Hoyas seek building for crew

Georgetown University hopes to build a boathouse for its crew teams - an idea that has won praise from the AU Crew team.

The proposed boathouse, which would be built on an acre on the Potomac River between 34th Street NW and the entrance to Georgetown's campus, would total about 33,000 square feet. It would include a weight-training area, locker rooms, a 70-foot pier, five shell-storage bays, a circular rowing tank and smaller rooms such as meeting rooms.

Georgetown's six teams currently train at the Thompson Boat Center, at Rock Creek Parkway and Virginia Avenue NW, along with AU and several other area high school and college crew teams.

In a May 19 public hearing with the D.C. Zoning Commission, Georgetown Men's Crew Coach Tony Johnson said, "Georgetown has wanted for years to have a facility comparable to other universities that we compete with."

However, the boathouse has drawn criticism from groups such as the Sierra Club and the Washington Canoe Club.

The Zoning Commission plans to make a tentative decision on the boathouse in September, although Johnson said in an interview that no decision will be made until October.

The land for the boathouse came from the National Park Service. According to The Washington Post, the NPS gave Georgetown the acre for the boathouse in exchange for an acre the University owned west of the Key Bridge.

Bob Morris, conservation chair of the Sierra Club's D.C. chapter, said that Georgetown's acquisition is actually larger than the land it gave to the Park Service. The proposed site is also "flooded on a regular basis," he said.

Georgetown's boathouse would sit next to a boathouse belonging to the Washington Canoe Club.

Johnson was not sure when construction might start, but said this could happen a year after the commission's decision.

Liz Meltzer, AU Crew's head coach, said that if Georgetown's boathouse were built, it would alleviate crowded conditions at the Thompson Boat Center.

"It's really tight right now," Meltzer said. "The Georgetown thing would be fabulous because they would take their stuff out and there would be more space."

Georgetown's spring 2003 roster showed 145 players spread out over four men's teams and two women's teams.

Meltzer said that AU Crew, a club sport, had 35 rowers last year. She estimated that 15 of them would return this year, and said that she has received more than 50 e-mails so far expressing interest in the club.

She said that while interest in crew is growing in the D.C. area, there is not enough space for everyone. This forces AU to cap its roster, she said.

"I think a combination of overcrowding and a growth in crew in the area has made it so we can't have the team we want," Meltzer said. "The facilities just aren't keeping pace with the growth."

AU Crew pays $5,000 in rental fees each year for three storage racks, four boats, two launch spaces and a equipment shed.

She said that the Thompson facility has a lot of theft, and in mid-August the club had more than $5,000 worth of equipment stolen. They receive $9,000 each year from the University, Meltzer said.

"That's over half of our budget gone," she said.

The team also gets money from sources such as fundraising, Meltzer said.

Johnson said that Georgetown expects its prospective boathouse to be available to others, such as high school crew teams, when Georgetown is not using it. But these other teams would not be able to store their equipment there, he said.

"The rowing tank in the boathouse will be a good teaching and training tool," he said.

To Morris, Georgetown's proposal is an example of private interests trying to take over public land.

"National parks are not supposed to be diverted to private institutions to have their little playground," he said. "There's ample room for boathouses elsewhere."

Morris said that the Anacostia River, for example, is better for rowing because it is smoother than the Potomac. However, Meltzer said that the Potomac's views and proximity to AU are unmatched.

"People don't really want to row in the Anacostia," Meltzer said.

Johnson said that Georgetown has addressed these ecological concerns. "All the people that weighed in ... we think we've satisfactorily answered all of them," he said.

Georgetown is looking to raise $15 million to build the boathouse and set up an endowment, Johnson said. Of this amount, between $9 and $10 million has been raised, mostly donations from crew alumni, parents and others.

He said that while $15 million is ideal, not all of that money is necessary to build the boathouse.

"If we don't get that $15 million, we'll still be all right," Johnson said.

Groups opposed to the boathouse, including environmental groups and others such as the League of Women Voters, have formed an alliance to fight Georgetown, called the Defenders of Potomac River Parkland. Morris said that the group has spoken and written letters about their concerns.

If the Zoning Commission approves the boathouse, the alliance will lobby the District and federal government against it, Morris said.

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