Leave Community Rowing alone

Harry Mattison writes that if some New Bedford state senator wants to complain about abuses on the Charles, he should be looking at things like Harvard's $99-a-year lease on a boathouse, not low-interest loans for a boathouse open to the public.

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      Deceptively low lease numbers

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      After reading the article he links to (http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2004/12/27/boathouses_lose_their_free_ride/) I can't say I share Harry's view.

      "The Harvard deal provides a prime example of how the boathouses scored cut-rate leases in the first place. Many existed before the parklands did, when the Charles River was a marshy tidal estuary. The Metropolitan Park Commission, predecessor to the Metropolitan District Commission, was created in 1893 and began acquiring parcels along the river to create the Charles River parklands, negotiating with landowners like Harvard.

      "In exchange for giving the state a parcel on the south side of the river in Brighton, Harvard asked for a 1,000-year lease on a sliver of shoreline to build a boathouse. The park commission obliged. In 1906, the university secured another, less-generous, 99-year lease for its Weld Boathouse across the river. The Legislature renewed that lease for another 99 years in 1989 for $500 a year. In exchange, Harvard donated 15 acres of land, known as Blair Pond, to the state, and agreed to pay $100,000 for better lighting for the Larz Anderson Bridge and to maintain the area around the boathouse."

      Sounds to me like the state got the better end of both land-swap deals. What's a fair rent for the Weld boathouse? Maybe $20,000 per year? Times 100 years, that's $2m. Does anyone think that there's a 15-acre parcel anywhere in cambridge that's worth less than $2m?

      I don't know the details of the Newell Boathouse land swap, but I'd be willing to wager that Harvard would be happy to claim a parcel in brighton in exchange for paying competitive rent on the boathouse.

      It's not that there is

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      It's not that there is anything necessarily wrong with the Harvard lease. My point is that I think Sen. Montigny is barking up the wrong tree if he is so worried about state revenues and the Charles River. A small subsidy for a real non-profit dedicated to public access does not seem like a genuine problem to me.

      It seems reasonable that if the State is going to give Harvard, BU, MIT, Northeastern, and all private boat clubs the privilege of private use of these valuable public lands, that the State can also help support one public facility too.

      Rarely does our hometown rag

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      Rarely does our hometown rag raise my ire as thoroughly as it did this morning. What on earth is wrong with private donors forking over large sums of money to build an architecturally-distinguished public facility, that will expand public access to a public resource generally enjoyed only by the affluent?

      The piece raises the following questions:

      1) The article implies that appreciating the boathouse requires setting the "price tag aside," asserts that it is "an elite monument to the sport," and generally snears at the lavish facility. But what the heck is wrong with public buildings looking nice, and proving functional? Would Ms. Woolhouse have preferred if the public boathouse looked cut-rate - if it had been built out of cinderblocks and roofed over with corrugated tin, for as little money as possible?

      2) Senator Montigny, who apparently can't find enough problems in the well-run, prosperous city of New Bedford to occupy his time or resources, scoffs that these are people who think "rowing is the best thing since golf." But, in point of fact, the Commonwealth expends considerable resources maintaining golf courses for public use, something it doesn't do for rowing facilities, as the senator should well know himself. So, if the bargain is a public facility built at the cost of $15 million, made available in exchange for an effective subsidy measured in the thousands, is that really so bad a deal?

      3) Isn't it in the public interest to make pursuits that are generally the province of the moneyed elite accessible to the public? The article points out that the club "offers programs to the public, low-income children, and people with disabilities." Good for them. I hope some of those kids use their skill at rowing to earn scholarships to prep schools and colleges. For the rest of us, the club charges just $400 a year, to grant access to boats that, as the article notes, can cost upwards of $10k. That sounds like a good deal. Why on earth should the Charles River be a private playground of the rich and connected?

      4) And last, but not least, rowing is good for the City of Boston. The Head of the Charles Regatta enhances our national and international reputation, and brings in millions of dollars in tourist revenues and corporate sponsorships every year. Sure, it may not be a universal taste, but few things are. Enhancing rowing in Boston is good for the city. And if it can be done with a minimum of public expense and a maximum of benefit, so much the better.

      So what am I missing here? Can anyone else remember a news report that takes such a pointed view of its subject matter, or that gets the story so very wrong? I don't know what kind of baggage Ms. Woolhouse is hauling around with her. Maybe she didn't make the Clark Crew team, or maybe she rowed for four years on Lake Quinsigamond and resents those who get to use the Charles. But the chip she evidently carries on her shoulder doesn't belong in the paper's pages.

      Where's the Community

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      I think that Woolhouse raised some good questions. I'm not sure how Community Rowing serves the larger community. Every time they talk about "benefit to the community" they always bring up how a 55 year old woman learned how to row. That's cool and all, for her, but what about Allston Brighton, where the boathouse is? Does she live there? Why should I care? Is she curing cancer? Then maybe we shouldn't be distracting her.

      I'm not opposed to low interest loans to organizations that will give back more than they ask for (the whole point to an investment) but I'm not sure Community Rowing does that. Great - have a boathouse for your friends; just a slightly smaller one that is dayglow orange and not have the state pay for it.

      Not Unique

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      Non-profits getting land deals like this is nothing new. But don't let that get in the way of throwing Harvard under the bus.

      Matt, Did I throw Harvard

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      Matt,

      Did I throw Harvard under the bus? I wasn't trying to. Of course Harvard would want to pay as little as possible for their lease. The fault, if any, lies with our state legislators who approved the lease.

      Harry

      Chortle...

      The title of Adam's post amuses me no end... masterful wise-crackery! Snort...