Deal close for Hall of Fame in Newport

Published on January 11th, 2018

Newport, RI (January 11, 2018) – An agreement to relocate the National Sailing Hall of Fame to the Newport Armory on Thames Street could be finalized by next month, according to both Gary Jobson, president of the Hall of Fame, and Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop.

“I think everybody is pretty enthused about this,” Jobson said in a phone interview following the Hall of Fame board meeting on Jan. 8. “I can’t put a number on the odds [of coming to Newport], but it’s encouraging.”

Winthrop, reached by phone on Jan. 9, was even more optimistic. “It’s definitely getting done, there’s no question in my mind, unless something major unforeseen were to come out of the blue,” he said. “But as of right now I see it as a go and I see it as a win-win for the Hall of Fame and for the city.”

The Hall of Fame (NSHOF) has been in negotiations with the city to purchase the Armory for the past month. The prospect of relocation was first raised in August, when Winthrop and Nicholson suggested the move to the organization after learning it was experiencing difficulty raising the necessary funds to construct a museum; but actual negotiations on buying the property didn’t begin until December.

Under the proposed sale, the city would remain in the building by renting the Newport Maritime Center that is located in the basement, while the top floor would be subleased by the Hall. The use of the dock and waterfront for such things as special exhibits, docking of historic yachts, and more is also being discussed.

In December, Jobson said the NSHOF board was waiting to receive the city’s asking price for the Armory before it could reach a decision on moving to Newport. “[Newport] came [to the Jan. 8 meeting] with more facts and figures,” he said. “I think we’re pretty close to having a firm deal with [them] to acquire the building… I hope this gets done in the next couple of weeks and we can sign a deal in February.”

Jobson said a board vote will not be taken until the Newport City Council approves City Manager Joe Nicholson’s recommended sale price. Jobson would not reveal the exact price, but said it was around $2 million. Nicholson and Winthrop declined to name the sale price. Negotiations are ongoing and there is not yet a signed purchase-and-sale agreement. The proposed sale of the Armory has also not yet been placed onto the City Council agenda.

“I believe we are very, very close to an agreement,” Winthrop said. “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.”

Although Newport certainly appears to be the frontrunner, the board is still considering a proposal to build a new museum in Annapolis, Maryland, where the Hall is currently located. While Jobson said that the proposal is “still alive,” he added that “there are unknowns that need to be addressed.”

When asked about leaving its longtime base in Annapolis, Jobson said, “We’ve been here 13 years and haven’t been able to get [a new museum] done.”

The board has been awaiting a decision from the state of Maryland on what can be done with the current Hall of Fame building in Annapolis, which is in disrepair, with structural, flooding, mold, asbestos and lead paint issues.

A third proposal from U.S. Sailing to create a virtual Hall of Fame is no longer being considered after being voted down 22-3 at the Jan. 8 board meeting. Three of the board’s 28 members were absent. “The board overwhelmingly supports a physical building [for the Hall],” Jobson said. “The virtual Hall of Fame is off the table.”

During a phone interview on Jan. 9, Winthrop reinforced his belief that bringing the Hall of Fame to Newport is the ideal fit for the city. “If you’re going to have a National Sailing Hall of Fame, where else is a better place to have it than the sailing capital of the world, which is Newport, Rhode Island,” he said.


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