NWMC Campus Update: Big News!

hallie kopaldAll, Announcements

Hello Friends,

Let’s be honest, there’s a lot going on.

  • SEVENTY48 just happened and WA360’s 1st place team, High Seas Drifters, finished two hours ago, living up to their boat’s name (Dark Horse) with a come-from-behind victory—whoop-whoop!
  • Educational programs are ramping up for summer and last night the Port Townsend Maritime Academy graduated its second class.
  • Come June 30 our campus is slated to be fully open for the first time since March of 2020.
  • Seattle Maritime High School is set to open its doors September 7th
  • …and Wooden Boat Festival is on track to roar back to life the next weekend in September.

In the last year we’ve gone from 50 staff to 13 to 50 again, added 9 new board members, transitioned board leadership, started an organization-wide assessment and work plan around addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion—all while surviving a pandemic.

It’s been a lot.

And then there is the bigger news.

This week we got the green light for a 30-year lease of the vacant lot across the street from our campus, for the eventual expansion of the NWMC with the construction of a community classroom. Since the days when we were hoping to manage Point Hudson, we’ve known we were going to need more space. The only vacant and available space was across the street. For more than two years we have been working to secure that for our future growth and as of yesterday we have done just that. We have no near term plans for developing the property, but in due time we will be working to create program and classroom space to relieve some of the space pressure on our existing campus.

… aaaand then there is bigger-er news: the NWMC is purchasing the Swan Hotel.

I’m just going to wait for your double take to be over, to clean up whatever coffee you just inadvertently spit onto your screen, or otherwise recover from your particular casualty of surprise. Here it is again:

The NWMC is buying the Swan Hotel.

For those not familiar, the Swan is a picturesque, 13-room boutique hotel located on Water Street across from the NWMC. I’m looking at it out my office window right now. Super charming.

Why are you buying it? Glad you asked (…and would be a little concerned if you didn’t).

Before the pandemic we were running out of space. Classrooms were full to the point that classes were being held in the halls and we were worried about hiring people because we weren’t sure where we were going to put the desks. In the 10-ish years of our campus, we had grown the activity to capacity. We’re not to capacity now; we’re still ramping back from our COVID nadir, but it won’t be too long until we are there again. When we do get there, we will have options to grow. We’ve just completed a master planning exercise with Mithun architects and have a good understanding of the longer term growth plan.

The beauty of the plan is that over time we can incrementally convert buildings from lodging space to program space, all while the hotel continues to generate revenue that can take the pressure off depending on donations and grants.

Yes, our plan for the short to medium term is to operate the hotel as is. Their existing staff is coming over, and we have talented staff with hotel management experience who will shift to making it a success that is integrated with the NWMC mainframe. The business is a solid one, with nearly 100% occupancy in the summer, AND there is a real opportunity to better align our programs with off-season availability and tune up the revenue even more. The biggest change will be that following a winter remodel of the Chandlery retail space, we’ll move the registration function over to the NWMC main campus, and our retail space will become a combined retail, hotel registration desk, registration desk for maritime programs and experiences, and an info desk/visitor center at this end of Water Street. The chance to better engage hotel guests and visitors in our mission experiences should yield both mission and financial returns.

The other reason we are buying the Swan is because the owners approached us. Longtime donors of the NWMC, Cindy and Joe Finnie saw the potential of a united campus, and thought that the NWMC would be good stewards of their last 20 years of work. More than that, they offered it to us at a price that was significantly lower than market. The negotiation was open, fair, and everyone was looking out for everyone else’s interests—a pretty rare thing.

But how are we going to pay for it? Glad you asked.

Short answer: fundraising. Longer answer: Through some generous lead gifts and very encouraging prospects, we have crossed a funding threshold where we feel we can commit to the purchase. At present we have secured a little over half of the sum total of purchase price and associated costs of acquisition, and will be actively pursuing the rest before the closing date on December 31.

How can I support the effort? You truly ask all the good questions. Impressive.

One of the reasons we jumped on this was that given the ownership history, we might not get another chance for another 20 years. Which means we had to make a leap of faith that our community would be behind us. If you would like to leap with us and the other lead donors (including 100% of our board), please let me know. I can walk you through the details and opportunities.

Regardless of your interest or ability to financially support this campaign, I hope you can get excited along with us about how this can be a game changer for the NWMC’s mission and programs, this end of Water Street, and the off-season Port Townsend GDP for the downtown business core.

How can I learn more? Excellent segue, thank you.

Here is a summary document of the overall vision, including some of the planning we have done with architects for the classroom and campus as a whole. If you still have questions, please feel free to reach out.

Thank you for all of your faith and enthusiasm. This is big, even for us, and I really appreciate you being there with us as we take this leap.

Be well,

Jake Beattie
Executive Director