Sailing museum set to launch funds drive

State's approval of lease puts next step in motion

February 28, 2010|By Nicole Fuller |

The National Sailing Hall of Fame plans to move aggressively, despite the sour economy, to raise the $30 million in private funding required by its recently approved state lease to begin building the museum on Annapolis' waterfront.

"We're very bullish about it happening [quickly]," said Lee Tawney, executive director of the nonprofit educational institution. "We have a good project. We would like to get this done as soon as possible."

The museum has hired Odell Simms & Associates Inc. of Falls Church, Va., to organize its national fundraising drive. The Virginia company has done fundraising campaigns for the National Museum of African American History and Culture and a recent project at Gettysburg, Pa., among other projects, according to its Web site.

The state Board of Public Works unanimously approved Wednesday a 50-year lease with the National Sailing Hall of Fame to construct the 20,000-square-foot facility at City Dock, allowing it to begin required fundraising for the project to move forward. The lease requires that the museum raise $30 million before construction can begin to cover construction costs, and operating, building maintenance and education funds.

"We couldn't go and ask people for any amount of money without a lease," said Tawney.

The museum has two years, and an additional one-year extension, if necessary, to raise the funds. But Tawney said the goal is to complete fundraising within the two-year window.

The lease decision followed a signed agreement between Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen and Richard L. Franyo, president of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, regarding the museum's compliance with local laws.

Because the museum will be built on largely state-owned land and would therefore be exempt from Annapolis laws, residents and some lawmakers raised concerns regarding the museum's compliance with the construction of a building in the city's Historic District, as well as parking and alcohol regulations.

According to a "letter of understanding" between the museum and the city, the museum has agreed to construct a building that is "well integrated" into downtown architecture, submit a parking plan to the city for approval and continue to pay property taxes to the city for the small part of the land that was previously city-owned.

Last year, the museum paid $2.8 million for part of city-owned land belonging to a former seafood restaurant. Under the lease agreement, the museum deeds the land to the state and the state leases the land back to the museum, at a cost of $1 annually.

"We're not going to satisfy everybody, but what we've done successfully is thread the needle," said Cohen. "I believe those concerns are addressed to the maximum level possible. ... The hall of fame has been through a thorough process that people on all sides can agree has been very productive and collaborative."

The Board of Public Works - consisting of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp - initially delayed voting on the lease last month until the local issues could be rectified.

Though he ultimately voted in favor of the lease, Franchot said he would oppose allowing the museum to skip the process of approval of the design and construction by the city's Historic Preservation Commission, which normally has final approval on all structures and changes to existing buildings in the city's historic district.

"I'm really concerned that we're adopting a precedent that we're going to correct down the road," Franchot said, referring to the state's immunity from local laws, which allows the museum to bypass the approval process of the Historic Preservation Commission. "These local bodies have a purpose."

The design of the museum on Prince George Street, to be completed by the Annapolis architectural firm Boggs & Partners, will incorporate the 1895-era Captain William H. Burtis House, the last remaining waterman's house on the city's waterfront, in what museum officials have called "an adaptive reuse."

The Burtis House sits on state property and has been used as work space in recent years for the Department of Natural Resources.

Mary Powell, the wife of a Burtis descendant, worked to stop the project and spoke out at the meeting, before the lease decision was announced.

"The state of Maryland is going to demolish a part of history," said Powell, an Annapolis resident. "We formed a nonprofit and submitted a proposal to restore the house but never got a response. I don't think the process has been open and transparent."

In addition to paying homage to the city's Colonial past in the museum's design, the architects said they plan to use solar, wind and thermal energy and incorporate a state-of-the-art environmentally friendly storm water management system.

Alderman Richard Israel, who represents downtown, said he was encouraged by the agreement between the city and the museum.

"It's very encouraging, but it is not binding," said Israel, adding, "As a taxpayer, it's not in the financial interest of the state to release this valuable property for $1 a year."

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