News Column

Pirate museum can't be salvaged in Hyannis

August 19, 2014

By Patrick Cassidy, Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.



Aug. 19--HYANNIS -- A plan to open a pirate museum in the former National Guard armory on South Street is officially dead in the water, according to the project's developer.

"We have made a decision not to go forward with the pirate museum," developer Charles F. Doe Jr. wrote in a letter sent Monday to Barnstable Town Manager Thomas Lynch. "The simple reason is that it will not make economic sense to continue."

Doe, fellow developer Robert Carlton and Barry Clifford, who discovered the wreckage of the pirate ship Whydah off Wellfleet in 1984, first proposed moving Whydah artifacts to the former armory two years ago. The partnership was the only organization to submit a valid response to the town's request for proposals to develop the property. Developers predicted it would attract 150,000 visitors a year and create 30 jobs.

The group had initially proposed paying the town $50,000 a year for the first five years with increases in the payments at five-year increments and having an option to buy the property for $1.2 million after five years.

But the plan was delayed for legislation allowing the property to be used to house the for-profit museum and finally came to a grinding halt over the past month.

On Monday, Clifford, who told the Times over the weekend that the partnership had dissolved, reiterated why he balked at what he called an "eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute" requirement forwarded by Doe's lawyer on July 17 that the artifacts be used as collateral for the project.

"We were really sort of blindsided with the fact that we would have to put up all of the artifacts," he said.

Clifford said he does not sell any artifacts he finds and would be concerned that some of the artifacts could be sold if something went wrong.

The parties had always agreed to split the revenue and operating expenses for the museum but the developers were expected to put up the capital for building it and Clifford was supposed to provide the artifacts and his reputation, he said.

But attorney Bruce Bierhans, who said he represented Doe in negotiations with Clifford, said there were also concerns about whether Clifford would be able to provide the artifacts.

"Mr. Clifford had contractual obligations with other parties regarding the artifacts at issue," Bierhans said. "If you're going to spend millions to build a museum you have to be assured that you have the necessary artifacts to attract patrons. For a variety of reasons we didn't have that assurance."

Clifford, however, said he has plenty of artifacts in addition to those currently in two National Geographic traveling exhibits.

He also has artifacts from Madagascar where his team is working in cooperation with the local government on five pirate ships, including Capt. William Kidd's, discovered off the country's northeast coast.

Officials with Premier Exhibitions, which manages the National Geographic exhibits, said they knew that Clifford wanted to establish the Hyannis museum and supported his efforts to do so.

"We feel that there (are) plenty of objects to satisfy everybody," company president John Norman said.

The two traveling exhibits combined have only a small percentage of the total number of artifacts Clifford has in his possession, Norman said.

Clifford and Premier Exhibition officials said there are more than 200,000 artifacts that have been catalogued but only 150 to 200 in each of the traveling exhibits.

Clifford also said he had put the smaller Provincetown Whydah museum site up for sale and his son had his Colorado house on the market in preparation for moving artifacts into the Hyannis location. Work on the armory was expected to start as soon as September, he said. Clifford also has a facility in Brewster where his team does much of its conservation work.

Town officials said they were disappointed that the deal had fallen through but hoped the property could still be used for something related to the arts.

"We had a whole series of steps that we needed to go through to make sure everything was clear on the public side," Town Manager Thomas Lynch said.

The town used a state grant for a feasibility and needs study and, aside from staff time, had not spent much on the property so far, he said.

"I think one of the appealing aspects in the proposal that had been put before us is that the financial risk rested with the private sector," he said.

The existing study can still be used to determine what the best future use is for the property but it's premature to discuss next steps, Lynch said.

"We know there are members of the arts community and other groups which may be interested in the future use," he said, adding that officials will have to "digest" what happened with the pirate museum proposal.

Doe was expected to invest a substantial amount into the property and has always enjoyed a cordial relationship with the town, Lynch said.

"It was a pleasure dealing with them," he said. "I'm not sure what happened at the end here."

Doe could not be reached for comment on Monday but alluded to the financial hurdles of backing the museum in his letter.

"The lease, insurances, building renovations, contractors' pricing, design, engineering fees, and recent partnership matters are all contributing reasons that have made this project no longer feasible," he wrote.

Town Councilor Jennifer Cullum, who represents Precinct 13 where the armory is located, said that everything seemed OK when the developers updated the council on July 17.

"It was really shocking to all of us I think," she said.

But, real estate deals are volatile and can easily fall apart, said Cullum, who is a commercial real estate broker. Maybe Doe or Barry can find other partners and move forward with developing the armory, she said.

"Right now we have a space for lease," she said.

Follow Patrick Cassidy on Twitter: @PCassidyCCT.

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(c)2014 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA)


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