Plan puts history, sailing at odds

Site a challenge for Annapolis project

December 11, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,SUN REPORTER

Opening the planned National Sailing Hall of Fame in a city nicknamed "America's Sailing Capital" should be smooth sailing.

But the state's recommendation yesterday to demolish or move a 19th-century home on the Annapolis waterfront to make way for the estimated $20 million facility sets up a potential battle between two groups closely identified with the Colonial capital: sailors and historic preservationists.

The recommendation, released yesterday in a report commissioned by the Maryland Stadium Authority, said trying to incorporate the modest home, one of the original pieces of the waterfront streetscape and now used as office space for the Department of Natural Resources Police, would be "too challenging."

"This is the single most prominent piece of real estate in the city. ... It's the last piece of vernacular property on the Annapolis harbor. So what they do on that property needs to be of interest to everybody who lives in Annapolis," said Gregory A. Stiverson, former president of the Annapolis Historic Foundation.

"It may not have much value as a structure, but in terms of what it represents of the history of what the waterfront used to be, it certainly has some value," he said.

According to the report, the building, which was constructed in 1875 as a captain's private residence, is in perilous condition, caused primarily by flooding because of its proximity to the waterfront. If the structure were to remain at the site, it would have to be raised 4 to 5 feet from the ground.

Citing high costs, the study said, "It is our opinion that the degree to which the structure would need to be improved to accommodate the code dictated ... would result in a cost-prohibitive conversion of this property."

Lee Tawney, executive director of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, said his group is consulting with the Maryland Historical Trust on the best way to move forward on plans to develop the site, while respecting its historic nature.

But, Tawney points out, although the house sits in a National Historic Landmark District, the structure does not have a historic designation. Instead, it has been deemed a "contributing resource," defined as a supporting structure to the district's historical buildings.

"Any time you lose any building in a historic district, that's an adverse effect," said Michael Day, chief of the office of preservation services at the Maryland Historical Trust, which will work to ensure that applicable historic laws are followed.

Day refused to comment in particular on the study because he had not yet reviewed it, but added, "Moving a structure from its original location is usually an adverse effect. It's better than demolition, of course, but only as a last resort."

Plans for a museum touting the sport's rich history began in 2004 with the formation of the Hall of Fame, with sailing enthusiast and journalist Walter Cronkite as its advisory board chairman.

World Cup winner, ESPN commentator and city resident Gary Jobson has been a major booster for the project. Annapolis, in competition with other sailing hotspots such as Newport, R.I. and San Diego, won out.

Plans call for a highly interactive facility, featuring kiosks, films, photographs and memorabilia with a focus on the history of the sport of sailing.

In December 2005, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which owns the property, signed a memorandum of understanding to pursue a long-term lease for the property, situated next to the Annapolis City Dock and the U.S. Naval Academy.

In recent years, the department has used the building as its communications center, but has plans to move its operations to Sandy Point Park because of the deterioration of the building.

Although the building has suffered major flood damage in the past, particularly when Tropical Storm Isabel struck in 2003, Day said it still has much of its original historic character: door trim, baseboards, windows, staircases.

Now that the Department of Natural Resources has received the feasibility report, the Sailing Hall of Fame will submit a proposal, which will formally begin negotiations on the terms of the lease, said Olivia Campbell, a spokeswoman for the DNR. The DNR must then submit the lease to the state legislature.

"I think what we want to make sure is that we work with all of the people that have concerns, to make sure that we are in compliance with the historical nature of downtown, because we certainly wouldn't want to do anything to compromise that," said Campbell. "But the reality is that the building itself poses some safety concerns."

The Sailing Hall of Fame has finalized plans with a Phillips Seafood restaurant to acquire its porch, which is adjacent to the 69 Prince George St. parcel where the house is located, as well as a gravel lot. The addition would expand the project's footprint from 4,000 square feet to about 8,800 square feet.

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