New sailing pavilion planned for Charles

If Boston University officials are able to float plans past the state Legislature this spring, a new $3 million sailing pavilion could be erected on the banks of the Charles River.

According to Edward King, BU’s vice president of government and community affairs, the new facility would be built opposite the footbridge near the Chancellor’s Office on Bay State Road and contain public amenities, including indoor plumbing and a concession stand. The amenities will cost about $750,000.

Although King emphasized that all plans are tentative, one set of drawings allotted more than 3,640 square feet in the one-story building for boat storage and included a 6,500-square foot dock. More space will be designated for class and locker rooms.

The University hopes to negotiate a 25-year lease on the riverfront property with a 10-year option, King said.

Under the plan, the exercise station near the site will be shifted to the west and enlarged to a total area of 1,900 square feet. In return, BU would refurbish the equipment and install emergency blue phones. If the arrangements are adopted, BU Police Department may patrol the Esplanade property like they do the existing sailing pavilion, King said.

“We’ll end up maintaining that whole area,” he said.

Plans to build a new sailing pavilion began when the Metropolitan District Commission, a state agency that regulates the Esplanade, completed a study identifying the current sailing pavilion as unsafe.

The existing pavilion, located near the BU Bridge, sits next to a deep-water bend in the river. Since motor boats must avoid running aground, they travel through the deep-water bend at high speeds and endanger smaller craft, King said.

“I really believe this. It’s very unsafe there,” he said.

When the MDC approached BU about moving the pavilion, King said, the agency requested that the plans include public restrooms and concessions.

Committee and residents groups have been involved in creating the new pavilion plans, said BU spokesman Colin Riley. Roughly 12-15 such groups were consulted and almost all participants backed the concept, he said.

King said he has conducted more community meetings on the proposed sailing pavilion than were ever necessary when constructing the DeWolfe Boathouse, which sits on the Cambridge side of the River.

“I think this is a win-win situation for everybody, not just us,” King said. “We’ve always had community programs at the boathouse. We’ll probably enlarge the programs at the sailing pavilion.”

Terri North, president of the Kenmore Residents Group, has sat on BU’s community taskforce for 10 years and believed the proposal would situate the pavilion in a safer location.

Not only is the deep-water bend dangerous for small craft, but there is no easy way to get to the pavilion by foot, she said. Some boaters eschew the footbridge near the BU Beach and attempt to cross Storrow Drive. The area, she said, is not always safe at night.

“We’re very lucky that we haven’t had serious, serious problems,” North said. “There’s no reason not to move it.”

North said she worked with BU during the continuing Kenmore Square revitalization and believed the University would maintain its investment.

“If BU claims responsibility for an area, they will take care of it,” she said.

Although Allston Civic Association president Paul Berkley said the community would probably approve of the new pavilion, he likened the concession stand plans to “commercializing the river.”

“It would have serious implications down the line,” he said. “There’s a ‘me too’ syndrome and if BU opens food service along the River, it won’t be long before everyone will want to begin doing the same.”

Despite the criticism, North maintained the proposed sailing pavilion benefited the public good.

“I definitely think it’s more of a public facility,” she said. “A lot of people use the River. I don’t think this is an offensive device at all.”

While resident approval is helpful, state approval is mandatory and the application process will mandate further public hearings, King said. An estimated 15-25 permits may be necessary before groundbreaking begins. The entire process could take up to two years.

“It’s a process where the public is going to have plenty of input,” he said.

Students on the sailing team said there has been long been talk of creating a new sailing pavilion, but concrete plans had not materialized until recently.

Although the sailing team can boast more All-Americans than any other BU sport, said College of Arts and Sciences senior Bob Meehan, it uses a facility that lacks plumbing, heat and a place to change. Consequently, the team can’t host large meets or invitationals.

Many inexperienced sailors are swamped by motorboats whipping in and out of the deep-water bend, said Meehan, who also serves as the team’s freshman advisor. The problem is worst in the early fall and late spring, he said.

The new boathouse will save BU money in the long-run, he said, because there will be more room for easier equipment storage and less wear and tear.

Meehan also believed critics would have difficulty objecting to the plan based on the concession concerns, especially since several community boathouses already sell refreshments along the Esplanade.

BU intends to file the necessary legislation for the permit next month. Then state representative and senators are expected to take action sometime in the spring.

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