Sail Newport Project Featured In Newport This Week

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Experiencing the ‘Wonder of the Water’

By Betsy Sherman Walker

In discussing his vision for Sail Newport's $5 million "Campaign for Blue Space," Executive Director Brad Read said, "We will be able to offer year-round sailing programs and marine education." (Image courtesy of NewPort Architecture, LLC)“Campaign for Blue Space,” Sail Newport’s $5 million vision for expanding its waterfront facility and programs, reached a major milestone earlier this week with a groundbreaking on Sept. 12 at Fort Adams. A hardhat brigade of supporters, dignitaries and staff took turns pitching shovels into the very spot where construction on the energy-efficient, environmentally compliant and historically appropriate 7,000-squarefoot facility is scheduled to begin.

At the podium, there were shout-outs galore. Sail Newport Executive Director Brad Read thanked his staff. He thanked Sail Newport founding fathers Robin Wallace and Bart Dunbar, Rhode Island Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, Rhode Island DEM Director Janet Coit, Rep. Marvin Abney (D-Newport), Rep. Lauren Carson (D-Newport), and Newport City Councilor Marco Camacho.

During the Sept. 12 groundbreaking ceremony for Sail Newport's Mid- ParkMarine Education and Recreation Center, Executive Director Brad Read made a point of inviting his staff to help get the construction started. With a May 2017 completion date, the center will provide classroom and recreational facilities to sailors of all ages and levels of experience.(Photo by Betsy Sherman Walker)Paiva Weed acknowledged the late Rep. Paul Crowley and his wife, Diana, and the “public-private partnership” that enabled the project to move forward. DEM’s Coit, citing “vision and persistence,” spoke of the courage of Read and the Sail Newport board.

“This will be a facility for the state, the region, and the world,” Coit said, “that will put Rhode Island on the map.”

Yet for all the mentions of dignitaries and diehards, it was the ones who were not there who garnered the most attention. They couldn’t be there: Most of them were still getting home from school and rifling through their backpacks.

“Every fourth-grader in Newport,” said Read, “is going to learn how to sail.”

Paiva Weed saw the same opportunities for students at Thompson, the MET School, and youth from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. “This is an important public and private, nonprofit partnership,” she added, “and will mean important access to the bay for all Rhode Islanders.”

Read added that he envisions a beehive of activity. “They will come here, learn teamwork, get life’s lessons, and acquire self-esteem,” he said. “These kids will be able to sail around the harbor, get to King Park, and return.”

Founded in 1983, Sail Newport evolved from the collective community angst following the loss of the America’s Cup to Australia into a concerted effort to re-energize Newport’s reputation as a world-class sailing town, worthy of world-class competition.

Long story short: It has done what it set out to do, and then some. The Youth Sailing Program teaches sailing, at all skill levels, to more than 1,000 students each year. Sail Newport offers free programs for students from around Aquidneck Island, and stages countless regattas for sailors of all ages and abilities. On an international level, the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in 2015 brought nearly $50 million into the state. The great Ocean Racers will return in 2018.

On paper, the new facility is called the Mid-Park Marine Education and Recreation Center. When realized, the project will expand its public access sailing programs and its marine education programming. The new facility will be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) compliant, environmentally sustainable, solar-powered, and will use a rain harvesting system to help with the demands of water usage. It predicts an annual carbon footprint of zero pounds of CO2 per square inch. Fully accessible, the facility will house “ample” restrooms and showers on the dock level, classrooms and meeting rooms on the second level, and offices on the third. It will also serve as a clubhouse of sorts for the Newport Rugby Club.

The facility will also be historically appropriate. According to sailor, former board member and architect Mohamad Farzan, a partner with NewPort Architecture, “The overall size and mass of the building is consistent with other Fort Adams buildings, which were simple square or rectangular buildings with gable or hipped roofs, some with dormers or monitors.” It is scheduled for completion in 2017.

Sail Newport’s vision has always been to put anyone and everyone – no matter what their age or capabilities – in a boat. This is a goal not only of putting sailing within the reach of all Newporters – it is also based in the belief that all Newporters, no matter where they live, should feel comfortable in a boat, and that the joys of sailing, of a day spent on the water knocking around, is a right and not a privilege.

Read calls it experiencing “the wonder of the water.”

One of the more noticeable things about the culture of Sail Newport is the abundance of team spirit. A major building block in 1983, it seems to have prevailed to this day.

Dunbar praised Bob Bendick, who was DEM director when Sail Newport was founded.

“Bob was a proponent of public sailing,” said Dunbar. “It was his vision of a public-private partnership” that got Sail Newport where it is today. “It’s not where we started,” he added, “but it’s where we ended up.”

It’s that better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts vision that seems to drive the organization. “It is going to be awesome,” promised Read.

“The most exciting thing,” said Dunbar, “is that it has become a fantastic public sailing facility. Nothing gives me more pleasure than what has happened at Sail Newport.”

Originally published by Newport This Week