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Lessons Learned from the National Sailing Hall of Fame Moving to Rhode Island

Dec 01, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo

By Gary Jobson

My first notion of starting a National Sailing Hall of Fame for sailing came sitting on the stage of City Dock during the Whitbread Round the World Race stopover in April of 1998. It took seven years, but in December of 2005, then-Governor Robert Erlich gave our fledgling organization a $1 per year lease for a piece of property adjacent to City Dock that the state owned. At that time, the 1400-square foot building was occupied by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police. DNR’s long-term plan was to vacate the building and relocate to Sandy Point State Park. By the time the DNR moved out, the economy took a serious downturn in 2008. In 2006, the National Sailing Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors proposed putting up a massive 29,000-square foot building on the property, which included acquiring the Phillips Seafood restaurant next door. 

The Board bought the property and took on $2.3 million in debt. The thinking, at the time, was that we would be able to receive a large gift from a wealthy sailing enthusiast to cover the cost. We also agreed with the state that required the Hall of Fame to raise $9.5 million for a building, exhibits, land rehabilitation, and an educational endowment. For the next eight years, several members of the Board (including me) made endless presentations. It became clear that we needed to limit our goals, and we sold off the Phillips property. By 2017, we had no debt and $2.1 million in the bank. Getting to the $9.5 million mark was proving to be difficult.

As the years went on, the Hall of Fame ran many programs out of the facility. They included tall ship visits, taking young people sailing, hosting veteran’s regattas, welcoming classic yachts to City Dock, running a STEM program for Anne Arundel schools, hosting visiting yacht clubs, and holding an annual Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. The ceremony takes place in different cities throughout the country. 

In March of 2017, the Mayor of Newport, Rhode Island, Harry Winthrop, wrote a letter suggesting that we consider renting a building called the Armory on the waterfront. Newport, like Annapolis, is a venerable, historic sailing town. There has been a long-standing rivalry between the cities claiming to be the capital of sailing in the U.S. The two cities even share a popular race from Annapolis to Newport every two years. The Board studied the Newport proposal, which changed from a rental to a purchase, and finally a condominium arrangement. 

There was heated competition within the Board on what should happen: stay in Annapolis, move to Newport, or to consider a third option of becoming a “Cyber-operation” with no facility at all? The Board voted, overwhelmingly, that we wanted a physical building. The whole process was tough on me personally since I am a long-time Annapolis resident, but I had to do what is best long term for the organization. I took considerable heat. I understand why leadership can be lonely.

After one and half years of research and debate, the 26-member Board took a vote October 16th. The result: the vote was 17-9 in favor of moving to Rhode Island.  

For me, it was a sad day to see my dream of building a monument to sailing leave our town. But the collective thinking of the Board prevailed. In many ways, the Newport proposal made a lot of sense. The historic Armory (built in 1894) is already standing. The cost to buy it is $1,685,000. About $1.5 million will be needed to upgrade the facility for public use, and another $1 million to install exhibits and interactive displays. The Newport Armory has 11,000-square feet of space, and expenses for the building will be shared with the city of Newport, which retained the bottom floor as a boaters’ welcome center. The cost to achieve a smaller structure half the size on City Dock would have cost twice as much, if you could get all the required permits. After 14 years of attempting unsuccessfully to build something in Annapolis, it was time to try something else.

There are several important lessons that we learned: 

1. Understand, in advance, your fund-raising potential.

2. Do not envision plans that are beyond the scope of the available funds.

3. Gain early buy-in from local groups. (This was a perpetual problem in Annapolis)

4. Simultaneously running multiple programs while trying to raise funds for a building project was not tenable.

It is not clear what will happen to the Annapolis property. It may go to the city 

of Annapolis, or end up with another nonprofit, or even a developer. One thing
is certain: it is a local gem that should be used to welcome boaters who are coming and going from Annapolis. 

What do you think this experience has taught the City and what do you think should be done with the newly vacant property?

Note: For the record, I was one of six Board members from Annapolis who voted to move to Newport. Doing the right thing is not easy sometimes.