The relocation has been under consideration for months as transportation staff continue to evaluate how Project Connect's Blue Line will make its way between Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and downtown Austin. That path includes a crossing of Lady Bird Lake, and the exact scope of the proposed bridge carrying the Blue Line between Riverside Drive and the north shore has yet to be determined. However, officials said that connection will likely wipe out the boathouse's footprint at 74 Trinity St., requiring the facility's move elsewhere.
During a May 16 community meeting on the boathouse's future, planners said a probable landing spot for the community water sports facility is the old hostel building at 2200 S. Lakeshore Blvd., on the lake's south side. The city-owned site is part of Town Lake Metropolitan Park with links to the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail and is adjacent to a paddleboard and kayak rental service.
The focus on the site comes several months after officials announced six possible locations, including the hostel property, which was identified in January as a leading option.
The south shore location would shift the boathouse away from downtown almost to the eastern edge of Lady Bird Lake.
Kevin Reinis, executive director of the Austin Rowing Club, said the potential move is one that has so far been greeted with an "enthusiastic" community response.
“We want to get as many people on the water, ... whether that’s a rowing shelf, a paddleboard or a kayak or retro boat rentals," Reinis said. "I think it’s a transformational opportunity for the city in activation and programming east of [I-35]."
The future operations of the boathouse, a collaboration between the Austin Parks and Recreation Department and the rowing club, are also to be determined. Staff said the facility's move to a new piece of city-owned land could push any management contracts through the city's open solicitation process, meaning the rowing club would not be guaranteed to continue in its current role.
The new facility's funding must also be resolved as staff said many overall project details are still not finalized. Planners said questions about the relocation costs and a funding source—and whether that might include city taxpayers—will be determined as Project Connect moves through its next steps.
“We don’t have all the answers about how that money will flow and how much there will be, et cetera. I think still needs to be figured out," said Peter Mullan, architecture and urban design chief for the Austin Transit Partnership.
Regardless of the new boathouse's cost and final location, staff said they hope to gather input from rowers and other boathouse users to shape the design of the new facility. The Project Connect team and some community members attending the May meeting also said they hope a relocation decision can be made in time to launch the new rental facility before the existing building shuts down to avoid any service interruptions on the lake.
“That would be the goal, albeit an ambitious one. The sooner we can make a decision about the hostel site, the sooner we can move forward with design and construction and the better chance we have in achieving that goal," Mullan wrote during the meeting.