Rowers get ‘great news’: on-campus facility OK’d

Regents approved the new $4.6 million facility, which is slated to open in March.

Than Tibbetts

University rowers might be used to the cold on the river during November or February, but a place to warm up appears to be on the way.

The Board of Regents approved a new $4.6 million on-campus rowing facility for the women’s varsity rowing and men’s crew club team July 6.

Slated to open in March, the facility will be built on the east end of the East River Flats Park on the Mississippi River, near the superblock.

After five seasons of practicing through frigid and sometimes icy water in late fall or early spring, it will serve as the new home for the teams that have been operating out of a seasonal tent and an aged shed, respectively.

Coach Wendy Davis called it “great news” last week but remained cautious. She said she’ll be satisfied once the team can officially move into the new facility.

The University will assume $2.35 million in debt service to cover the costs. The remainder will come from $1.5 million in athletics fund-raising and $750,000 from the department of recreational sports.

The rowing building will have locker facilities for 80 women and 50 men, boat storage bays and an indoor rowing tank for practice. Construction is slated to begin in August and finish in March.

The regents’ decision also approves the first of three major University athletics facilities being discussed, along with new football and baseball stadiums.

The East River Flats Park is owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which approved of the University’s plans in February. Park board members have said they approve of the long-term use of the site, though no formal agreement has been signed.

At their meeting last week, several regents said they felt the rowing project was long overdue.

“Wendy Davis came here and we made a commitment to get her a facility,” Regent Dave Metzen said.

Davis echoed those sentiments.

“You’d have to be nuts to be the head rowing coach of a tent in the coldest Division I institution in the country,” she said. “I took this job because I knew we could be one of the best programs in the country, truly.”

And in just five seasons, Davis has taken what was a club sport and coached it into a 15th-ranked team.

But, as Associate Athletics Director Scott Ellison pointed out to regents, it probably only qualifies as a tent for half of the year.

From November to April, the tent has to be taken down because it is not strong enough to bear the weight of snow and ice, Ellison said. And out of those months, the rowers only stay off the water in December and January.

The men’s club crew team operates out of a dilapidated metal shed at the east end of a campus pedestrian bridge.

The struggle for a new facility has experienced several setbacks, including the expiration of a $3 million Legislature appropriation for the facility that was never used.

“This University was completely serious about rowing and completely serious about doing it correctly,” Davis said. “But talk about a series of unfortunate events.”

Still, Davis couched her comments with a hint of caution.

“The thing is, we’re going to be ecstatic once there’s a hole in the ground because there’s been delay after delay,” she said. “But I know about 50 women and 30 men who have shovels ready.”