10 September 2022
By Göran R Buckhorn
After no end of problems, the Mystic River Boathouse project in Mystic, Connecticut, now seems to be on the right track. Finally, Göran R Buckhorn would like to add.
On Wednesday 31 August, Stonington Community Rowing Inc. (SCRI) presented a new proposal to the public on the Mystic River Boathouse project. Around 50 people had gathered on the lawn between Latitude 41 Restaurant and the Mystic River, just north of Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, to listen and see the new design for the Hart Perry Boathouse, the Jim Dietz Rowing Center and Mystic River Boathouse Park. The boathouse, named after the legendary rowing advocate who lived locally and who passed away in 2011, has a New England look to it, a two-story building resembling a barn with a square windowed cupola.
It was in May this year, SCRI announced that the community rowing center had a new name: Jim Dietz Rowing Center, named after the six-time Olympian (three as a single sculler and three as a coach). This was a clever way to draw attention to the project in Mystic. To the non-rowing locals, the name Jim Dietz might not ring a bell, but to the U.S. rowing community at large, Dietz is a well-known and highly respected oarsman and coach.
It was at a town meeting in 2016 that the residents of Stonington gave their approval to spend $2.2m on a 1.5-acre piece of land making it into a public space called Mystic River Boathouse Park, along Route 27, to be used by Stonington High School crew and by the public.
However, when the Cambridge-based architect company presented their plan for the boathouse in 2018, it was met with heavy criticism from the local community. The building’s design was too modern and not in line with the historical area. The architect firm jumped ship and the SCRI had to start from square zero when it came to the boathouse.
There were also other delays, the COVID pandemic and a need for environmental cleanup of the site. Another setback was when the Connecticut Historic Preservation Office decided that a building on the site, known as the Lovelace House, was “historic” and must be saved and not torn down as first was planned.
To this writer’s layman eyes, the asbestos-plagued, old house, which no one had lived in for many years, would not serve the rowers and the public any good. This is maybe based on the fact that I’m a European, and a “historic building” to me should have at least a couple of hundred years to its frame – and then there is the money to be saved by not restoring it. But although I personally didn’t have any love for the house, I’m not a historic preservation specialist nor a house restorer, so what do I know? Mum’s the word as Shakespeare taught us.
The restored Lovelace House will include coaching offices, storage, bathrooms and a lounge for the rowers to relax, SCRI President Mike O’Neill said according to an article in the local newspaper The Day.
SCRI will be paying for the boathouse and the renovation of the Lovelace House, while the town of Stonington will pay for the park. Mike O’Neill told The Day that SCRI has raised almost half of the $2.5m for the boathouse. He doesn’t think it will be a problem to raise the rest of the money. When it comes to the polluted site, a $750,000 state grant will take care of the environmental cleanup.
While SCRI will have exclusive use of the boathouse for boats, oars, other equipment and for its rowing programs, the public will have free access to the park, including a boat ramp and dock.
In a proposal between SCRI and the town it says that building the boathouse and improvements of the boathouse and the docks will be paid by the rowing center, and the town will maintain the park and the exterior of the boathouse and the Lovelace House and provide the center with the use of the park for rowing practices and regattas. SCRI will donate the facility to the town and then the town will lease the property to SCRI for $1 a year for 25 years with the option to renew for another 25 years.
“It’s exciting to see the progress we are making on the park and rowing center,” John Thornell, Girls’ Head Coach, Stonington Crew and Director of Rowing, SCRI, told HTBS. “It’s even more exciting to see the enthusiasm people have for these community projects. Gatherings like the informational meeting we had remind us of our mission and are very motivating.”
There will be a town meeting to vote to approve the lease between the town of Stonington and SCRI at Stonington High School at 7 p.m. on 12 September.
If the lease is approved and the rest of the funds are raised, the park will open a year from now, according to Stonington First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough.
In an Opinion piece titled “Boathouse proposal got better with time”, The Day wrote on its editorial page on 3 September: “Though long delayed, we remain confident Stonington will end up with a public space for which it can be proud. Something that will prove to be an asset for decades to come.”
I can only agree.
Good people of Stonington, vote “yes” to the proposed lease on 12 September, so we can finally see the spades in the ground and the project can start. There are many of us who have been waiting for this historic moment to see a boathouse bearing Hart Perry’s name on the Mystic River.