Fifteen years after the city cried foul over a state highway expansion plan, workers drove sheet pilings into the harbor Monday to begin construction of a new $37 million boathouse aimed at bringing New Haveners back to the water.
The occasion was a groundbreaking for construction of the new two-story, 30,000 square-foot boathouse. It will replace a historic boathouse the state tore down in 2009 along the Quinnipipac River to make room for the expansion of the I-95 Pearl Harbor Memorial “Q” Bridge.
The state and federal governments are paying the entire cost of the new boathouse. It will sit on a 48,000 square-foot platform. It will have room for up to 150 boats, from individuals’ small craft to eight-person shells. A variety of colleges—University of New Haven, Quinnipiac University, maybe Yale—will use the building, as will community groups. A “community rowing” program is in the works. (Click here for more details on the project.) Officials anticipate a fall 2015 opening. (Monday’s groundbreaking was for the platform; construction of the boathouse itself still has to go out to bid.)
It took 15 years to arrive at this day, Mayor John DeStefano noted at the groundbreaking ceremony, which took place on the deck at Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tales restaurant.
He recalled how city officials protested the original state plan for the I-95 widening, which wrecked homes and businesses along with the original circa 1911 brick Tudor-Style boathouse. Officials sought state concessions to help promote mass transit and waterfront activity, not just new asphalt for cars zipping by on I-95. Subsequent negotiations led to a state agreement to build a build to connect both ends of Church Street South over the railroad tracks; the new State Street train station; and now the new boathouse.
The mayor noted that the city has dealt with three governors and seven transportation commissioners since all those negotiations began.
“Good things,” he said, “sometimes take a long time.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who found federal money for the project when it ran over the original $30 million state commitment, waxed philosophical. She noted that rowing—a primary anticipated use of the new boathouse—originated as a form of corporal punishment. Since then it evolved as a team sport that “is about teamwork ... People’s do not go into this for money.” The sport requires four or eight rowers and a coxswain to work together, all in the same boat, with “one goal in mind” (rowing faster). That represents the best model for advancing society, DeLauro observed.
The boathouse will connect to Canal Dock, which functioned as a shipping pier until the 1940s. At the time it connected to the end of the old Farmington Canal; crews transferred freight from barges to sailing ships, then from train cars, when the canal had become a functioning railroad.
Today that canal line has been converted to a biking and walking greenway trail connecting New Haven to Cheshire (and, eventually, to Northampton, Mass., if all goes well). The new boathouse will serve as the terminus of that revived trail—with a new purpose.
The city will own the boathouse. It has formed a not-for-profit corporation to manage it and seek revenues, from grants and fees to rentals of second-floor conference rooms. Officials expect the revenues to cover the cost of operations.