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Staff reports on relocating Waller Creek Boathouse

Tuesday, December 7, 2021 by Jo Clifton

When construction of new transit lines gets underway, buildings, streets and other parts of our urban environment will naturally be torn down. One structure that needs to make way for the Project Connect Blue Line is the relatively new Waller Creek Boathouse, home of the Austin Rowing Club.

When City Council members approved the joint powers agreement with Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Austin Transit Partnership in November, they directed staff to look for a new location for the boathouse and report back in early December.

It was especially important to Council Member Kathie Tovo that the new location be close to the old location. According to Tovo’s direction, “The update shall also include an analysis of which elements of the existing boathouse could be moved and reconstructed or reused. The city manager shall continue and expand community engagement efforts with impacted stakeholders and interested community members regarding identifying a new and feasible nearby location for a rowing use as well as the potential for replacing the café and including other public amenities. The city manager shall collaborate with the Project Connect team regarding the relocation to ensure that rowing operations are minimally disrupted.”

Map courtesy of Google Maps

When the Parks and Recreation Department did a feasibility study for properties along the Lady Bird Lake shoreline to find a suitable location for the boathouse, the vacant youth hostel building on city property at 222 S. Lakeshore Blvd. was identified as the “most viable option.” In a memo to Council, PARD Director Kimberly McNeeley outlined information gathered so far and work that still needs to be done to make decisions about the move.

PARD spokesman John Nixon told the Austin Monitor that the previous tenant of the hostel had asked to terminate its lease in October 2020 because it could not operate successfully during the pandemic, like many other hostels around the country. Austin’s youth hostel has been vacant since then.

According to McNeeley, the department has had preliminary conversations with leaders of the Austin Rowing Club, which has held the concession for the boathouse for many years. McNeeley anticipates that a comprehensive review of the boathouse’s operations will be done sometime in February 2022.

According to her memo, the department “is committed to an inclusive community engagement process with both current users, surrounding neighborhoods and the greater community. The department has engaged the Austin Transit Partnership and the Project Connect team to coordinate resources for an inclusive engagement process related to developing and operating a relocated boathouse at the hostel location, essential elements to enhance the experience, and anticipated challenges that can be mitigated or resolved as the design and operational plans are completed.”

McNeeley said she expects the community engagement meetings to begin in January.

Some factors that the city and Project Connect will have to consider relate to disruption of programs at the Waller Creek Boathouse.

  • The timeline for construction of the Blue Line has yet to be finalized, but demolition and construction are anticipated to begin in late 2023 or early 2024.
  • The Austin Rowing Club concession agreement at the Waller Creek Boathouse runs through March 2023.
  • The hostel building renovation project could take up to two years.
  • The city and Project Connect will have to determine the amount of mitigation funding and the timing of that funding to PARD to ensure minimal disruption.

Tovo told the Monitor on Monday that she is looking forward to a solution that will allow the rowing club to continue its programs. She said the club provides “important programs that engage young people from different economic backgrounds.” At the same time, she said before there is too much planning done on moving the boathouse to the hostel location, there needs to be considerable engagement with people who live close to the site.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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