OSWEGO — Port City officials moved forward with a plan to oust the Oswego Yacht Club from the International Pier this week as part of a wider strategy to revamp the underutilized parcel.
The city Administrative Services Committee approved a measure that would terminate the city’s lease agreement with the Oswego Yacht Club (OYC) and free up the only structure on the city-owned International Pier for an alternative use. Several OYC members presented their case Monday to remain in the building, arguing the club has much to offer to the Oswego waterfront and suggesting the city may not have legal justification for breaking the lease, but the measure was passed on to the full Oswego Common Council for a vote next week.
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said the lease termination is connected to the city’s multi-million dollar redevelopment of the International Pier, Wright’s Landing Marina and Breitbeck Park. Port City officials secured more than $12 million — of which more than $6.5 million is earmarked for the International Pier where the OYC building is located — through the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI) and additional funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address flood damage.
The International Pier redevelopment is aimed at transforming the gravel-covered parcel into a “pedestrian-oriented boardwalk,” according to Barlow, with a yet to be decided attraction on the northern end of the jetty.
“If you look at other communities that have a pier that reaches out into a body of water it’s the most coveted piece of real estate in the community,” Barlow said. “Of course, here in Oswego it’s a bit backward. It’s been widely viewed as a private pier for many, many years. It’s a gravel driveway, at best, out to a dead end and it’s been totally underutilized.”
OYC Commodore Phil McBrearty told councilors the organization does “not believe there is legal justification for termination of the lease,” and noted the community organization’s presence is a benefit to both the waterfront and the city.
“We certainly can’t think of a better use of the waterfront than what the mayor has in mind, but we could and should be a part of that,” McBrearty said, adding OYC and the city have a legal, binding contract.
The OYC was first formed in the late 19th century, officials said, and was resurrected in 1983 as a volunteer organization. The club first moved to the International Pier in the early 2000s following the closure of a bar that occupied the structure.
When OYC first occupied the International Pier, the Port Authority of Oswego owned the area. The city, however, bought the property in 2012, and took over the lease with OYC. Over the years, OYC has paid between $6,000 and $7,000 per year for use of a portion of the building.
OYC members noted the club offers sailing lessons, acts as an institution of boating and Lake Ontario knowledge, and organizes races and other events that draw people to the water, among other community benefits.
Tom Doran, one of several OYC members who addressed councilors Monday, said “it would be just crazy for this waterfront not to include a yacht club.” Doran noted the pier is 90,000 square feet and OYC leases about 600 square feet from the city.
“There’s plenty of room for the public out there,” Doran said, and urged councilors to consider the extensive footprint of the pier before voting on the measure.
Barlow said OYC does lease 600 feet, but the organization’s presence on the International Pier has led to the area being portrayed as private. Barlow said “there’s no way that building can be a private club as we try to get people, boaters of all types,” out to the pier.
Ousting OYC from the building is necessary to accomplish the goals of the project, Barlow says, noting the pier needs the building to be “a destination that pulls people out to the end of that pier” and an “economic generator.”
“The private nature of the yacht club and the use of the building right now is not conducive or complementary to our goals and what we want to do,” Barlow said, adding it’s “appropriate” to terminate the lease. “We need that building to be an attraction, a destination, and not — perception or otherwise — a private club.”
Barlow called the move to terminate the lease “a last resort,” saying discussions with OYC members over the last year-plus to come to an agreement regarding the use of the pier and building have not been productive.
“I’ve been trying to talk to the yacht club members for 14 months and getting nowhere,” the mayor said, adding the conversations were never constructive and trying to compromise with the organization has been a battle. “There’s no hidden agenda here. The agenda is to get people to the waterfront, to capitalize on our world-class waterfront, which the city in my opinion has never done, and I think that pier is a critical component.”
Without the current structure, McBrearty previously said members would work to continue their mission, which includes providing training to prospective sailors, in addition to hosting annual events and offering decades of experience and nautical knowledge with local boaters and visitors. He said the organization’s overarching goal is to bring more people to boating and the city’s waterfront.
“If we’re not on the pier I think that messaging and the ability to share it will be diminished,” McBrearty said.
Common Council President Robert Corradino, R-7th Ward, noted Monday that despite the city Administrative Services Committee vote, there could be time for compromise prior to next weeks’ council meeting, during which the final decision is expected be made.
The lease termination, if enacted, would be effective Sept. 8, according to Barlow. City officials said there are plans to extend an offer for OYC to move back into the Roy C. McCrobie Building, which is where the club existed prior to the current location on the pier.
Demolition work and construction on the International Pier is scheduled to start after Labor Day, with heavy construction occurring throughout 2021.