The Philadelphia Commission of Parks and Recreation held a public hearing on Boathouse Row Wednesday night discussing Temple’s proposal to build its own boathouse.
At Lloyd Hall gymnasium in a hearing that lasted more than two hours, dozens of members of the public spoke to the 14-person commission arguing for and against the proposal.
Temple is trying to acquire a half-acre plot of land to build a new boathouse on Kelly Drive south of the Strawberry Mansion Bridge and north of the East Park Canoe House, Temple’s rowing home until it was condemned in 2008.
The university submitted an analysis to the city in October arguing for the public good of the boathouse that had to undergo a period of 30 days of public comment before Wednesday’s meeting reviewing the proposal.
Proponents of the new boathouse argued in favor of giving the student-athletes, who have been forced to share space in a tent, a home to call their own, as well as the public interest in beautifying an otherwise unused piece of land.
Senior Paige O’Sullivan was one of many members of the rowing team who spoke into a microphone positioned in front of the commission at the front of the filled gymnasium Wednesday arguing for why Temple’s proposal should go through.
“I was surprised to hear a lot of opposition,” O’Sullivan said in an interview afterward. “We’re very supportive of our alternative obviously, because the place we’re staying at is not beautiful, and we want to make it beautiful. Having a boathouse will make it beautiful.”
“I just hope the commission hears the passion that we have for our students and each other, and I really hope they take under consideration our alternative,” she added.
John R. Galloway, chairman of the Dad Vail Organizing Committee, Inc., and a spokesman from the office of Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., whose district the boathouse is being proposed in, were among those who spoke in favor of Temple’s proposal at the hearing.
Women’s rowing coach Rebecca Smith Grzybowski said in an interview that the diverse backgrounds of those who spoke in support of Temple’s proposal played to the university’s favor.
“I think there was clearly a lot of support for Temple,” Grzybowski said. “For our proposal, from people who are really passionate about the environment, people who are really passionate about rowing and people who are really passionate about Temple. Across the board I think it was a very good step forward.”
Opponents of the proposal say that Temple hasn’t fulfilled all the requirements of a city ordinance passed last year, requiring any entity seeking to transfer ownership of public parkland to give back an equal plot of land to the city.
Temple included in its proposal a pledge to donate $1.5 million to renovating the East Park Canoe House to fulfill that requirement. Members of the public, including representatives from the Philadelphia Parks Alliance and Fairmount Park Conservancy, said that doesn’t solve the problem of taking away public parkland for private use.
“There is no way that donating $1.5 million to the East Park Canoe House can be translated into the prerequisite of substitute land,” one woman said.
Senior vice president of public affairs Ken Lawrence, who along with University Architect Margaret Carney answered questions from the Commission and the public throughout the meeting, said in an interview that Temple’s offer to help restore the canoe house was made because the university didn’t have parkland to provide.
“We do not have substitute land, which is why we proposed the contribution to go toward refurbishing the public building that’s currently condemned,” Lawrence said. “If in conversations there’s something else that needs to be worked out, then we’re willing to have those conversations with the city.”
Lawrence said that if the city determines that the $1.5 million Temple pledged to EPCH would be better suited for another piece of land, then the university is willing to negotiate with the city on those terms.
Representatives from the Philadelphia Parks Alliance and the Fairmount Park Conservancy also voiced concern that the university didn’t have conversations with some stakeholders while it was developing its proposal.
Temple met with members of the Schuylkill Navy, which represents many clubs and universities in Philadelphia, as well as the Dad Vail Regatta Organizing Committee, Inc., and city officials while putting together its proposal, according to the proposal’s alternatives analysis.
“There’s no list of stakeholders that you’re required to talk to,” Lawrence said after the hearing. “We talked to stakeholders who we felt were immediately impacted by the development. You talk to who you can talk to. There’s no required number of groups that you need to talk to and there’s no list of groups that you need to talk to.”
The moment of the hearing that got the largest response was when junior rower Ali Watkins – also a reporter for The Temple News – spoke in favor of the proposal. She said, referencing the Bible, that “small men follow the letter of the law, but great men follow the spirit.”
Considering the arguments, the Commission will present its official recommendation to City Council, which has the power of approval, sometime before March 9.
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.
[Full Disclosure: Ali Watkins, a junior rower who spoke at the hearing and is referenced above, is a reporter for The Temple News. Watkins took no part in the reporting, editing or posting of this story.]