Constellation Foundation directors step aside

October 29, 1994|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

The entire board of directors of the U.S.F. Constellation Foundation has resigned to allow a takeover of the organization by the ad hoc panel named by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke last May to find a way to save the crumbling 141-year-old warship.

In another action Thursday, the board closed the ship, its museum and gift shop and terminated seven employees.

"We just plain couldn't keep operating," said Hugh Benet, outgoing president of the foundation. "We weren't taking in enough to pay running expense month by month."

Effective Nov. 1, the takeover will give members of the mayor's panel legal authority over the Inner Harbor landmark, while answering the concerns of the federal government and others who have been unwilling to give the ship money while the old board remained.

The mayor's 13-member panel has invited just three people from the old board to join the new one, but all the other outgoing board members have been offered a chance to serve in an advisory role.

Gail Shawe, the former executive director of the Pride of Baltimore, has been chairing the mayor's panel and is expected to become chairwoman of the foundation's new board when officers are elected.

She said the ship's current director, Len Schmidt, will continue to run the ship's daily affairs and keep watch on its pumps. The reconstituted foundation is also seeking an executive director to manage the fund raising and repair efforts.

A Navy inspection of the Constellation last year found the sloop-of-war badly deteriorated from time and the elements. After its masts and rigging were taken down in March as a safety precaution, tourist visits plunged. By July, the foundation was essentially broke.

The mayor's panel has submitted a $7 million to $10 million stabilization and repair plan to the Navy. Ms. Shawe hopes the ship can be moved into dry dock at Fort McHenry before winter. Congress has approved a $1 million grant to pay for dry docking and a damage survey. Money for the repairs has not yet been raised. The city has chipped in $50,000.

The private, nonprofit foundation's volunteer board had preserved the ship for 20 years with only sporadic help from government, and with community support far short of the ship's needs.

In the end, their stewardship failed.

The mayor chose some of the city's most influential CEOs, executives, lawyers and developers, whose experience and connections were better matched to what would have to be a long-term, multimillion-dollar charitable enterprise. What they lacked was legal authority over the ship, which rests with the foundation. With Thursday's resignations, they got that too.

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