More than three years after sailing enthusiasts began searching for a suitable site in Annapolis for a museum and hall of fame, the project's boosters say they are close to reaching agreements with preservationists that could allow construction to begin at a historic home at the foot of City Dock.
The city's six-member Historic Preservation Commission - one of a handful of public and private watchdogs that monitor Annapolis' historic district - is set to decide tonight whether to approve an agreement that spells out how the National Sailing Hall of Fame will consult with the city panel as work begins on the design and construction of the museum.
The 7,000- to 10,000-square-foot center is to incorporate the 1875 Burtis House, which preservationists say is the last traditional property on the city's waterfront.
Next month, the city's planning commission is scheduled to scrutinize the consultation agreement. The Maryland Historic Trust is also reviewing the proposal.
"We don't have a design of the building at this stage," said Patricia Blick, the city's chief of historical preservation. "Basically, we want to treat this as any other application, with the whole process completely open to the public. That's the issue, that there be a very public review."
Although state-owned property is not subject to local government control, organizers have accepted guidelines sought by the city that include building a scale model of the museum that shows streetscape views from a number of angles, including the State House, the Naval Academy field house and St. Anne's Church.
"We seem to be moving forward now," said Lee Tawney, executive director of the National Sailing Hall of Fame. "Once we get a shovel in the ground, I think people will begin to realize that this is an unbelievable opportunity for the city, the state and the Naval Academy. It's a no-brainer. Every tour group that comes to Annapolis, every fourth-grader who comes here, gets dropped at City Dock."
Plans for the museum began in 2004 with former television anchorman Walter Cronkite serving as its advisory board chairman. Annapolis bested other sailing centers such as Newport, R.I., and San Diego as the location for the Hall of Fame. Since then, Tawney says, the sailing group has operated in a small second-floor office in Eastport.
"At this point, we have existed more on the Internet than in reality. But there's no question that Annapolis is the best location anywhere in the country. We are committed," Tawney said.
Opponents, including William R. Powell, a descendant of waterman William H. Burtis, who built the house, have argued for keeping the one-of-a-kind property. They say their protests have had little effect in slowing the project down. Reflecting conflicting views of the project in Annapolis, the City Council voted in favor of the $13 million project in April.
"The sailing museum has plenty of money to go and lobby for their side, and we just don't have it," said Powell. "Unfortunately, the state has taken us out of the picture. This is the only house like it around City Dock."
In recent years, the state-owned building has served as an office for the Natural Resources Police. Ultimately, a long-term lease between the state and the sailing center must be approved by the state's Board of Public Works.