Sailing Hall of Fame hits a gusty patch

Annapolis wants role as well as state

February 14, 2010|By Nicole Fuller |

The National Sailing Hall of Fame might soon inhabit some of the most prominent real estate in the city of Annapolis, but the parameters of the relationship between the city and the planned tourist draw near City Dock is far from clear.

Although plans for the $30 million nonprofit museum call for it to be built primarily on state-owned land, the city is jockeying to exert some control, despite recent input from the state attorney general's office stating that the city and state could not share control of the museum without a change in state law. The city also wants to ensure that it continues to collect taxes on the part of the land that is privately owned.

Mayor Josh Cohen, who supports the project, has attempted to allay concerns from many downtown residents and has called for a memorandum of understanding or some other legal mechanism to deal with the issues of parking and alcohol licensing between the city and the museum. The mayor also wants to continue receiving the $3,200 in annual taxes from the public part of the parcel, which previously housed a restaurant.

"We're looking at different legal instruments that will affirm the Hall of Fame's commitment, without violating the state's sovereignty from local laws," said Cohen. "We're in discussions that are ongoing, and we're very optimistic we'll reach an agreement."

The state Board of Public Works plans to vote on the proposed 50-year lease between the Department of Natural Resources and the museum on Feb. 24. An earlier vote was postponed last week because of the snowstorm.

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Israel, who opposes the project's location, raised concerns over the museum's exemption from city laws, especially regarding construction in the historic district. In 2008, the city council approved a resolution in support of the museum. Israel was one of three dissenters.

In an advisory letter, Assistant Attorney General Sally Lowe said, "Absent specific authorization by the Maryland legislature, DNR does not have the authority to waive the state's governmental immunity from local zoning requirements, and approval of the lease would not confer such authority upon DNR."

Lee Tawney, executive director of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, said a "programmatic" agreement among the museum, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Historical Trust that was signed late last year lays out the process by which the museum will proceed. Tawney added that his group has already had several meetings with the city planning commission regarding details of the project.

Any further agreements would need to be worked out between not just the museum and the city, but also the state, Tawney said.

"We're always willing to sit down and talk to people and work things out," Tawney said. "Whatever issues there are, the state is the landlord and the state will have to be at the table to make sure everything is legal. We can't do anything that jeopardizes our legal arrangements with the state of Maryland. We're all trying to figure out how to make it work."

Under the current working agreement, the state will lease the land to the museum - including an adjoining parcel, which once housed a restaurant, that the museum bought for nearly $3 million in 2009. The museum will also incorporate the historic Burtis house, an 1875-era home that belonged to an Annapolis waterman, into the design of the building.

The museum is also required to raise about $30 million for construction, a five-year operating fund and a maintenance fund, before construction begins.

"I think the Hall of Fame will be a tremendous net positive for the city that will help revitalize that corner of City Dock and will contribute to making the whole area more of a public space for our community," said Cohen. "It will also bring tourists' dollars into our economy. There's a natural nexus between the Sailing Hall of Fame and Annapolis' maritime history. We need to nurture that rather than neglect it."

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