Stow Lake boathouse cruising into new era

Fans of the 65-year-old Stow Lake boathouse might cringe at plans to gut the open working area and make room for a cafe, but park officials say it is time for a change.

The new owners plan to overhaul the space where for decades managers and new employees have learned how to mend and care for the fleet of aging row and paddle boats. Instead, a kitchen, cafe that seats about 35, small coffee shop and gift store will take its place, and a new fleet of boats will be stored elsewhere.

It was part of the agreement that the Recreation and Park Department asked for — a company that would spruce up the place with more options for food and places to sit, hoping to draw more attention to the lake area year-round.

Ortega Family Enterprises — a New Mexico-based family-owned business with a history of retail in national parks, such as bringing organic food to Muir Woods Trading Co. — fits that profile, according to park staff. They predict the new boathouse will bring in about 30 to 40 percent more revenue.

“Given the changes, there will be a steady stream of visitors, not just when the weather’s nice,” Rec and Park spokeswoman Sarah Ballard said.

Operators and employees of the existing boathouse are disappointed by the decision. They said the overhaul, repainting and $230,000 renovation is the wrong move for the peaceful spot by the lake, which is nestled between John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. drives.

“I understand The City’s need for more money,” said general manager Jeff Fones, who has served boathouse regulars for the past 15 years.

He said people come to the area to appreciate the basics — pink popcorn and maybe a rowboat — and that the renovations are a bad idea.

“Not here,” Fones said. “It’s just not big enough to accommodate the kind of volume they’re going to bring in here. We already have issues of parking.”

The Recreation and Park Commission approved the new ownership with the changes in mind and is scheduled vote on the proposed changes Thursday.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

Changes afoot

New floor plan:

Concession window

Coffeehouse nook

Indoor seating area

Gift shop

Meal prices: $4.50 to $8.95

Lease: 15 years with five-year option

Minimum rent: $140,000 per year

33% of boat rental revenue

10% of food and beverage revenue

7.5% of merchandise revenue

Source: Recreation and Park Department

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