40-year-old Austin Rowing Club in search of new home amid Project Connect plans

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For more than 40 years, Austin Rowing Club has operated along the shores of Lady Bird Lake. As a nonprofit, its reach extends to more than 500 community members and has provided programming to children, veterans, low-income residents and those with health complications.

ARC Executive director Kevin Reinis said he hopes to see ARC’s impact extend, at minimum, for another 40 years. But where the nonprofit will operate in the future, he said, remains to be seen.

Following voter approval of Austin’s $7.1 billion transit overhaul, Project Connect, in the November 2020 election, ARC will now be relocated from its current operating site off Trinity Street to make way for construction on the new blue line. ARC operates out of the city-owned Waller Creek Boathouse, having just moved into its current, renovated facility a decade ago.

As part of Project Connect, the blue line is a light rail service that will extend from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to the North Lamar Transit Center, with construction of its Rainey/MACC Station planned in the same area as the Waller Creek Boathouse. Reinis said he’s been advocating for ARC’s protection for the past two-and-a-half years, long before city voters approved Project Connect.

“Since then, it’s been in a way working towards raising visibility of this issue, that this public asset is going to be destroyed along with its amenities, serving a diverse community that we want to bring to the outdoors,” Reinis said. “So we need a new home if it’s going to be destroyed. And now we’re working towards that.”

In an Oct. 29 meeting on Project Connect, Reinis and two other members of ARC’s executive board spoke out on the impact design plans have had on the organization. Each called on the city to assist in relocation efforts, while also acknowledging the benefits enhanced public transportation will have on the city.

Last week, Austin City Council took next steps in solidifying relocation efforts for ARC. By Dec. 1, the city manager “shall evaluate and assess suitable and appropriate spaces for the Waller Creek Boathouse’s relocation with the aim of resolving this issue as soon as possible,” per city documents. As part of city efforts, officials will also analyze and determine which parts of the boathouse can be relocated and reused at its future location.

“[Service] is in our DNA. It’s kind of who we are. We’re a 501 C3 nonprofit corporation, and we feel privileged to be able to serve the community.” – Kevin Reinis, executive director, Austin Rowing Club

Reinis said it was a victory and a step in the right direction to preserve a decades-old Austin institution.

“We need a plan. There has to be a future for these services of benefit,” he said. “And that’s why I’m so thrilled that city council said, yes, we agree there needs to be a plan.”

On Nov. 17, the Austin Transit Partnership will consider approval of its joint powers agreement, an official document that outlines the goals and initiatives of the project as promised to voters in the November election. Reinis said his hope is that, by incorporating ARC’s relocation efforts into this document, it will ensure the city will be good stewards toward finding ARC its new home.

Representatives for Capital Metro said that, as part of this discussion, city leaders will analyze current design options when evaluating future sites for ARC.

“ATP, Capital Metro and City staff have been in close coordination on the boat house since 2019, including meetings with ARC board and staff members. Together, we are looking at Blue Line design options (including the signature Lady Bird Lake bridge) and opportunities for relocation of the boat house,” they said in a statement, adding: “The design process is still in the early phase, and all three parties will continue to work together before determining next steps.”

As for finding a new home, Reinis said he is more optimistic following the latest action by Austin City Council to evaluate future sites. However, he acknowledged some of the challenges that come with finding waterfront property in Austin, as the city’s real estate scene continues to boom at unprecedented levels.

His vision for this future ARC property would be to incorporate it into Project Connect’s design, so that people benefitting from greater connectivity can also access the nonprofit’s resources.

“I think is a generational opportunity to shift the ability of connecting communities, who historically wouldn’t be out in this beautiful lake, and bring them here,” he said. “Because that’s what CapMetro does. And we then provide the programming and the amenities seven days a week like we do today as a nonprofit. So we think that’s a beautiful solution.”

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