Rowing teams celebrate boathouse groundbreaking

After six years of waiting, work finally begins on boathouse construction.

Megan Kadrmas

University women’s varsity and men’s club rowing teams waited six years for Tuesday.

The boathouse groundbreaking ceremony in the East River Flats Park meant more than the beginning of construction for the athletes and supporters; it meant the end of an up-and-down process that has played out since 1999.

“Every month, we would hear that the groundbreaking would be next month,” said first-year rower Susan Closmore. “Finally being to that point was that much more memorable and important for us.”

The setbacks stemmed from issues with the city of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which owns the property, said Orlyn Miller, director of planning and architecture for Capital Planning and Management.

“We had hoped to break ground and get under construction last fall,” Miller said. “Then the storm water management issue with the city arose and by the time we got that resolved, we were too late into the winter to get the project going.

The University and the city of Minneapolis disagreed about who would manage existing storm water pipes at the site, Miller said.

In the end, the city, the University and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board agreed the University was responsible for the runoff created only from the project.

The project experienced earlier setbacks when the University imposed a two-year moratorium on athletics facilities projects in 2001 when the University was struggling with funding from the Legislature.

“There was a determination that before we built any more facilities, (budget) issues needed to be resolved,” Miller said.

Wendy Davis, varsity women’s rowing coach, said it wears on the coaches and teams to not have proper facilities.

“When we don’t have to work up that extra effort to stay positive, work together and all that junk you have to do when you’re trying to overcome adversity, you can put that energy into working to become excellent,” Davis said.

The teams use a rented party tent, a metal shed and a construction trailer as facilities. This hurts the teams’ recruiting efforts, Davis said.

“Would you come to a program working out of a tent?” she said. “You wouldn’t even blink at us.”

Regina Sullivan, senior associate athletics director, said the women’s rowing team is the only University varsity team to not have its own adequate facilities.

Construction on the project starts today, Miller said.

However, the athletics department still is raising money to meet its $1.5 million obligation for the project, Sullivan said. The University already has raised $2.35 million and the recreational sports department has contributed $750,000, fulfilling its commitment.

“We’re very excited about having this day happen where we actually got to break ground. That is a tremendously important step but there is still effort that needs to be made on the fundraising side,” she said.

As part of the agreement with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the University will provide community members with activities on and around the facility, which is on the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi is the best feature of the project, Davis said.

“When we first started this people were saying we were building the Taj Mahal,” she said. “We do not have to because of the setting. It’s the surroundings that are the jewel of the facilities.”

The work by present and past teammates, private donors, the athletics department and the city of Minneapolis were commended at Tuesday’s ceremony.

Closmore said it was exciting, as a young member of the team to know she will have a new home next season.

“I speak for the novice girls in saying we’re really, really excited. We’re sorry to see the upperclassmen go because, if anything, (the boathouse) is a sign of their efforts.”