Parks & Rec Commission delays recommendation on boathouse

The university is exploring alternative of restoring old boathouse for new use.

In a March 8 letter to City Council obtained by The Temple News, the Philadelphia Commission on Parks & Recreation extended the deadline for when it will make a recommendation on Temple’s proposal to build a new boathouse on publicly-owned land in Fairmount Park.

The Commission had until March 9 to render its determination to City Council on the university’s proposal, a 23-page report submitted in October 2012 arguing for the public good of constructing a boathouse for the men’s crew and women’s rowing teams.

But in the letter, the Commission said it would wait to make its final decision until after Temple completes a process to “determine the feasibility” to renovate the East Park Canoe House, the Owls’ former home, to service its needs. The university informed the Commission that it would have that process completed by April 30 and the Commission would render its determination “soon thereafter.”

The East Park Canoe House was condemned in 2008 due to multiple code violations. The crew and rowing teams have been rowing out of tents for the past five years.

Temple’s original proposal included a plan to build its own boathouse in addition to a pledge to donate $1.5 million to renovate the old boathouse. The donation was Temple’s way of satisfying a clause in a City Ordinance passed in April 2011 that requires entities seeking to transfer ownership of public parkland to give back an equal plot of land to the city.

Since Temple does not have land to give back, it offered to help renovate the old boathouse, which was owned by the city before it was condemned. But now, the Commission wants the university to explore the option of restoring the boathouse for the use of the rowing programs.

The boathouse would be built on a half-acre plot of land on the east side of the Schuylkill River on Kelly Drive, south of the Strawberry Mansion Bridge and north of the East Park Canoe House.

Ken Lawrence, senior vice president for government, community and public affairs, said Temple hasn’t altered its proposal to build a new boathouse, but is complying with the commission’s request to see if using the old building is possible.

“The Commission asked us to explore this alternative fully and we agreed but stated we needed time to do so,” Lawrence said in an email.

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., a representative of the 4th district – the district in which the boathouse would be built, would have to introduce a bill to City Council for final approval. A letter of support on the boathouse from Jones’ office was submitted to the Commission as a part of Temple’s proposal in October.

The Commission’s decision to extend its deadline is the latest delay in what has been a years-long process the university has undertaken to get its own boathouse.

The boathouse was first proposed at a March 2011 Board of Trustees meeting. One month later, the City Ordinance on public parkland was passed, setting up two years of bureaucratic battles and ongoing negotiations between Temple and the city.

Complying with the new law, Temple submitted a 10-page alternatives analysis to the Commission in June 2012. The commission responded by requesting a study the effects the project would have on the environment along the riverbank and the traffic of Kelly Drive.

Temple hired Pennoni, an engineering and design consulting firm, to complete the environment analysis and traffic study, a 13-page report submitted along with the alternatives analysis last October.

On Jan. 16, the Commission held a public hearing on Temple’s proposal, where dozens of members of the rowing community spoke their opinion.

Opponents voiced concern over construction along Kelly Drive, a popular biking/walking trail, and the legitimacy of Temple’s proposal to renovate the East Park Canoe House as meeting the standards of substitute land.

Proponents of the boathouse said student-athletes deserve to have a place to call home, and the building would beautify an otherwise unused piece of land.

“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,” senior rower Paige O’Sullivan said at the hearing.

Joey Cranney can be reached at Follow on Twitter @joey_cranney.

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