Dear Mr. Mayor, Members of the Honorable Council, and Madam Manager,
Like many Newporters, I have been following the search for a management firm to oversee the Thames Street Armory. I must say that the most recent news reports have me somewhat concerned about a particular lack of emphasis.
Before I engage in that conversation, I must present some credentials and put forward some principles. I have been selling timeshare via one fashion or another in the great city of Newport since early 2001. I now own over 30 Newport weeks spread among the 7 resorts. Between timeshare and vacation club sales, I am responsible for 1,000 families visiting Newport every year. As Sales Director at the BayClub, I supervised a marketing program that enabled me, as a byproduct, to make 100 restaurant seat suggestions per day. The Newport Tourist is near and dear to me since they pay my bills. That enables me, via maintenance fees, to contribute close to $10,000 in Newport property tax revenue.
It should be noted that the timeshare owner is of the highest value on the tourist food chain. They spend more on meals than the day trip visitor and impact the community less than the upper scale young person on the rent and drink carousel.
Because of where the Armory is, it is difficult to imagine “local” uses for the building that would lead to maximizing value. Therefore, all should be able to agree that the Armory has a tourist mission. One portion of that mission is providing the public restrooms that are furthest south in the restaurant zone.
My biggest concern is that as an antique mini-hub, the building has never performed more due to marketing as opposed to “management”. However, the city seems to desire to hire a management company that knows how to rent spaces but knows nothing regarding selling goods in the marketplace. This would be a big mistake.
Ideally, an antique mini-hub would be on Spring or Long Wharf or even Franklin where the other antique stores are. Ideally, it would be used as a destination draw on Broadway to bring more tourists to the places where folks born and bred in Newport already own. Not to dismiss folks who grew up elsewhere, like me, but tourists already visit us. Ideally, it would not be set in a bottle neck south of Memorial.
Since it is where it is and what it is, a major marketing effort is needed. Otherwise, as the saying goes, if you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten. In this case, it means frustrated tenants in a building not performing to its full potential.
One of two choices must be made: A.) Solve the liquor license conundrum by changing the law and/or making partners out of the folks attending St. Spyridon and/or working with the state on a special “overlay” or B.) Commit to the marketing necessary to make the building a success.
Again, I am willing to bet that if I sit on the interviews/negotiations between our city and the “management company”, I will hear a heck of a lot about keeping the building “occupied” and very little about helping the renters in said building “flourish”. For instance, have any of the marketing companies who wish to be considered indicated they have a relationship with Wyndham? I would venture to say no. That means a synergistic marketing approach that would target some some 2000 Newport families in the summertime alone is being missed. Happier people who have made memories by buying antiques eat more than folks who have to make their own memories “going it alone.”
I hope our great city would choose a firm more mindful of the building’s role within our tourist community over picking a firm that promises to get the balance sheet right.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Robert T. Oliveira