What will become of Sailwinds?

CAMBRIDGE – The future of the entertainment venue at Sailwinds Park is a giant question mark right now. Following the city’s celebration of the transfer of the Sailwinds property from the State of Maryland to the City of Cambridge, which occurred on August 15, the final plan for the development of Sailwinds is largely unknown. And, more importantly, to the current staff of Sailwinds, the people who book events at Governor’s Hall, there appears to be no plan at all for a large public space capable of holding the type of events common at Governors Hall.

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Former City Attorney Ed Nabb addresses the Sailwinds board, at a meeting to determine the fate of Sailwinds event promotions.

The Governor’s Hall building, and its management, is unique among similar operations. “Out of a study that was done of eight other venues of similar size, Sailwinds was the only one that was not subsidized by a city, county or state government,” said Vice Chairman Bruce Reed. “We bring in 100 percent of the revenue it takes to run this property.”
In a world where everything seems to be subsidized, that’s quite a feather in Sailwinds’ cap; and Reed, for one, wants to keep things going. To that end, Reed and Sailwinds of Cambridge Chairman Carlton Stanley called a public meeting at the property last Thursday night, August 29. The purpose of the meeting was to start the conversation of where it may be possible to move the Sailwinds event promotion operation, and between 60 to 80 local residents turned out to discuss the issue.
There is much speculation about the future plans for the Sailwinds property, owing to no official word from City Council as to what that plan may be. The latest speculation was that the property would include mixed retail, restaurants and residential businesses, possibly including a hotel. Construction of this sort would necessitate the demolition of the Governor’s Hall building, and rebuilding Sailwinds’ dock is also widely known to be necessary.
The rebuilding of the dock apparently causes the physical problem with the Governor’s Hall building, since the front par, which appears to be solid concrete, is actually a pier that is cantilevered out from under the Hall building. The difficulty of replacing the pier section with a solid bulkhead is what may necessitate the destruction of the building.
Because of this, the meeting quickly became more a lament for what the town already has, and not a search for a new event venue.
A number of townspeople, including business owners, spoke out about the destruction of Governor’s Hall. The general consensus was that losing the Hall would have a stifling effect on local business because of fewer visitors coming to town for Sailwinds events, and that to date, Cambridge has worked so hard at rebuilding and revitalizing downtown businesses that adding new competition to the downtown scene through brand-new restaurants and retail locations on Sailwinds property would present competition that downtown couldn’t tolerate.

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“We don’t need more competition to downtown,” was a refrain heard often, especially from the downtown business owners.
Jackie Vickers, of the Cambridge City Council, and one of three representatives of the council who claim to be “outside” of the planning process for the Sailwinds property (the other two members being Gage Thomas and Frank Cooke, who were also in attendance), had quite a bit to say about the value of the existing building.
“They tell us, through feasibility studies, that it’s going to cost 7 million to replace this building, probably ten million by the time it gets done,” said Vickers. “We have none of that. Right now, to my knowledge, there is no plan to get any of that (money). Except through grants—but some day, grants are going to run out. Everybody is going to go belly up. There is not going to be that kind of money to spread around.”
She told a story about a pair of Florida women in town for an event at Sailwinds, who looked at the river and asked her, “Can we take a picture of that?”
“We take this river for granted,” Vickers said, speaking about the Sailwinds location, “and I have to agree with you, once it’s gone, it’s gone. I would like to see public use of this property. Not ‘public access,’ public use.”
“When this project started, everybody was to be involved,” said County Councilman Rick Travers, who also attended the meeting. “The communication about this facility seemed to fall apart after the big meeting at the Vo-Tech center. I was the county representative, but all of the County Council was at the meeting. Since that meeting, I have not been told about another meeting on the property.
“We don’t need any more condos,” Travers continued. “We don’t need any more townhouses. Why would we build retail (businesses) on this point, when we have retail locations downtown that are empty? We want to create a downtown. We don’t need to create two Mainstreets. You know that people come to this venue for this (indicating the river view). This sunset. They don’t come to this venue to sit in the middle of a corn field. This is the place to be. There is very, very limited public access, public use land. And that should be carefully considered before this piece of property is taken out of the public hands.
“When we tear this building down, it won’t come back.”
The meeting continued with discussion along the same lines, but the bottom line was this: Until we hear from the remainder of City Council, until we see what the developers have planned, there is no answer to the question, “What will happen to Sailwinds?”

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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