Ithaca, N.Y. — A few dozen people have packed a meeting at Ithaca’s City Hall Wednesday to voice their support of the Cascadilla Boat Club.

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The licensing agreement between the boat club and the Cascadilla Boathouse — which is owned by the city and crucial for the club’s functions — are up for renewal.

Ithaca Common Council member Cynthia Brock has questioned the tax status of the boat club and the safety of rowing. At least one parent of a rower raised similar concerns at City Hall Wednesday night as Brock’s.

However, an overwhelming majority of the night’s speakers — many wearing green rowing fleeces or green striped polos — spoke about the benefits of the approximately 100 year old club for both training and improving young people.

“CBC is an incredibly unique organization in that it provides value to youth,” said one rower from Horseheads.

Christopher Glaubitz, chair of the CBC, also spoke in favor of keeping the boat club’s existing status.

“What you have there in the park is a gem; it’s amazing; it’s something the city can be proud of,” he said.

Mayor, city attorney speak

In a good sign for the rowers, Mayor Svante Myrick expressed support for the licensing agreement.

“It has been suggested by some that we should not allow a private non-profit to operate the Cascadilla Boat Club,” Myrick said.

However, Myrick continued, the private non-profit has demonstrably done “well beyond what we could have done” had the boathouse instead been managed by the city.

“Making (young people) lifelong fans — not just of rowing and Cayuga Lake, but of Ithaca. If we were to not renew this lease … it would have required staffing it ourselves at a city expense — which we can hardly afford right now,” Myrick said.

“To me the question is: ‘What is the highest and the best use of the boathouse? How can we get the most people using it?’ … I came to the conclusion that continuing the Cascadilla Boat Club is the best use.”

After Myrick spoke, City Attorney Ari Lavine addressed the legal issues involved in the questions over the licensing agreement.

“This agreement does not tell the Cascadilla Boat Club they can do whatever they want,” Lavine said.

Lavine said that “there is no doubt” that the purposes and uses of the current arrangement are acceptable under New York law.

“Rowing clearly qualifies as a form of recreation, therefore qualifying as a parkland purpose,” Lavine said.

Lavine cited an appeals court ruling “hot off the presses” that he said affirmed this view.

“A whole chain of judicial decisions on this subject …have made clear that the question of public benefit is in the first instance a choice for the municipality to make,” Lavine said.

The opposition

A memo in January from Brock, the council member, questioned a lack of city oversight of the boat club, the safety of the sport and the legality of the club’s use of public space.

In that memo, she highlighted the connection between “city-owned, and state-funded, park property” for a “privately run, and independently operated non-profit.”

Brock said in the January memo that she believes the agreements between the city and boathouse “are in apparent violation of NY State regulations as municipal park lands.”

Brock spoke at the City Hall meeting Wednesday, citing this memo and saying that the boat club “appears to be inconsistent” with public use.

“Is the city allowed under New York State Law to enter into the lease agreement we are discussing now?,” she said.

Brock, noting that she is a life-long rower, again raised the issue of safety and said the city must have more oversight over the club.

“I think that is something that must be addressed in the license if we were to move forward,” Brock said.

“I have been very disturbed at the lack of willingness of the organization” in terms of safety, Brock said.

Additionally, parent Lori Sonken said that the club “misled parents about following US Rowing safety standards.”

Sonken said her son was bullied and kicked off the team. “As a parent, I had few places to turn to address the club’s bullying behavior against my son. If a private entity like the Cascadilla Boat Club operates in a city-owned park there should be a place and a process for people to air their grievances.”

Those ideas were opposed by almost all of the speakers — at least as of 6:40 p.m. — speaking at City Hall Wednesday.

“CBC makes the most of what they have and I sincerely hope you guys continue to give them what they’ve been accustomed to,” said Ryan McCune, a rower. “They’ve been a great service for this community.”

We’ll post an update once the meeting is over.

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.