Old Dominion Boat Club weighs land swap deal with City Hall

Old Dominion Boat Club weighs land swap deal with City Hall

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

The tentative land swap deal struck between City Hall and the Old Dominion Boat Club hinges on the approval of the social group’s membership.

The deal, which has been negotiated off and on for years, calls for the boat club to trade its waterfront clubhouse and parking lot for the nearby city-owned Beachcomber building and $5 million. The two parties will essentially swap the deeds of their respective properties by year’s end, after which the club would stay in its building, rent free, until a new clubhouse is built at the Beachcomber site at the foot of Prince Street.

But club members have to agree to the deal first, with a vote scheduled for July 19 through 21.

While city councilors may have celebrated the news of the likely deal earlier this year with thoughts of public plazas and pizza parties dancing in their heads, club members had a more mixed reaction.

Former city councilor and boat club member Frank Fannon said they will probably approve the deal, but many remain upset by City Hall’s tactics leading up to the vote, including threatening the use of eminent domain to force the organization’s leadership to the negotiating table.

“It’s basically a formality that the majority of members will vote to accept the contract,” Fannon said. “But they weren’t real negotiations because the contract was written under the continued threat of eminent domain and city council carrying a heavy hand: Take our deal or we’ll take your property.”

Fannon cited the differences in the size of the properties — 41,000 square feet of space at the boat club’s current building versus 18,000 square feet at the Beachcomber — as well as the prospect of taxpayers picking up the $5 million tab as potential sticking points.

Richard Banchoff, president of the club, is more optimistic.

“We’ll see what happens, but there was a lot of sentiment in favor of it back in March [during the latest round of negotiations], and that was before the agreement was finalized,” he said. “I’ll say I’m hopeful the membership will approve it.”

Banchoff said city staff worked hand in hand with the club’s architect, engineers and legal team to make sure the group’s plans for its new location are amenable to the city and ready for a fast track to construction.

“At this point the city already has a pretty good idea of what we’d like to build and have been very supportive of what we’ve shown them so far,” he said. “I think at this point there is every reason to believe that we should be able to get this thing done and built within the next two and a half to three years.”

But other boat club members don’t see it as a done deal. Townsend “Van” Van Fleet, who pledged to vote against the contract, believes the plans for a new clubhouse likely will cost nearly all of the $5 million the group will get from City Hall, leaving no money for new piers or parking lot improvements.

“So if you want to do any of those [other projects], somebody’s going to have to fund those, and that would be the members,” Van Fleet said. “[And] the fact is that’s the projected cost, and the city itself has never brought a program in on cost and on schedule, because it just doesn’t happen that way. … There are always engineering changes that occur during construction and that’s going to up the costs even further.”

Fannon said boat club leadership needs two-thirds of members to vote in favor of the deal to be able to sign the contract. Van Fleet said based on conversations with fellow members, the results will be a lot closer than the club’s leadership thinks.

“A lot of other people are more concerned about the deal now than when it was first proposed, that is to say they think this is not a good deal for anybody,” he said. “I think it’ll be a lot closer than [the original vote in March].”

Banchoff shied away from saying he needs a firm two-thirds majority to move ahead with the land swap.

“Let’s just say that’s the safest way of doing it,” he said.