Stow Lake set for upgrade

SF State student Ivan Gao, 20, prepares for the day by taking out the rental boats at the Stow Lake Boat and Bike Rentals shop in the Golden Gate Park on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011. Sandy Ha / staff photographer

The tranquil waters of the Golden Gate Park landmark Stow Lake will undergo changes after a new concession lease for its neighboring boathouse goes into effect in mid-March.

New tables, a new fleet of boats, and a change from a food stand to a small restaurant that serves locally-grown and sustainably produced options are all on the slate of upgrades included in the approved bid by New Mexico-based Ortega Family Enterprises.

“We are going to get a whole new fleet of boats that are environmental, electrical and get rid of the gasoline boats,” said Tanya Ortega, a representative of the new leaseholder.

The process for choosing a new concession provider, resulting in the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors’ unanimous approval of OFE’s bid, was met with some resistance from community members concerned about commercializing the area surrounding the destination. The property, originally built in 1893, is currently used to serve visitors with boat rentals and food sales.

“It was meant to be a place of respite and an escape away from urban life,” said Save Stow Lake Foundation organizer Sandy Weil. “You can keep it very quaint, and a working boathouse, plus make the improvements.”

Ortega also says she wants to keep the community in mind.

“We’re sourcing everything as local as we possibly can,” she said. “It’s important price-point wise that we’re not gouging anybody, but still getting organic, local sources cooked on sight with as little environmental impact as possible.”

However, Weil said that the improvements will cause the boathouse to take a turn for the worse.

“Our opinion is that the community that frequents the boathouse does not want this change,” Weil said. “It will be turned into a café gift store, and the upstairs will not be a historic boathouse anymore.”

Several supervisors, however, voiced their pleasure with the choice.

“I think the city has found a great concessionaire in the Ortega Family Enterprises,” said District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar. “They are a partner that’s willing and capable of preserving the boathouse so that future generations of San Franciscans can enjoy the simple pleasures of a boat ride around the lake and the wildlife and beauty of the area as well.”

Mar said he particularly liked what OFE has done to the menu at their other concession in Muir Woods.

“While most national park concession features junk food and candy, the Muir woods concession stand has fresh sandwiches and soups made from local ingredients,” he said. “I also look forward to enjoying their healthy menu items featuring local sustainable sourced food at Stow Lake.”

Some longtime visitors to the lake were also concerned about the development and its long-term goals.

“I’d like to see them keep it nice and simple,” said Jack Dunne, 71. “I sure hope it doesn’t turn into Pier 39.”

Dunne said that going to Stow Lake has been a family tradition for many years. His wife Fran said she dislikes that the city offered up the lease to commercial buyers.

“It’s lousy because the original owners have had it for over 60 years,” she said.

Ortega said she can understand the community’s concern and has intentions to keep Stow Lake historic.

“I can understand people who are protective and proud,” Ortega said. “We want to renovate it historically and really put some care into it. It’s kind of the heart of Golden Gate Park. It’s a wonderful place. We pay homage to the traditional use of the room. Everything we do is dependent on getting it permitted.”

She continued to say that OFE doesn’t have intentions of turning the area into a mini-mall.

“We proposed six tables,” Ortega said. “We basically want to create a community space so people can come and meet and conduct small business, community affairs. The number of seats we proposed was 32.”

Nick Kinsey, assistant director of property and concessions management for SF Recreation and Parks, said that there is oversight on the development throughout the process.

“The department always works with each of its concessionaries to make sure each of the parkscape and wildlife are protected,” Kinsey said.

Despite its unanimous approval of the lease as it was presented, the Board still used their Feb. 1 meeting to point out some things that they would like to see implemented as development moves forward.

District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi voiced concern over the lack of water and electricity meters at the boathouse and voiced the need for a recycling program to be established in Golden Gate Park.

“I would ask that when the capital work is being done at Stow Lake, that they meter the facility,” Mirkarimi said. “If in fact we are insisting municipal government do its best to green the city, then I would ask that we know how much we are using.”

Kinsey said they could install a meter that can monitor the electricity and water usage at the site.

“We want to make them as energy efficient as possible,” he said. “As we develop capital plans for this project, we would develop these efficiency goals,”

Any capital improvement plans would require the approval of the Recreation and Parks commission, according to Kinsey.

Several supervisors also raised questions about the minimum annual guarantee – the amount of revenue guaranteed to the city from the proposal – which was not included in the bid.

Kinsey explained that the guarantee was less of a priority than the number of improvements the bidders offered, and OFE offered $250,000 in improvements.

Dunne, despite his reservations about the future of the lake, does see how these upgrades could be a good thing.

“The boats are pretty beat up, so I could see them getting new ones,” he said.

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