Orange officials plan to lease boathouse at Riverfront Park

Recorder/Mike Phillips
Orange is clearing the way to be able to rent out the boathouse at the Riverfront Park on the Millers River.

Recorder/Mike Phillips Orange is clearing the way to be able to rent out the boathouse at the Riverfront Park on the Millers River.

ORANGE — Several groups of residents have been working for years on new ways to increase traffic on the town’s underutilized riverfront. While these groups were often in the dark about each other’s work, all their efforts are now coming to fruition.

On Wednesday, selectmen jumped over the last few necessary bureaucratic hurdles before moving forward with plans to lease the Riverfront Park boathouse.

For almost a decade, the Riverfront Park Committee’s members has been working on finishing the park’s empty boathouse. But they weren’t alone.

Recently, members of the older Waterfront Park Committee stepped forward, saying their group also worked for years on developing the economic potential of the town’s entire riverfront.

While the Waterfront Park Committee fizzled after its last meeting in 2004, the Riverfront Park Committee continued to ready the boathouse for business. The group searched to no avail for companies willing to lease the building and rent small non-motorized boats to the public, and organized donated labor and materials to finish construction.

But over the past few months, Greenworks, a local nonprofit dedicated to increasing and incubating green economic development in the area, has worked independently of both town committees to find an appropriate boathouse operator.

According to Community Development Director Kevin Kennedy, Greenworks courted Peak Expeditions, a company with experience organizing outdoor adventures in New England and around the world. Kennedy said the company wants to run environmental/outdoor education programs out of the boathouse, and rent kayaks and canoes and paddle boards to tourists and residents.

The company is also interested in operating an educational river-based program for youth this summer. Kennedy said the town has $13,000 of grant money that can be used as scholarships for Orange elementary students to participate.

With an emphasis on serving at-risk youth, families and people with disabilities, and a special focus on environmental education, “There’s a lot of great things going on with the whole program,” Kennedy said.

Riverfront Park Committee Chairwoman told selectmen several weeks ago, “It’s mind-boggling what they are offering to the town … while I applaud the work that has been done … there are process issues and oversight issues” that occurred with a third party getting involved in finding a company to lease the town’s boathouse.

Miller highlighted several areas in the proposed contract with Peak Expeditions she said should be revised to provide more protection and remuneration to the town.

The selectmen also realized that some state regulations were overlooked when the company was identified as a potential leasee.

To comply with state procurement rules, the board set a fair market value and defined the parameters of the lease at their meeting on Wednesday.

They decided that all boathouse operators must rent canoes and kayaks, and allow full public access to the river at all times.

After looking at comparable rental rates around town, selectmen set $900 per month as a fair market rate. The annual rent would be $4,500 per year allowing for the five-month season for boating.

Richard Sheridan argued that rate was too low, as companies renting the boathouse may use the space for storage, even charging people for storing their boats over the winter. But selectmen’s Chairwoman Kathy Reinig said that the monthly rate was on the high side for an unheated building in the middle of town, and the annual rate was fair.

In an interview after the meeting, Reinig said that since the annual rent is less than $25,000, officials will not need to engage in a formal bidding process.

She said the selectmen can now move forward with contract negotiations with Peak Expeditions. “My assumption is that it will work out” and the company will soon be renting boats to the public and signing students up for the summer program.

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