, as Bill Wagner, Capital Gazette, reports here, offering an existing waterfront to lure its headquarters from Annapolis.

Mayor Henry F. Winthrop said the proposal calls for the National Sailing Hall of Fame to move into the Rhode Island city’s Armory Building, which once hosted press conferences for the America’s Cup.

That 11,000-square foot facility on Thames Street is currently used by antique dealers.

“We’re very positive about the potential of the Hall of Fame coming to Newport. We feel it fits here quite nicely,” Winthrop said. “Newport is a natural home for the National Sailing Hall of Fame. It aligns perfectly with the sailing heritage and marine industry here.”

The National Sailing Hall of Fame has been based 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.

Fundraising hurdles have stalled the project. In February, the state extended its lease on the Capt. William Burtis House at 69 Prince George’s St. three years, but required the Hall of Fame to file an annual update on the requirement that it raise $9.5 million to begin construction.

Winthrop said the waterfront armory building that meets the needs of the Hall of Fame gives Newport a major advantage.

“We have a building and it won’t take a whole lot of investment to get it up and running,” he said. “We are ready to begin the process of negotiating terms and conditions as quickly as possible.”

Gary Jobson, president of the National Sailing Hall of Fame and Museum, made a presentation to a Newport City Council committee Wednesday (Oct. 18). He outlined the history of the organization and provided an update on the Annapolis site. The meeting came two months after Jobson told The Capital there was no deal to move to Rhode Island, a statement he defended as technically accurate when asked about it during his presentation.

A large audience of Newport residents showed up to support bringing the National Sailing Hall of Fame to the seaport, which calls itself the Sailing Capital of the World. Annapolis uses the phrase, America’s Sailing Capital.

Prior to talking with the council Wednesday, Jobson said the project is at a crossroads.

“Obviously, the big question is whether the money can be raised to move forward with the building in Annapolis. Can we pull this off?” said Jobson, an internationally known competitive sailor who has worked as a sports commentator.

The Hall of Fame has $2 million in the bank and a state promise for a $1.4 million grant. An anonymous donor has pledged another $1 million. That leaves the project well short of the $9.5 million price tag set by the state.

“We’ve been at this for almost 13 years and we are still a long way from meeting our funding mandates,” Jobson said.

Dick Franyo, a member of the board of directors, said the organization has done a lot of good during its 12 years in Annapolis. Executive Director Lee Tawney has overseen a wide range of educational and outreach programs that have been positive and made an impact.

Franyo said a significant amount of money raised by the organization goes toward maintaining the Burtis building, covering staff salaries, insurance coverage and cost of developing the programs.

“I think we’ve been responsible stewards of the building and created a curriculum of events and activities that have benefited Annapolis,” said Franyo, owner of The Boatyard Bar & Grill.

Franyo said the biggest hurdle for the National Sailing Hall of Fame in its fundraising efforts has involved securing a title sponsor, who would put up $4 million for naming rights on the building.

“As Annapolis residents, Gary and I have been committed to making the Hall of Fame happen here,” Franyo said. “However, this is a national organization with a board comprised of people from all over the United States. It is the obligation of the board to do what is right for the organization as a whole.”

Franyo and Jobson both described Newport’s offer a “game-changer.”

“Having a property the Hall of Fame can move into in relatively short order is huge,” he said. “The Annapolis building is a dream while the Newport building is bonafide.”

Jobson said Newport has yet to put an offer in writing. The National Sailing Hall of Fame has considered another option, which involves beefing up the website and operating without a physical headquarters.

“We have three choices: Do we continue to pursue the Annapolis building, do we go with the existing facility in Newport or do we simply fold up shop and become a cyber organization?” Jobson said.

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