UPPER WEST SIDE — Local leaders who think the restaurant at the Central Park Boathouse is too expensive and feels like a “gated community” want the next venue there to be more affordable when the current operator’s lease ends.
The license for operating the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park doesn’t expire until July 2016, but local community board members are already demanding the next concessionaire lower its price point to appeal to a wider audience.
The Parks Department will likely issue a new Request for Proposals for a 15-year license this June, but Community Board 7 members had the chance to weigh in on how the RFP is crafted Monday night.
Currently, the boathouse is a destination location that feels like a “gated community without gates,” CB7 Parks Committee member Meisha Hunter told Alexander Han, the deputy director for Parks Concessions.
After unsuccessfully lobbying for Central Park’s Tavern on the Green to become more affordable, board members were eager for the boathouse to play that role in its next iteration.
“I’ve never even had a thought to try to enter the restaurant,” Hunter said. “Every time I pass by it looks like there’s some sort of fancy event.”
Committee chairwoman Klari Neuwelt agreed that the concession does not feel welcoming to those who aren’t out for a special occasion.
“You now have two concessions in Central Park where a meat main dish — and I’m not talking about steak — is going to be $35,” she said.
This came as a surprise to Han.
“Our impression is that there is a wide range [of price points]. But we want to take a second look,” he said. “We expect [a concession] to be high quality, not necessarily expensive.”
Members also took issue with the fact that current boathouse proprietor Dean Poll is operating a nonstop shuttle van on weekends and weekday evenings to pick up customers along Fifth Avenue. The board has recently been pushing to make the park car-free.
The shuttle “just keeps doing it whether or not anyone is riding in it,” Han acknowledged.
Members who deemed that approach as wasteful pushed the Parks Department to require a greener vehicle for those trips, which typically take about 20 minutes each way.
“If there’s going to be a van in the new concession, wouldn’t it be great to move towards a non gas-powered car?” asked CB7 member Mark Diller.
An electric-powered trolley, which members said would attract riders because it becomes an “experience,” is the “lesser evil” compared to private cars or cabs making drop-offs in the park, Neuwelt added.
While the Parks Department can’t require applicants to use electric trolleys, if they suggest an environmentally friendly feature like that in their proposal, they would earn extra points over other applicants, Han noted.
Han wouldn’t say whether he thought the current owner would remain or a new restaurateur would move in. Regardless, members were adamant that the public bathrooms attached to the boathouse needed an overhaul, to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars.
“Those bathrooms are pretty depressing,” Neuwelt said. “They really are pretty ratty.”
Han wouldn’t say whether the bathrooms request would definitely make it into the RFP, but he noted that the next concessionaire would have to replace the docks in front of the boathouse, a major expense.
The committee decided not to pass any formal resolutions with their requests for the boathouse, but hoped the Parks Department would keep them in mind when drafting its RFP.
Board 7 will have a chance to review a draft of the contract over a two-week period before it is officially signed next summer, Han noted.
The current proprietor did not immediately return request for comment.
By Emily Frost on February 24, 2015 4:16pm