Published in the Annapolis Capital, December 14, 2007
America's Sailing Capital" isn't just a nickname for Annapolis. It's an implicit commitment to make Annapolis indispensable to a sport that is already central to this area, culturally and economically.
So, as far as Annapolitans are concerned, there's no question about what city the planned National Sailing Hall of Fame should be in. And there's also not much question about the ideal place for it: on City Dock,overlooking the annual boat shows and the daily boating traffic.
Luckily, there's a promising site available: two parcels on Prince George Street owned by the Department of Natural Resources. On the land is a somewhat the worse-for-wear-and-flooding wood-frame house dating from thelate 1800s, currently used by the DNR police.
This project took another big step toward realization this month, with the release of a feasibility study done by a Baltimore architectural firm, at the behest of the Maryland Stadium Authority and the nonprofit National Sailing Hall of Fame association.
A lot of the report is encouraging, including the estimate that the facility - envisioned as a state-of-the-art display space with sailing artifacts, art, movies, memorabilia and interactive exhibits - would support nearly100 jobs, bring more than $300,000 in tax revenue to the local area annually, and draw as many as 150,000 visitors a year.
Yet it won't be easy to plan or build such a facility. The area involved is congested and has a constricted traffic flow. The property is in the Historic District, a maritime conservation zone, the Chesapeake BayCritical Area and a 100-year floodplain. It will be a huge task to get the appropriate permits and permissions, and get coordinated action from all the levels of government involved.
And then there's the question of what to do with the current building. It isn't a historic structure, but it is an original piece of the waterfront streetscape. This being Annapolis, there will be people who won't want it touched.
But if you read the detailed evaluation in the report, it's hard to see how the current structure could ever meet the building code, let alone be incorporated into a Hall of Fame. The best alternative may be to move it elsewhere.
The next step will be a formal proposal from the Hall of Fame and lease negotiations with the DNR. Then the lease will go to the General Assembly for approval. The organizers - who have already gotten a $260,000 grant from the city - will also have to keep fundraising.
We're a long way from seeing this facility ready to open. If all goes well, construction may start in 2010. But this is something America's Sailing Capital needs and should have. Having it will richly reward the time and trouble that will have to be taken in the next few years.