The future of Philadelphia's place as a center of rowing in the United States has been pulled up from the muck.
After an extended funding campaign led by Philadelphia and the rowing community to raise the $4.5 million estimated cost needed to dredge the Schuylkill River along Boathouse Row and the race course, the Army Corps of Engineers has been green-lighted to open bidding on the project, based on a city commitment to fully fund any shortfall that remains.
As of yesterday, the project is $50,000 short, and officials are not sure if the project cost will increase after the bidding is completed, but based on the backing of the city, the bidding process has begun, and work could start this summer.
The city's commitment was made public today during a press conference attended by Mayor Jim Kenney and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell. The announcement made formal the commitment made over a week ago to the group that has been spearheading the effort to raise the necessary money needed to do the work.
"Things are progressing," Paul Laskow, chairman of the Schuylkill Navy River Restoration Committee told row2k last week. "The Army Corp of Engineers is plugging away. They're hitting the milestones that will allow them to solicit bids in mid-May, receive bids in mid to late June, and hopefully they will have a notice to proceed in mid-July with work commencing in late August."
Laskow said that while there remained a gap in the $4.5 million project cost, the city last week guaranteed the project would be fully paid for. "They have written the letter to the Army Corp of Engineers saying they are going to make arrangements," Laskow said.
The city commitment ends concern that the river, long a center of the rowing world and rich in history and tradition would fall victim to more than 20-years of silt buildup on about 3.5 miles of the river bed.
While the river has needed dredging before to rid it of the continual silt buildup, it was previously funded with federal money allocated to the Army Corps of Engineers. However, this time the use of the river was deemed to be completely recreational, which eliminated the availability of federal funding.
The lack of federal money resulted in a critical funding effort led by the city and the Schuylkill Navy, which oversees the use of the river by the clubs and organizations that use the river for rowing and hosting regattas.
The money was not easy to come by, but the final number of contributors totaled 25 and included the city, state, the seven universities that compete on the river, and the Schuylkill Navy.
Still, with an end of April deadline looming to get the project into the bidding process - and $400,000 still unfunded - the Schuylkill Navy began a private funding donation project that immediately raised almost $75,000 in the first week. That was followed by a city decision to back the full funding to get the bidding process moving.
The private contribution campaign had an initial April 30 deadline, but that the donation link will most likely remain open through the spring racing season.
"We are within $50,000 of having raised the full $4.5 million," Laskow said. "But I can't emphasize enough that we don't know what the actual cost of the project will be until the bids are opened at the end of June. It is our intention to continue to accept donations until that time."
Click here for the Schuylkill Navy donation link.