Temple withdraws boathouse proposal

Plans still undergoing to renovate East Park Canoe House.

Citing a need for more time to consider its options, Temple has withdrawn its proposal to the city to build a new boathouse in Fairmount Park, according to a letter sent to the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commission.

The letter, addressed to Parks & Recreation Commissioner Nancy Goldberg and dated April 30, revealed that Temple is still in the process of exploring the option of renovating the East Park Canoe House for the use of its rowing teams, but isn’t in a position to make a commitment until the university undergoes further planning. The letter cited Visual Temple, the university’s new master development plan, as the process through which further consideration and discussion with stakeholders will take place.

Temple has been exploring the option of renovating the East Park Canoe House at the Commission’s request. The university promised to have that process completed by April 30, but is now withdrawing its overall proposal for “further study of our options.” Temple’s original proposal – which the Commission was slated to make a recommendation on to City Council – included a plan to build its own new boathouse, in addition to a pledge to donate $1.5 million to renovate the East Park Canoe House.

Ken Lawrence, senior vice president for community, government, and public affairs, said the Commission’s approval of Temple’s initial proposal was “far from certain,” so the university didn’t want to take the next step without surveying its options.

“We weren’t going to make a decision on [renovating] East Park on someone else’s time table,” Lawrence said.

The Commission was scheduled to make its recommendation to City Council, which has the power of approval, on March 9, but Temple requested more time to see if the new option of renovation was feasible.

Lawrence said that as a part of Visualize Temple, the university will be exploring all of its boathouse options, including looking at other parcels of land along the Schuylkill. Once Temple makes a decision, it’s unclear whether or not the new proposal would be subject to the same scrutiny as the initial offer the university made to the city in October 2012.

Temple initially pledged a donation to the East Park Canoe House – in addition to building a new one – as a 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. The East Park Canoe House was Temple’s former rowing home until it was condemned in 2008 due to multiple code violations. The crew and rowing teams have been operating out of tents for the past five years.

However, a public hearing on Temple’s boathouse proposal on Jan. 16 revealed that members of the community had concerns with the legitimacy of Temple’s proposal for substitute land. Critics argue that renovating a building does nothing to help conserve public parkland.

Lawrence said that the university will explore other ways to better satisfy the substitute land clause as continues its planning process.

The timetable of that process is uncertain.

“It’s disappointing, but we’re further along now than we were,” Lawrence said. “We’ve taken a look at East Park and have plans for that. We have plans for a new boathouse and we understand this process better in terms of dealing with the Commission. Temple is still committed to securing a facility for its rowers.”

“I don’t consider it a setback,” Lawrence added. “I consider it that we hit the pause button. I think we have other options and we’re looking at other options.”

Joey Cranney can be reached at joseph.cranney@temple.edu or on Twitter @joey_cranney.

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