Lake Merced Boathouse eyed for new business undertaking

A revamp of the aging boathouse at Lake Merced could become a beacon for the surrounding neighborhoods, which are poised for an expansion of housing.

The second story of the 50-year-old Lake Merced Boathouse, which is nestled where Harding Road meets Skyline Boulevard, has sat empty for the better half of the past 10 years.

The bottom floor has been leased by three rowing groups for decades. However, the sports bar, restaurant, fish stock and bait owner upstairs walked away in 2003 after years of droughts and development contributed to bringing the water level to a 60-year low and nearly eliminating the urban-fishing hot spot.

A recent report by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which uses the man-made lake for a backup water supply, said the 272-acre area is ripe for more concessions.

And Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg is eager for it to happen.

“We would like to find a tenant that will invest in the boathouse and provide the neighborhood and Lake Merced visitors with a pleasing amenity,” Ginsburg said. “We’re hopeful that we will be able to put out [a request for proposals] in the fall.”

A new boathouse vendor could come at a time when city planners are reviewing seven massive building proposals that would add 7,000 new homes to surrounding areas. For instance, apartment complex owners of Parkmerced across Skyline Boulevard want to replace two-story residential buildings with structures that include three-, six- and 13-story towers.

Leasing out the 15,200-square-foot boathouse that was built in 1958, though, requires upgrades to the facility.

The SFPUC report said the boathouse has fallen into disrepair and recommends a rebuild. Rec and Park staff are more interested in preserving its charm and asking the new tenant to put a little elbow grease into it.

“Get it done,” said Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, whose district includes Lake Merced and who has pushed for the return of an eatery for years. “[The boathouse is] an eyesore.”

Reuben Hechanova of the Dolphin Club, whose members store about 30 boats at the facility, said during the week it’s dead, but a new restaurant could create a welcome stir.

“Oh, gosh, if there was a restaurant with good food, I’m sure it could make it there as a destination spot,” Hechanova said.

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