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Parks Board rejects boathouse agreement for Austin Rowing Club

Thursday, March 1, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

The Parks and Recreation Board, on a 4-2 vote, has again rejected a proposed agreement for the Austin Rowing Club to manage and operate the new Waller Creek Boathouse, which is nearing the end of construction.


This makes the second time the board has said “no” to the proposed agreement, the first time being in November. However, despite the Parks Board vote, Council members will have the final say: the agreement is up for consideration on today’s Council agenda. 


Opening the discussion at Tuesday night’s commission meeting, PARD Director Sara Hensley expressed her confidence in the updated work completed by city staff.


“I support this, and I recommend you move this forward to Council for their approval,” Hensley said. “This is an effort that has taken many months of working on it, and I am particularly proud of the fact that one of the things we focused on here is that, if the money doesn’t come back to the department, that we made sure to have some money come back for programming for underserved youth, which is much more valuable to us.”


Contract coordinator Beverly Mendez and Purchasing Officer Byron Johnson reviewed the broad parameters of the contract: the assets ARC would bring to the agreement; the expectations for both programming, concessions and rentals; agreements on how much would be due to the city, based on the success of the project; and a proposed timeline for assessing the success of the contract.


Johnson described the agreement as being broken into three parts: expanding rowing and kayaking on the lake; adding to rental concessions and possible rental of the facility itself; and building out a portion of the building to possibly add additional concessions, such as a waterfront café.


Specific goals for those portions of the contract, Johnson explained to commissioners, are still vague. The Austin Rowing Club has yet to take possession, or even enter, the new building. And Hensley wanted to give some latitude, at least in the initial year, to get a feel for whether the site does have the actual revenue potential that the city is anticipating.


Payments to the city will be in one of three tiers: 3 percent of gross commercial revenue of the ARC makes up to $300,000; 10.5 percent of gross commercial revenue is its between $300,001 and $1.2 million; and 15 percent of gross commercial revenue if the rowing club makes more than $1.2 million a year.


ARC also has committed up to $40,000 to provide up to 200 youth with rowing and standup paddleboard options. Those youth will be picked by the city using its own criteria. And a fraction of the profits from the operation will be set aside to provide financial assistance to defray costs for disadvantaged families.


Hensley also suggested some additional latitude to allow the ARC to pay its first year payment in the second year of operation, which she acknowledged was a nod to just what the city does not know about the site. That would include whether the audience will be limited to those who currently use the lakefront or whether additional people, including those with children, would be willing to park off-site and walk to the location to use its amenities.


An evaluation team of key city personnel would provide a partial evaluation of the contract’s success at the 18-month mark, and then a full evaluation at the 28-month mark. That strategy, Hensley said, would give ARC 10 months to make course corrections before the city decides to continue the contract. After the initial term, the contract would be renewed on an annual basis.


Commissioner Jeff Francell, speaking for the dissenters, thanked the department for its work but still expressed doubts.


“My chief concern is the rowing club is primarily a club being involved in fitness. The incentive for them is to keep the club going for themselves,” Francell said. “The club had free use of a facility for many, many years, one that was very nice when it was built, but there isn’t any return to the city from the membership dues of the club. This only applies to additional revenue and only if they raise it. That’s my main concern about this.”


An initial vote to recommend the contract failed, with Chair Jane Rivera attempting to abstain from the vote. Rivera went ahead and joined commissioners Francell, Hill Abell and Carol Lee in opposing the contract. Lynn Osgood and Jerry Perales were in favor of the contract. Linda Guerrero, who arrived late to the meeting, did not participate in the discussion or vote.

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