Can we bend over any more for the Annapolis Yacht Club?

| January 9, 2016

On December 12th, the Annapolis Yacht Club suffered a devastating fire. The building looks to be destroyed and 150 employees’ earnings were in peril. It was a tragic, unfortunate, and insured accident.

The service industry is a tight-knit group and they quickly came to the table with offers of employment for displaced employees. This was a noble (if not self serving) gesture. It is what communities do in times of need. And then it got weird.

From County Exec Steve Schuh Facebook

Photo: County Executive Steve Schuh’s Facebook

But let me take a selfie first

On Sunday the 13th, Governor Larry Hogan, County Executive Steve Schuh, and Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides held a hastily called photo op press conference and pledged to do whatever they could to assist the yacht club in their rebuilding and to secure employment for their employees. Then, they took some time to use a County fire truck to take a selfie atop the rubble of the yacht club. There is no word on how MOSH or OSHA felt about the three politicians in a bucket without helmets or belts to secure themselves.

Photo: Capital Gazette

Photo: Capital Gazette

Heaping praise for a job well done

Later that week, a bevy of politicians met at the firehouse to recognize the heroic actions of the firefighters who put out the fire. These were not passersby. These were well trained public servants who did their job exactly as they were trained to do. In fact, the fire was rather routine–even the fire chief said it was a “textbook fire.” It was not at all like the mansion fire in January of 2015 that killed 6. Initially I wondered if it was a new political agenda as we are coming into an election year and all. Would there be press conferences to thank the police officer who pulled me over when the front license plate fell off my car? What about the four other fires in the county that left actual people homeless in the weeks that followed? Surely the politicians would be there offering all the resources they could muster to assist. They were going to help me find the best place to buy a new frame to hold my license plate right? Right?

A community tragedy?

And then, it got even more weird when Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides praised the community for coming together to help the Annapolis Yacht Club.

The recent fire at the Annapolis Yacht Club was a tragedy for our entire community. This Annapolis institution is not only an economic engine for our city but a part of the historic fabric that makes Annapolis so special.

I think I just vomited a little bit.

When was the last time a resident of Harbor House or Newtowne 20 was able to partake in that historic fabric by noshing on a burger at the Annapolis Yacht Club? The club has 1,600 members who pay $11,000 to join in addition to monthly dues and a required monthly minimum for food. Annapolis has a population of 38,722 (according to 2013 Census Department numbers). So, was this really a tragedy for the “entire community” or just the 4.1% that might belong?

Let’s be honest here for a moment and do the math (ignoring the fact that AYC reaches far beyond the incorporated City limits)–37,122 people in the City of Annapolis have never been to the Annapolis Yacht Club and are not members. And I might go so far to say that the majority of those people are not even welcome to join the ranks.

So Mr. Mayor,  exactly how is this business loss a “tragedy for the entire community“? I might suggest that if there was a fire on Main Street that burned down a block and many businesses that were accessible to the public, might be a tragedy for the entire community. Perhaps if City Hall or the Roger “Pip” Moyer Recreation center burned it might be a tragedy for the entire community. If there was the loss of life of one of our police officers or firefighters in the line of duty it would be a tragedy for the entire community.  But a fire at the Annapolitan Club, Peerless Rens, Eastport Democratic Club, and yes…the Annapolis Yacht Club is NOT a tragedy for the entire community. It is a tragedy for the members of those private (and arguably exclusionary) organizations.

From AYC to Harbor Grill

the-harbor-grill-andWithin a month, the City sprung into action to secure an alternate location, put out the call to employ the displaced employees, and fast tracked the permits to allow the Annapolis Yacht Club to operate at the now-defunct Harbor Grill. How nice that a private organization representing 4.1% of the community can grease the wheels so effectively. It is particularly sad when the bureaucratic red tape put forth by the City of Annapolis tends to chase away more businesses than it attracts. It took them a decade to get the Market House open; yet the Annapolis Yacht Club is ready to go in under a month? How does that work? Grand Paws pet salon tried to expand and move from West Annapolis to Eastport, but the cost associated with the City’s red tape, put them under. How long did it take to open Fox’s Den? Preserve? Factor’s Row? How is this special treatment fair to the other businesses that are looking to do business in Annapolis?

And to add insult to injury, the owners of Harbor Grill simply terminated all of their employees on Thursday to make way for the yacht club employees. Yet there is nary a peep from any politician looking to help out these 30 people that are now jobless. Are Annapolis Yacht Club employees more worthy than Harbor Grill employees? It certainly seems so.

UPDATE 1/12/2016:  The Capital is reporting that the management of The Harbor Grill has agreed to relocate employees to other restaurants or pay them a 2 week severance. 

Save Annapolis

save annapolisThere may be an explanation here. Save Annapolis.  We are coming into local election season again and in case you have a short memory, Mayor Mike Pantelides defeated incumbent Mayor Josh Cohen by about 50 votes. These votes were largely the result of a now-defunct group called Save Annapolis that was very well funded and spearheaded by several members of…wait for it…..the Annapolis Yacht Club.  The genesis of Save Annapolis was when Cohen wanted to consider developing the Fawcett property along with a local developer Mark Ordan. This plan, while a good one for the “entire community” was not so good for some of the 4.1% group. A campaign was launched to defeat the Mayor and Pantelides ended up winning. I guess you could say that the Mayor knows which side of his brioche roll is buttered.

As the Annapolis Yacht Club looks to rebuild, to what lengths will the City, County and State go to assist them? Will they be required to sprinkler the building? Will waterfront construction regulations be eased for this institution that is the “historic fabric of Annapolis”? Additional inspectors to minimize delays?

Maybe I am wrong. Hopefully I am wrong. Maybe this is the start of a real community building effort brought to you by Governor Hogan, County Executive Schuh, and Mayor Pantelides. Maybe it is a start. Maybe they will be looking at how to make our communities better and are just starting with the yacht club. Maybe they will be addressing the violence in Eastport, the break-ins city wide, the drug use and trade happening all over the state.  Yeah, maybe….

Category: Editorial, OPINION

About the Author ()

John is the publisher and editor of Eye On Annapolis. As a resident and business owner in Anne Arundel County for more than 15 years, he realized that there was something missing in terms of community news--and Eye On Annapolis was born in late spring 2009. John's background is in the travel industry as a business owner, industry speaker, and travel writer. In terms of blogging and social media, he cut his teeth with MSNBC.com.

Comments (18)

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  1. Amy Karnik Ryan says:

    Very well said, John. Thanks for the enlightenment as well.

  2. Justin Zenker says:

    Amazing article John.

  3. Kurisu says:

    Great article! Don’t forget they started a gofundme to raise money even though it was insured…

  4. Mark Leddy says:

    Is it possible to find out — are Pantelides, Schuh and Hogan members of the AYC? For some reason, I am thinking “Yes”.

    • John Frenaye says:

      Hard to know without a membership directory. I believe the Mayor (as a position) is a de facto member. I would not be surprised if that was not also offered to the CE and Governor. Outside of that, I might think the CE is a member, but probably not the governor. The CE is a sailor, the Governor…not so much.

    • John Frenaye says:

      I did find out that all three are honorary members. I believe it is the offices they hold that make then honorary members. Unsure if that membership continues after they leave office or not.

  5. Dunny Dun says:

    let’s see what there is to get outraged by today!

  6. Jabronie says:

    Let the Grey Poupon Club meet at the Golden Coral.

  7. faw872 says:

    He started to lose me when he complained about them not wearing helmets. The only thing of value is that 30 people may have been wrongfully terminated. Should the club get extra money? no! Is it a big deal? Yes! This is the sailboat capital of the world and losing the “sponsor” of our sailboat races(that will continue) is a big deal. Less tourism taxes hurts all of us and the millionaires are less likely to roll in spending lots of money here until it’s fixed. Fwiw I’ve lived here 33 years and never been there or know anyone involved so I’m not biased.

  8. Paul Tomassoni says:

    Well trained public servants just doing their job. Not heroic? Try it sometime.

    Also, I think West Annapolis Volunteer Fire Station 40 is not a county owned truck. Just my guess.

    Other than bashing the hard working “public servants” this was a decent article with valid points.

    • John Frenaye says:

      No bashing was intended at all. Chief Stokes said it was a “textbook” fire. Yes, it was large, but it was somewhat routine and our first responders are VERY well trained and capable. I was a volunteer firefighter for 12 years when I was younger so I do know a bit about what is involved. And as to the heroics, we may need to disagree here. They do a dangerous job and there is much peril in it. I think the term “hero” is used a bit much for many things today. A police officer doing his job is not inherently a hero; nor is a firefighter doing his job a hero. Just my opinion, as was the article!

  9. realist1953 says:

    As someone who never got in the ‘Club’ (never tried, never even knew it was Private – thought it was “just a name”) – now that it is gone, and from the article it seems clear that ‘special people get special treatment’, maybe something Better should be built there.

    How about, with such a great location, a PUBLIC “club” be built, open to visitors to Annapolis, be built instead? Shops, a restaurant on the top floor, etc, might bring in a lot of TAX Revenue, and employ far more people.

    Maybe a little “eminent domain” in this case would be a good thing. Of course, by the article, that would require a new Mayor, CE, and more.

    Catering to the rich, and using “the state” to do it – sickens me.

  10. jannpls says:

    One word to describe the whole AYC situation……………………..AGENDA.

  11. Robb says:

    Hi John. I enjoy your writing immensely but I do have a couple issues with this one. The last thing we should be doing is criticizing the city for thanking the firemen and women along with other first responders, who helped put out the fire and keeping it from spreading. As an ex-volunteer you should know better. I get it that nobody died but these men and women don’t know what they are walking into during an emergency call, or whether they will walk out, go home, and hug their kids again. God forbid we show a little appreciation and recognition when things go right. I don’t see how someone who, for not the best pay by the way, goes out and serves the public by protecting property and life and responding to the worst the world throws at us, isn’t’ a hero every day they put on that uniform and do their job. Maybe it’s just me.

    On your second point deriding the Yacht Club’s worth to the community and the people who choose to associate themselves with the sport of “gasp” sailing. I know its fun to poke fun at the upper crust but lets take a step back. For one, its not like members of a sailing club should be equated with members of nobility. Most of these members are there for one thing, to sail and share their love of sailing with their friends and family. Ok so they make up 4% of the population. I also get it that not every member lives in Annapolis. But every member comes and enjoys Annapolis. And tells their friends and co-workers back in the cities how great a place it is to visit and great everyone is and even how the community came together to help them, yacht club members of all people, in their time of need. And why not? Are they not our neighbors? Sure, some members are probably spoiled jerks or raising spoiled jerks but not all of them are. Many, if not most I suspect, are hard working, smart, and yes successful. They are our doctors and lawyers, our professors and engineers, or even a retired public servant here or there enjoying a well earned retirement activity.

    Annapolis Yacht Club means more than the 1,600 or so members. Besides the obvious symbolic benefit of having yacht clubs in the “Sailing Capital of America, there is also the economic piece to consider. 1,600 members means at least over thousand yachts. Yachts that need to be brokered when sold or bought, insured, financed, repaired or refitted. Annapolis is wonderful because of the many small businesses these members support through their patronage. Ask the sail makers, the boat sealers, the marinas who haul, repair and store. Ask them and their workers and families if they didn’t appreciate the Mayor rallying the city and lining up the political willpower to get the club rebuilt as quickly and safely as possible.

    Thanks for listening.

    Full Disclaimer: I, nor any of my family members, are members of the Annapolis Yacht club or any other yacht club. I don’t even own a yacht. I would like to, but I have kids who suck out every last little penny out of me. So I just look at other people’s yachts. I am not a doctor, lawyer, professor or an engineer and nor am I a retired civil servant. I am not a Republican. Don’t care for them much. I didn’t vote for, or donate to, any of the politicians mentioned in this article. You may deride them all you want. Furthermore I don’t agree fully will how the Club handled things in the aftermath but that wasn’t the main point of your article and I have taken up enough space as it is.

    • John Frenaye says:

      Hi Robb–

      TO clarify, I was not putting down the efforts of the public safety people. They do have a risky job. But they are also trained very well to do that job and we all reap those benefits.

      The intent was to chastise the City, County and State for the adulation heaped upon AYC. Yes it was a major fire. Thankfully no one was hurt. But in all honesty, there are major fires for many people every single day. Businesses burn down all the time. So what was so different about AYC that merited a press conference with the Governor, County Executive, and Mayor? If this was Maryland Live that employed thousands I could get it. If it was the mall, I could get it. It employed 160 people (nothing to shake a stick at for sure).

      But for some reason for a business that is never on the radar of “________ (great/biggest/etc.) employers in AA County” why all the fuss? While the media had a frenzy at the mansion fire last year, the politicians were not grandstanding there. Granted there was a tragic loss of life, but after the fact there were no “good job guys” press conferences for the many more public safety people that fought and investigated that blaze.

      I think it does boil down to politics. The membership of AYC (a private club) is generally wealthier than the general population and they have been identified as donors (or potential donors) to upcoming political campaigns. Obviously there is a lifestyle associated with AYC and I do not begrudge that at all. But do not think for a moment that when Pantelides, Schuh, or Hogan will need support that they are not going to pull the “remember when your club burned down and we gave you all special treatment to get you up and running within 30 days of your fire…so how about a little scratch now?” card.

      But to your point–I did not intend to disparage the public safety people at all and have been contacted by several of them provately applauding my stance. They do not want to be used as political props either. Nor do I begrudge anyone that desires to spend their disposable income in whatever manner they want!

      Cheer-
      John

    • jay e says:

      Robb- I respect your opinions expressed in your letter. Just a couple of thoughts. Do 1600 members actually translate to over 1000 yacht related business transactions in Annapolis ? I wholeheartedly agree with John’s letter below, so I won’t rehash any of his points. And finally,to your comment about “not the best pay” for firefighters. First, god bless them. Next, a large % of AAco and AFD gross close to or over 100K per year. A recruit is hired at 48K plus benefits. Their work schedule (NOT A CRITICISM) is one 24 hr. shift on 72 hrs off. That’s 2 days per week (about 80 per year after personal and vacation time).
      Full Disclaimer: I am in NO way criticizing or belittling the members of the Fire Service. If I was entering the workforce today, my application would be in HR already.