Thursday, July 26, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Rowing center contract bounced back to committee

After reviewing the reworked terms of the Austin Rowing Club’s new contract extension, the Parks and Recreation Board suggested that they go back to the drawing board.

City Council voted unanimously in June to give the Austin Rowing Club the go-ahead to negotiate a new contract to manage and operate the Waller Creek Boathouse on Lady Bird Lake without going through the typical bidding process. Since then, the Parks and Recreation Board’s Contract and Concessions Committee has been in discussions over how to craft said contract.

On July 24, the Parks and Recreation Board reviewed the committee’s recommendations and was in agreement to move forward with the negotiation of this contract – until the president of Austin Rowing Club convinced them otherwise.

“We are the fastest-growing concessionaire on Lady Bird Lake,” said Nicole Goad, the president of the Austin Rowing Club’s board of directors. “We do want to have an ROI for you. We want to grow.” However, she explained that the only way for the club to grow and increase revenue is to make a few dollars themselves.

Currently, Austin Rowing Club generates revenue exclusively through membership, regattas, donations and merchandise sales. They are not paid by the city for their property management duties, nor do they take a share of the profits generated by the on-site businesses like Alta’s Cafe, Rō Fitness and Congress Avenue Kayaks.

Goad requested that they rewrite the contract to include more profit-share opportunities for the club.

After her impassioned speech, Board Member Rich DePalma noted that “it feels like there’s a disconnect between what you can do underneath your contract and what staff believes that you can do.”

Board Member Francoise Luca, who also participated in the redesign of this contract, said, “We didn’t have a lot of facts on what your financials were. … Our intent is not to harm your business operation, it’s just to find an equitable split.” According to her, the fee percentages chosen were simply based on the original contract.

The result of the chosen fee structure made Austin Rowing Club Executive Director Kevin Reinis say, “I feel like we’re a little bit outside the process now. We’d like to be in the process.”

Besides Austin Rowing Club’s request to be more closely included in the development of the contract, Board Member Dawn Lewis, the chair of the contract committee, noticed that something else was missing.

“I thought that (a line item of) $120,000 for capital improvements should be included,” she said.

Ricardo Soliz, Acting Assistant Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, admitted that “we might have missed that.”

That $120,000 could go a long way. DePalma noted that when he visited the docks, he stepped on one and it went underwater because it is in such disrepair. He noted that under the current contract, those repairs are the city’s responsibility. Similarly, “there are also some drainage issues coming off the trail. … I’m hoping this would be an opportunity to bring in Watershed and make some of those improvements,” he said.

All the board members agreed that although this process is not the norm, they should use this contract revision as an opportunity to create a model for future concessions contracts.

“We want to make doing business with the city attractive enough to encourage outside private partners to work with the city,” said Lewis.

At the same time, Board Member Michael Casias noted, “We know that Austin Rowing Club has proven that they are stewards of this property … we should also untie their hands to see that expansion happen.”

To help the nonprofit rowing club potentially become more profitable, the contract will return to the Contracts and Concessions Committee to review these additional facts and Austin Rowing Club’s financials in order for it to make additional recommendations before negotiations take place.

Photo by dremiel made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

Parks and Recreation Board: The city’s Parks and Recreation Board members deal with the acquisition, development, improvement, and maintenance of Austin’s parks and playgrounds.

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