Draft budget may sink boat rentals at lake

CA official says running dock would be too costly


January 24, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

For Columbia Association board member Donna Rice, the picturesque ambiance of the canoes and paddle boats at Lake Kittamaqundi represents part of the "vibrancy of the heart of the city," attracting residents to Columbia's Town Center lakefront for years.

But the mystique of people paddling along the lapping water among flocks of geese may soon come to an end. In the draft 2004 fiscal budget, the Columbia Association is proposing an end to the boat rentals because of low usage.

Rice, Town Center's representative on the Columbia Association board, wants the boats to stay until the homeowners association can find a replacement.

"To just kill it, I think, is the wrong move," Rice said. "Without the activity, without special events going on, it kills the vibrancy. We want to keep it alive and well."

Three years ago, the association gave control of the boat dock to a private operator because finding qualified water-safety personnel for the dock and for the association's 23 outdoor pools proved too difficult, said Rob Goldman, the association's vice president for sport and fitness.

Amphibious Horizons of Annapolis has been leasing the boat dock from the association, but it is no longer interested in running the operation, Goldman said. The company was hesitant to run the dock last summer, but the association persuaded it to return and leased the dock for $2,000, he said.

The company charged $7 a half-hour and $10 an hour for canoes, rowboats and paddle boats, and $5 a half-hour and $7 an hour for sit-on-top kayaks.

If the association were to take over the rental operation, Columbia Association staff estimates, new paddle boats would need to be bought for about $25,000 and the boathouse would need at least $100,000 in repairs during the next few years.

Goldman said he recommended that the boat rentals end "strictly from a fiscal standpoint." The association's board of directors will vote on the matter next month when it approves the 2004 budget.

"I felt a duty, as an officer of the company, to recommend it," Goldman said.

The boats, available on weekends and holidays between Memorial Day and Labor Day, have not made money for the association. Since 1999, the operation has lost $3,000 to $9,000 annually.

But Rice says the small financial loss is not enough to get rid of the boats.

"I know we have to be conscious of losing money on various ventures," she said. "But we're not talking about a lot of dollars here."

Garry Chandler, chairman of the Town Center Village Board, said he does not want the boat rentals to end. He wants the Columbia Association to take over the business to preserve the scene at the lakefront.

"That was one of the earliest reasons to come to the lake," he said.

Chandler said that if the boat rentals end, there will be a void at the lakefront.

"I think when spring and summer arrive, people will be disappointed that they're not there," he said.

Goldman said he understands the concerns of losing the ambiance at the lakefront, but he said the boats just were not rented that often.

"It was a nice amenity to have, but it wasn't real busy," he said. "If you're looking at having to spend over $100,000 to keep it going, it doesn't make fiscal sense."

Goldman said association staff members have been talking with L.L. Bean, which offers summer kayaking lessons at county-owned Centennial Lake, about holding the classes at Lake Kittamaqundi. If that option falls through, Goldman said, the staff will look into other possibilities for activities at the lake.

Rice is hoping that a replacement will arise soon.

"Most cities have some kind of attraction in the heart of the city, some have carriage rides or historic tours. We don't have any of that," Rice said. "But we have a wonderful lakefront that is just beautiful, and it needs to have more than just a bell tower."

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