Newport approves sale to Hall of Fame
Published on July 26th, 2018
Newport, RI (July 26, 2018) – The City Council voted 4-3 last night to approve the sale of most of the Armory building on Thames Street to the National Sailing Hall of Fame for a price of $1.685 million.
Mayor Harry Winthrop, Vice Chairwoman Lynn Underwood Ceglie, and council members Jeanne-Marie Napolitano and Marco Camacho voted in favor of the purchase-and-sales agreement presented to them.
Council members Jamie Bova, Kathryn Leonard and Susan Taylor voted to oppose the agreement.
Approval of the agreement allows the board of directors of the Sailing Hall of Fame to vote as well, then begin the process of seeking third-party financing.
David Elwell, a member of the Sailing Hall of Fame, said the organization now has more than $2 million and $625,000 in pledges. He said the Hall of Fame would make about $1.5 million in capital improvements to the Armory.
He estimated the Hall of Fame would need to raise about $1.7 million, but was confident that could be done easily.
City Solicitor Christopher Behan and City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. must now draw up a declaration of condominiums that will split the Armory into two condominiums. The condo declaration will then be presented to the council for a vote in late September or sometime in October.
The main floor of the Armory at 365 Thames St. and the second floor will be transferred to the Sailing Hall of Fame as “Condominium Unit B” and added to the property tax rolls of the city, the agreement states. The Hall of Fame will use the space as a not-for-profit museum.
The city will retain ownership of the Newport Maritime Center in the basement, which is level with the beach area in the back.
Speaking against the sale was Hilary Stookey of Newport. She said previous plans drawn up by the city called on the city to retain ownership. She said the public has not been presented with enough information.
“It houses a business, the Antiques Marketplace, which even stays open all winter, on a street where several stores shut down over that season,” she said. “The Armory, however, continues to welcome shoppers and diners during those winter months, giving their employees an income over the winter season, even if some are just part-time, and giving the quiet seasonal atmosphere of the Lower Thames Street corridor a far stronger welcome.”
Nicholson recommended the beach area be dedicated to the use of the public at large, much in the same way as various city parks have been dedicated to be used in perpetuity for the public. He told the council that could be done through the Aquidneck Land Trust.
The city will retain clear ownership of the Ann Street Pier, which is on a separate lot, as well as the adjacent Ann Street right of way.
A survey of the building was conducted last year and the roof requires about $300,000 in upgrades, Gary Jobson, board president of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, previously told council members.
“The unit being sold is in an ‘as is’ condition with no representation of warranties from the Seller as to its condition and the Buyer shall take the unit in its then ‘as is’ condition with all the deficiencies and defects,” according to the purchase-and-sales agreement.
People have been concerned that the public restrooms accessible from Thames Street would be lost, but the agreement requires the Sailing Hall of Fame to keep the restrooms accessible to the public, “as they are now.”
“The Buyer agrees that the Buyer will not make any changes, improvements or alterations to the exterior of the Armory building without the written approval of the state Historical Preservation Officer … ,” the agreement states.
However, the Sailing Hall of Fame would be allowed to make alterations similar to those approved by the state Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission in October 2008. At the time, the city received permission to install a window overlooking the harbor at the back of the building on the main floor, as well as a deck there.
Winthrop first floated the idea of bringing the National Sailing Hall of Fame to Newport in August 2017. The organization had been trying for more than a decade to build a museum at the site of the Captain Burtis House at City Dock in Annapolis, Maryland. The Hall of Fame now has offices in the house, which is very small and on a small parcel of land, according to Jobson.
Jobson first made a pitch to the City Council on Oct. 18, 2017, when the council chamber was packed with spectators. The National Sailing Hall of Fame had proposed constructing a new building in Annapolis that would cost $9.5 million, Jobson said at the time.
The board had not been able to raise the money for financing the Annapolis project, he said.
Armory Antiques Marketplace, which represents more than 70 dealers who have retail space in the main hall of the Armory, would be required to vacate the premises. Tony Zaloumis and Cindy Lee are the co-owners of the marketplace, which has held the master lease for the Armory’s first floor and main hall since the beginning of 2013.
When the employees and people who place items on consignment in the Armory are counted, more than 150 people could lose their livelihood, according to marketplace management.
The Armory was built in 1894 for local militia, according to a history of the property included with past city bid documents.
The National Guard and Naval Reserve later used it, but the state conveyed the Armory to the Redevelopment Agency of Newport on Dec. 20, 1983, according to a deed on file with the city’s Land Evidence Office. The Redevelopment Agency conveyed the property to the city on April 2, 2010, a second deed on file states.