Golden Gate Park's Stow Lake boathouse receives a new operator 

Amid growing tension about the future use of parkland, The City approved a 15-year deal with a private business to renovate Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake boathouse and operate a cafe inside.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted 11-0 to approve the lease agreement with New Mexico-based operator Ortega Family Enterprises. The vendor will provide a minimum annual rent of $160,000 to The City and invest $200,000 in renovations of the boathouse. Also, the company will buy a new fleet of boats.

Recreation and Park Department Director Phil Ginsburg has championed the deal.

“This renovation will remove Stow Lake boathouse from the department’s $1.7 billion ledger of deferred maintenance needs,” Ginsburg said at a board meeting last week.

As Rec and Park struggles financially, it is increasingly turning to commercial enterprises to generate revenue. But the trend has created sharp criticism from those who believe it violates the spirit of public open space.

In the case of Stow Lake, opponents of the deal objected to what they saw as the tarnishing of the area’s natural setting. Sandy Weil, a member of the community group Save the Stow Lake Boat House, complained that the lease did not preclude Wi-Fi, the serving of alcohol or artificial lighting at night.

“The goal of the park is to have a place of respite from urban life. That was the intent, to keep it a place of beauty, a place of nature,” Weil said. “What it’s turning into is the exact opposite.”

Weil said there are dozens of places to eat nearby on Ninth and Irving streets. “Why do we need another?” she said.

After the vote, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi — who has expressed concern about Rec and Park’s direction in the past — said turning to commercial ventures “seems to be [the department’s] new practice as a first-resort strategy.”

“What might seem palatable now can continue to escalate because the strategy has no border and no ceiling,” Mirkarimi said.

In fall, the department’s agreement with a coffee vendor to operate in Dolores Park generated such fierce opposition the operator backed out of the deal. The department is now looking to sign a deal with a restaurant to operate in the Lake Merced boathouse.

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