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City, rowing club still at odds over boathouse contract

Monday, January 30, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though the new Waller Creek Boathouse is expected to open within the next month, negotiations for its operation and management remain up in the air.

 

City Council authorized negotiations with the Austin Rowing Club in November. The Parks and Recreation Department is allowed to negotiate only with the ARC, although City Council will make the final determination on any contract.

 

Long before the authorization, the process was contentious, with four representatives from the club pleading their case before Council during citizens’ communications last Thursday. The rowing club claims that the city is asking for too much money.

 

Attorney Michael Whellan, on behalf of club, told Council that he doesn’t think staff has considered “viable or reasonable measures for creating a nationally-recognized boat house.”

 

“It’s (not about) gross revenue that’s generated by the boat house. We’ve given them all the pro formas; we’ve had them for months. It’s about the percentage. They’re trying to squeeze out of this facility, without giving any recognition… to what we’re doing in terms of economic development,” said Whellan. “We will burn those boats.”

 

President of the rowing club, Camille Jobe, told Council Member Laura Morrison that there was no set revenue level in request for proposal, and that the Austin Rowing Club had increased its numbers as negotiations have gone on.

 

“The city of Austin stands to gain substantial tax revenue annually through our events and services. The terms being demanded by city staff in negotiations are placing the future of these events and services at risk,” said Jobe.

 

Director of Parks and Recreation Sara Hensley told City Council that negotiations had not ended, despite a request for a best and final offer, saying, “We felt like it might be best if we just said give us your best shot, give us your best numbers.”

 

Whether or not a contract has been agreed upon, the issue is scheduled to return to City Council on Feb. 9.

 

“We want, as much as they do, to end this and move on – one way or another,” said Hensley. “I think the ninth is pretty reasonable, and get us where we need to be, as far as a drop-dead date to come before Council and allow Council to weigh in on this.”

 

Hensley told Council that there would be a special-called meeting of the Parks and Recreation Committee today to discuss the contract negotiations.

 

In addition to the management contract negotiations, parking for the staff of the boat house has not yet been located. Though Hensley seemed positive that a resolution was on the horizon, there were no clear solutions as of Thursday.

 

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole urged both parties to work towards some kind of agreement, even if it was only short term.

 

“I recognize that this is the first project on Waller Creek, and it is very significant for all of us. And I’m not pleased that the process has taken so long, but sometimes that’s how you get closer to a better end result,” said Cole.

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