2019-01-17 / Front Page

Armory Purchase Nears Finish Line

By Rob Duca

It has been more than a year since negotiations began to lure the National Sailing Hall of Fame to Newport. Now, five months after the City Council approved a purchase and-sale agreement to sell a portion of the historic Armory building on lower Thames Street to the Hall of Fame, the end is finally in sight.

“Everything is resolved,” City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. told Newport This Week. “We’re looking at closing at the end of January.”

Before a sale could proceed, the state had to be given right of first refusal to buy back the property, deeds needed to drafted, zoning codes amended and defined to allow a maritime museum in the Waterfront Business District, appeal and consideration periods of 30 and 60 days had to expire, and unique condominium documents had to be created.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and I know how laborious these things can be,” Nicholson said. “From a governmental standpoint, things move in a very ponderous manner because you have to have certain exposure to the public. So, it’s not a normal real estate transaction. I expected to be where we are in January.”

The first and second floors of the Armory are being sold for $1.685 million to the Sailing Hall of Fame, which is relocating from Annapolis, Maryland. The city will retain ownership of the Newport Maritime Center in the basement. The city will also retain ownership of the beach area at the rear of the property, the Ann Street Pier and the Ann Street right of way.

The Hall of Fame is expected to make approximately $1.5 million in capital improvements to the building, including placing windows and a deck on the rear water side of the building.

Eventually, the arrival of the Sailing Hall of Fame will mean the departure of the Armory Antiques Marketplace, which represents more than 70 dealers on the building’s first floor. But that will not happen immediately, said David Elwell, a Sailing Hall of Fame board member who has handled negotiations with the city. The market- place has reached an agreement in principle with the Sailing Hall of Fame to remain at the Armory through September.

“In essence, it’s an extension of what the city contract was with then,” Elwell said. “We have some things in our document that are different, but it’s minor stuff. It’s our desire to make them happy.”

Under the terms of the sale, the basement and the two main floors of the Armory will be divided into “Condominium Unit A” and “Condominium Unit B,” respectively. That required the creation of condo documents, which slowed down the progress of the sale.

“You can’t just pull it off the shelf and create it. It had to be agreed to by both parties,” Elwell said. “But there are no significant issues [now], just some small things related to documenting. We have the money to close and we’re looking forward to it. There is no drama. We have a legally binding contract to buy the building and the city is ready and willing to close on it.”

Mayor Jamie Bova voted against the condominium agreement on Sept. 27, joining Kathryn Leonard in opposition in a measure that passed, 5-2. She expressed concerns over modifications to the building, fearing that the rear deck would “extend over the beach” and “infringe onto beach access.”

“My point of view now is we are almost closed and it’s moving forward, and I hope it winds up being beneficial to the city,” she said.

Once the sale is finalized, the Sailing Hall of Fame will quickly move its offices from Annapolis, taking up a small portion of the Armory. But the Hall of Fame museum is not expected to open to the public until May 2020.

Design modifications to the Armory, which will begin in the fall, will require approval, as will any structural work that is recommended by engineers. “We’ve already sat down with the state historical commission, which has indicated its approval,” Elwell said. “They approved a similar rendering 10 years ago; we’re dusting off the same rendering.

“We also need to do design work on the displays that we will put into the property. That’s why we have no expectations of opening this coming summer.”

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