Canal Dock Boathouse Rises, Wows

Markeshia Ricks PhotoThe new Canal Dock Boathouse is getting closer to the finish line, and it is a thing of beauty.

I got to join a sneak preview of the waterfront gem on Thursday afternoon. I’d show you what I saw, but they allowed no photos. But I can tell you about it.

Construction of the new $37 million two-story, 30,000 square-foot boathouse — which replaces the historic Adee Memorial Boathouse the state tore down in 2009 along the Quinnipiac River to make room for the expansion of the I-95 Pearl Harbor Memorial “Q” Bridge — is in its final stages.

Thursday afternoon’s tour was arranged for Mayor Toni Harp and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, state Department of Transportation and city officials, along with a couple of members of the press to check out what three years of toil has produced. (Read more about the making of the boathouse here and here.) The city was able to get the funding for the project to mitigate the impact of building the “Q” bridge and that money had to be used specifically for rebuilding the boathouse and improving the shoreline.

When the boathouse opens this summer there will be elements that harken back to the grandness of the original Adee Memorial Boathouse along with new elements that make the building a showplace of this current age. Gregg Wies and Gardner are the architects who designed the building. Nosal Construction is the contractor.

Some of both elements will be enshrined in a time capsule that New Haven historian Judith Schiff, New Haven Museum Executive Director Margaret Anne Tockarshewsky, and city arts, culture and tourism czar Andy Wolf are curating.

The first place visitors will feel those elements will be at the main entrance of the boathouse. Visitors will step through the glass-enclosed restored façade of the Adee Memorial Boathouse.

City Plan Senior Project Manager Donna Hall said the façade of the original boathouse was restored along with many of the terracotta elements, which can be found throughout the building, including the cartouche from the gable end of the building and two of the finials that were on the roofline.

“There are a few more pieces of brick and broken terracotta that had to be replicated,” Hall said as she carefully walked through the building Thursday leading the group of hard hat-wearing onlookers. “But this was all taken to a shop and cleaned up by premier craftspeople.”

Hall noted that a number of those craftspeople were New Haven workers and residents.

The first floor will be home to the University of New Haven’s marine biology program along with storage for paddleboards, kayaks, and even dragon boats.

GREGG WIES & GARDNERJohn Pescatore, who heads up Canal Dock Boathouse Inc., a not-for-profit organization that will manage the day-to-day operations of the boathouse, said that the storage space will be available to those who pay for membership. The fee will allow members access to the storage but also the many recreation programs that will be available.

“You will be able to pick and choose at what level you want to participate,” he said.

The fees will help support the operation of a program modeled off of the Community Rowing Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. that offer free rowing programs to New Haven school children.

Besides the use of the first floor as educational and premium storage space, the first floor gets even more practical. With climate change increasing the threat of flooding, the new boathouse is equipped with breakaway walls and is built to withstand flooding.

“The water will wash through,” Hall explained. “As you can see everything up to the base flood elevation is actually stone.”

Hall said should a flood occur the water washes in. When the flood event is over, the walls go back up and the boathouse is back in business, she said.

GREGG WIES & GARDNERThe top floor of the boathouse will be where the city hopes to get the most bang for its buck by renting it as event space for conferences, meetings, company retreats and special events like parties and wedding receptions. And a lot of effort has been made to not only add elements of the former Adee Memorial Boathouse but to take advantage of spectacular views of New Haven Harbor.

The smaller of the two upstairs meeting rooms will feature the original wood fireplace from the Adee clubroom.

Hall directed everyone’s attention to the ceiling where the original wood trusses from the old building crossed the ceiling.

“What we’re trying to do in here is recreate that historic room with the fireplace that is just about to be installed,” she said. “This room will be a really nice room for meetings but also as a pre-event space for weddings or conferences. I think it gives you a sense of what the old building was like.”

But the main room is truly a show stopper. It’s not so much the room as it is the panoramic view of the New Haven Harbor that steals the show. That view is extended thanks to the terrace outside. Depending on the configuration, the room can hold up to 150 people, Hall said.

“We’re hoping a lot of really nice events will book here,” Hall said. It’s what will make the building self-sustaining. And the boathouse, though not finished yet, is taking bookings in case you’re interested.

“The idea is that the entire building, the entire project was programmed to maximize activity and revenues because with a beautiful facility like this we want to be able to do it right to maintain it correctly,” Hall added.

Acting City Plan Director Michael Piscitelli said between the environmental impact and the historic preservation aspect of the project, this is the most significant effort of its kind associated with a highway project anywhere in the country. The boathouse project came to bear through the city working with state and federal agencies to leverage the funding that came down for the new Q bridge.

The tour elicited many oohs and ahhs, including over the office space which also has views of the highway, the new promenade, and the harbor.

Harp and DeLauro joked about the possibility of making it their summer office. On a serious note, DeLauro said prior mayors had fought for years to figure out how to connect the waterfront to downtown, and it looks like all those years of fighting are starting to pay off.

“You all have pulled it off, mayor,” she said. “This is a gem. Congratulations.” Harp credited city staffers like Hall and former City Plan Director Karyn Gilvarg with making it happen.

In addition to the building, there is a rowing dock for recreational users of the boat canal as a launching place. The actual canal dock is the terminus of the Farmington Canal Greenway, and it is an important junction on the East Coast Greenway, Hall said.

With the state’s first protected bike lanes running right along Long Wharf Drive, it’s easy to get to the boathouse and the dock on two wheels or on two feet. For those who have to drive, the city is in talks with the Fusco Corporation to use its garage for valet parking. The city is also in talks to get an encroachment permit for land under the highway to be used for about 50 parking spaces. The city is already in talks with the International Festival of Arts & Ideas on how the boathouse can fit into its programming.

Hall said that the city is pursuing grants to fund a $1.2 million addition of power pedestals to the dock to provide a state of the art kayaking and canoe access for people who use wheelchairs or have other disabilities along with transient docking facilities. She said the city has put in a grant application with the state and another with the federal government but there is a possibility that Canal Dock Boathouse Inc. could raise the money for the addition through private donations.

“We’re not giving up on that,” she said. “It would be pretty great. Somebody could come here in a boat, dock up, attend and even here, catch a shuttle to downtown, got to Long Wharf Theatre across the way. It would be pretty amazing.”

Piscitelli said the pieces are starting to come together for the Long Wharf district.

“The information center is now reopened, the food trucks are now much better organized, and through FEMA actually fixing the shoreline…there is more activity down here,” he said.

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posted by: HewNaven on February 2, 2018  12:58pm

With the state’s first protected bike lanes running right along Long Wharf Drive

Protected?! By whose measure? I watched a car slalom in between the plastic dividers (into the ‘protected’ area nearly avoiding a cyclist - me) to get around a slow vehicle in front of them. Plastic bollards do not PROTECT anyone!

posted by: Esbey on February 2, 2018  2:38pm

Gotta say, better looking than I expected. I always thought the harbor shoreline was hopeless, forever ruined by I-95.  Maybe that’s not right. 

Maybe the city could plant *a lot* of trees to muffle the highway? Would that work?

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on February 2, 2018  3:27pm

I’m wondering if there’s going to be more cycle-tracks or protected bike lanes further down Sargent Drive and also further up Water Street going towards Downtown. These newly completed cycle-tracks in the Long Wharf area goes nowhere as far as going from one part of town to another. There needs to be more connection for bicyclists to get around the city as much as cars do. Maybe putting bike lanes or continuing to add more cycle-track on East Street going up towards East Rock would help with the bike traffic a little more. Other than that, the boathouse looks really nice and I can’t wait to visit in the summer when it opens. In the future it’s going to be good to see when the whole entire area gets to be redeveloped. Certainly looking forward to it.

posted by: wendy1 on February 2, 2018  4:05pm

I was told this was a PUBLIC building——no membership or fee requirements.  This was built with tax payer $$ and we deserve admission.  There is no reason the public cannot walk and look inside.  I didn’t pay $6000 for a boat so the parents of poor local kids in public school would be excluded…and how about all the folks who picnic on the waterfront in the summer to cool off.  The shoreline and sidewalk and biketrail belong to us the people and so should the boathouse.  I dont plan to row the boat I donated to John P.  I just want to be able to walk around and enjoy the public building.

posted by: Esbey on February 2, 2018  4:32pm

Wendy1, I am pretty sure that you misread the article.  The reference is to boat “storage space [that] will be available to those who pay for membership,” as well as to some fee and/or membership based activities. The main space is public. It is not weird to charge fees for boat storage or rowing lessons (or whatever they are planning.) One point is that some fees can then generate revenue to pay for free lessons for school kids and so forth.

posted by: Ryn111 on February 2, 2018  5:10pm

This is a lot of money for event-goers and rowers but hopefully the space has broader appeal. It may spark further interest/development/improvement along this corridor if the city takes the initiative.

What happened to the idea of a Frying Pan like barge bar along the waterfront? I know this idea was presented to the city years ago and they tossed it into the bureaucratic abyss. Could that resurface?!

posted by: RobotShlomo on February 2, 2018  8:24pm

The thing took TWENTY YEARS to build, it better “wow”. All this time nobody still could give me a straight answer as to what it’s actually going to do.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 2, 2018  8:51pm

Esbey, planting trees would reduce noise, and have other benefits. But their impact should not be overstated. A dense belt of mature trees 50 feet wide on level ground would reduce noise levels about five decibels. This is a noticeable reduction. But I-95 is elevated at this site, substantially reducing the impact of the trees. And presumably DOT or the city would plant saplings - transplanting mature trees is way more expensive. The saplings would take a couple of decades to mature.

posted by: Esbey on February 2, 2018  10:45pm

Kevin, thanks that’s interesting.

posted by: RemyZ on February 4, 2018  10:15am

Although the accompanying graphics show their name, it’s too bad that the article doesn’t give credit to Gregg, Weis & Gardner, Architects for a fantastic design.

posted by: opin1 on February 4, 2018  11:31am

Looks wonderful. Just to confirm, people will be allowed to bring their own kayaks/canoes/paddleboards/etc and launch there right?  If so there would need to be a place to offload in the parking area.

A coffee shop inside the boathouse would also be nice (or at least adjacent to the building) so people could get a coffee and enjoy the views from within the boat house.