Update: Bette, NYRP, and The Boathouse

Norwalk boathouse too big?
Norfolk, CT
The Hour Staff Writer

NORWALK — The rumor along the city’s waterfront is that the boathouse constructed in the Norwalk River is too large to pass through the Metro North bridge.

But, say officials affiliated with the project, the reason the boathouse is still in Norwalk is because it is undergoing minor adjustments before a launch shortly after an April 15 inspection.

The boathouse, with its red brick exterior, is intended to be the centerpiece of a new rowing facility in upper Manhattan, but has been mired in upper Norwalk Harbor several months after it was supposed to have been floated into Long Island Sound and to the Harlem River.

Waterfront sources have been speculating for several months that the reason for the delay is that the boathouse is too wide to pass through the MetroNorth swing bridge, which is just north of the Stroffolino bridge which connects Washington Street to East Norwalk.

Some sources said there was a failed attempt to float the boathouse, which is on a large wooden barge, through the bridge. MetroNorth officials said their records are not kept in such a way as to indicate whether an attempt was made to move the boathouse.

The boathouse is part of a $10 million rowing center being overseen by the New York Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization founded by singer/actress Bette Midler that seeks to restore public parks in New York City. Amy Gavaris, the project’s executive vice-president, and Foglietta & Son, the Maine-based construction firm overseeing the houseboat’s construction, directed all inquiries to Roberta Greene, the project’s spokeswoman. Greene said no major structural or problems with its dimensions were to blame for the delay, and emphasized there that only minor “tweaking” needs to be done before the houseboat is ready for launch. “We thought it would be done last October, but things just took a little longer,” Greene said. “No one has ever built a houseboat like this before … . And it was winter also, so it stayed in Connecticut. There was no need to rush this.” The boathouse is visibly lower in the water now than what it was when it was first featured in The Hour in November 2003, indicating the boat’s “freeboard” — the distance between the waterline and the deck — was decreased to lower the boat’s height.

Greene said an inspection is scheduled on the houseboat for April 15 and said the city should expect a much-publicized launch after that. She said she expects the houseboat to be in place in New York City by the middle of June. “It will be very public when it leaves,” Greene said. “We won’t sneak out in the middle of the night. It’s frustrating for all of us, because we want to get it out of there and get the programs up and running. But all sorts of things need to be perfect.” When it is in place, the boathouse will be the centerpiece of a new rowing center planned at Swindler Cove Park along the Harlem River. The NYRP envisions the boathouse providing access for hundreds of New York City teenagers to the sport of rowing.

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