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Council navigates future of Navy League boathouse (6 photos)

'The more safety we can provide for the kids, the better their program is going to be and the more things we can do at a (new) location,' says Navy League branch president

City council is hoping to chart a course for the "forgotten corner" of Barrie's waterfront.

During budget talks this week at city hall, Mayor Jeff Lehman asked councillors to hold off on a Barrie Marina project until general committee has had a chance to consider how to move forward with the nearby Navy League/Sea Cadets boathouse site, which is located on Simcoe Street beside the Spirit Catcher parking lot.

As part of the "market precinct" study for the nearby bus terminal, the plan would assess the potential to redevelop the Navy League/Sea Cadets site for a one- or two-storey commercial building to be used by mariners and tourists.

"The building has served its useful life," Lehman said of the existing boathouse. "It does need to be replaced."

The mayor noted the building was sold back to the city by the nautical group for $1 a few years ago, although the organization still maintains a lease on the property, which includes a 60-by-40-foot, two-level boathouse. 

Located between Maple Avenue and Bayfield Street, the boathouse is used for repairs, storage, meetings and events as well a general gathering places for parades and movie nights. The long-standing local organization has about 130 members, including the Navy League, for kids aged nine to 12, and the Sea Cadets, for 13- to 18-year-olds.

The Navy League's vision is to build a new boathouse at the Southshore Centre. 

"The better the building, the bigger the program for the kids, and it's always all about the kids," said Diane Chislett, president of the Navy League Barrie Branch, which also oversees the Sea Cadets program. "The more safety we can provide for the kids, the better their program is going to be and the more things we can do at a location."

One of the biggest pitfalls to the current location is that it lies directly in the confluence of the city marina to the south, and the transient marina to the east, making it a high-traffic area on the water. 

"It's very, very busy," Chislett told BarrieToday. "We send our kids out in two-man sailboats, and some of them are very inexperienced, obviously. Right beside the transient marina is where the bigger boats come into, for the weekend or whatever, and it has caused several safety issues."

The current boathouse, which dates back to the late-1980s and was built for the club, also doesn't have amenities such as running water, so they can't serve food. There are also no toilets, which means on-site port-a-potties. 

Chislett said she has also spoken to other organizations that have expressed interest in using a new lakeshore building for their own activities, so she thinks the need is there. 

"It's a huge thing that would be great for a lot of youth," she said. "I've been at this for a while."

The Navy League boathouse discussion came out of talks surronding a new building at the nearby marina. 

The city's capital plan for 2019-2028 includes a trio of marina expenditures from the marina reserve fund, including $50,000 in 2019 and almost $600,000 in 2020 for a new welcome centre. The current building does not meet fire or electrical standards. There would also be $350,000 spent this year for dock replacement and $100,000 for the installation of public wifi, with some of the costs also being offset by an increase in marina fees.

Barrie Marina, which the city has maintained and operated since 1971, is fully self-funded and has a small annual operating surplus, according to a recent city staff report. Slips are almost exclusively leased by Barrie residents. 

Lehman asked councillors to hold off on the marina project until a decision is made on the Navy League site's future. Council still has to ratify the city budget, which is expected to happen at its next meeting Monday night, but a report would be expected back in the spring.

The mayor said he believes there's an opportunity for a private-public partnership at the Navy League boathouse site.

"Let's not build the new building (at the marina) until we get a chance to flesh out this opportunity," Lehman said. "If it goes nowhere in a few months' time, perhaps we can proceed with the project at a later date."

City staff is working on a plan for the area around the downtown transit terminal and the Navy League facility, which is kitty-corner to the bus station, could be worked into that study, he added.

"There's certainly a lot of interest in the site, but there's been no proposal or approach made to me or my office," Lehman said. "Certainly, though, the site has been the source of a lot of interest and speculation in the community."

The mayor suggested the Navy League site could be redeveloped through a land lease, with perhaps some of the marina facilities also being located at the redeveloped site. 

"It's merely an idea at this time ... but my thought was that we shouldn't proceed with a new marina building at least until we give this idea a look," said Lehman, who suggested the Navy League site could be an "ideal location" for a restaurant. 

However, Lehman said he doesn't want to see a building there that obstructs the waterfront, either.

"This would not be a large building," he added. "Rather, it could be a really great opportunity for a waterfront amenity run by a private-sector operator. What's there on that corner today, it's a little bit of a forgotten corner of the waterfront, because it's behind a barbed-wire fence. And the Sea Cadets don't want to be there.

"They (the Navy League) have been eagerly waiting the opportunity to work with the city on a boathouse, to move their great program away from the very busy marina and over to the Southshore," Lehman said. 

Chislett says she'd love to see the Navy League find a new port as soon as possible. 

"I would like to see it happen in the next five years, but it all depends on so many different factors," she said, adding the move has been on the organization's radar for many years. 

Council voted unanimously to hold off on a marina decision until there's more information on the Navy League site. 

For now, the Navy League/Sea Cadets will continue to go about its business under the status quo. 

"It's a fabulous program," Chislett said. "It's a free program, and we offer alot of things for our kids. Obviously, sailing is one of them. There's leadership for our Sea Cadets, who've gone on international exchanges.

"There's so much that they learn. We also have a fabulous band," she added, noting the organization also has one of the few "tri-service bands," which incorporates air and army cadets, and is on hand regularly for military events as well as Remembrance Day.

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Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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