Monday, October 27, 2008

Boat Show Update

At the September legislative meeting, two separate proposals were introduced to renew the lease of the boat show. After receiving a flurry of 2 emails, I broke new ground by doing actual research on the issue. And this week, flying in the face of everything blogs are supposed to be, I actually participated in a face-to-face meeting with representatives from one of the interested parties. This is their story.

(Note to readers: In a moment of fear that I was coming dangerously close to journalism, I threw away the notes that I took at the meeting. But, my memory will be close enough.)

The idea for the Boat Show apparently started in the 1960's with a man named Jerry Wood. Seeing that shows had been successful in convention centers, Mr. Wood thought the next step was to take the boats to the water, seemingly their natural place. Mr. Wood successfully secured 2 silent investors in the new venture: Ed Hartman, and Bennet Crain.

For the next 30 years, the Boat Shows grew quite successfully, purportedly the result of Mr. Wood's endeavours, and not those of the silent investors. And for those 30 years, many locals became involved in the production of the show.

A number of years ago, Mr. Wood died, and left the rights to the show to his wife, Kathy. She lived for a few more years, then also passed. The rights to the show were then split between the 2 silent investors--for a few years until Crain passed, leaving sole rights to Ed Hartman.

Now, before we go any further, let me tell you that most of the story can be found in The Capital's article. So, I am going to try and provide some elaborations on the story.

I met with Tim Dowling, the owner of Annapolis Sailing School, who ran the production of the show for Mr. Wood. Tim has worked on the show for some 15 years, and his operations partner, Jim Barthold, has worked on the show for 35 years. Both of these men have decided to leave the old operation and start a competing interest, which begs the question of why.

The two men point to Hartman. Having had little more involvement than receiving a check up until the death of the other stakeholders, Hartman had little experience in making the boat show run. Dowling and Barthold were put off not only by their own exclusion from the process--Dowling's contract was cancelled by Hartman through a legal loophole--but also that of other local businesses, including the company that had driven the piles for the last 30 years. Mr Dowling also has a different overall vision for the show. The show should be a part of downtown commerce, he said, as opposed to its current isolationist feel that happens when you try and keep tens of thousands of people inside of a chain link fence--and away from area businesses.

Mr Hartman responds by saying "talk is cheap", and suggesting that the shows under his watch have given increasing revenues to the city.

So, who is right? I must say that Mr. Dowling, having worked in the local bar industry, automatically received a +8 favorability rating from me for having such an important component of character in common with me. In fact, one of Mr. Dowling's staffers taught me how to tie a trash bag around a trash can on my first day of ever working in a restaurant, thereby spawning a quasi-lucrative career that has culminated in my ability to buy the laptop that I am using to write these words right now.

With the expectation you will not be persuaded by the above, let's try and take a more objective look. The winner, in my opinion, should be the party that best satisfies the following 3 conditions:
1. Keep it local.
2. Build on successes from the past/keep doing what has been happening.
3. Maximize long-term revenue to city and businesses.

Who you side with depends on who you believe. The choice is between a company owner who thinks he knows best, and the (former) actual operational employees of that company who think they know best. I can tell you from owning a business that employees often think they know better than the boss--sometimes they don't, but sometimes they do. I am inclined to support Mr. Dowling, but that's based at this time on little more than I believe what he's saying.

Here are 5 things to consider when choosing your position.

1. Many of the current Aldermen ran on a platform of transparency and fairness in government. Having a competitive bidding process for such an important event would be a good way to prove their commitment to that goal.

2. There are almost certainly 'good old boy' politics at work. Mayor Moyer's support is alarmingly overwhelming, and her overwhelming support of business negotiations has famously led to such results as the Market House, the pension lawsuit, the police station lawsuit, etc.

3. The Sailing HOF, as far as I can tell, is not involved. However, their position has relevance to Hartman. The Hartman family's interest in the city dock is not limited to the boat show--it also includes Watermark Cruises/Chesapeake Marine Tours. The sailing HOF, as we know, has its own plans of territorial dominance of that area. If the two camps butted heads, it would not shock me to learn that the Hartman camp originated the rumor that Dowling/Barthold were allied with the HOF folks. Public opinion is a good ally to have.

4. Hartman has been doing some crafty legal work. Any of the following names now apply to the boat shows*: United States Yacht Shows, Annapolis Boat Shows, United States Powerboat Show, and United States Sailboat Show. The renewal leases would be given to those last 2 corporations, which seem from the legal documents to be newly formed. If Hartman wants to build on the previous success of the show, if he wants to keep the shows in Annapolis, if he wants to hold on to them for the long-term and not sell to someone else--why all the maneuvering?

(*I can't follow the progression of legal changes. If you want to try, click here, and search for the above names.

5. The investors for Dowling and Barthold referenced in the newspaper article are Jib Edwards (Severn Companies), Alex Corckran (Corckran Investments), and Aden King (local businessman).

6. Here is the lease comparison emphasizing benefits to the city (as provided by Dowling):

Money to City:

Hartman: greater of 50% of gross ticket sales or $375,950.

Dowling/Barthold: greater of 50% of gross ticket sales or $500,000.

Fee Money to City:

Hartman: $3000 for Edgewood Rd. property, $25,750 for public safety and public services. No additional fee money.

D/B: $3000 for Edgewood Rd. property, $30,000 for public safety and services, additional flat fee of $100 per 'for profit' vendor space.

Civic Benefits to Community:

Hartman: none in recent history.

D/B: will pledge support and $10,000 to local charities. Will establish 'First Source Employment' program with good faith efforts to give city residents employment preference and establish an on-the-job vocational training program.

Experience:

Hartman: 2008 will be the 3rd year of actively running shows, and the first year of doing the in-water set-up.

D/B: Barthold has been GM for 30 years. Dowling has run the water set-up for 15 years.

Misc. Business Attributes:

Hartman: sole proprietor, established financial credibility.

D/B. Financial backing from diverse group of 5 local residents who aim to keep shows local, financial credibility established by M&T bank.

2 comments:

Jon McCandry said...

Barthold and Obama have my VOTE. Hartman has a monopoly in the form of the tour boats, and it is time to spread the wealth around,.


ps. Red MAryland blog has become distasteful!!!

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