“We have been working diligently with the state of Michigan and the DNR to bring this lease to fruition and open the Belle Isle Boat House to the public,” says Julie Dinan, president of Friends of Detroit Rowing. “The state has been a very dedicated partner in the process, and we look forward to renting the facility for weddings, public events, corporate gatherings, and private parties.”
The organization’s goal is to open the boat club by the end of the year. However, the timing is dependent on raising the money and completing mechanical and electrical upgrades. So far, Friends of Detroit Rowing have already invested more than $300,000 in improvements and maintenance.
The Detroit Boat Club opened in 1902, and is on the north side of Belle Isle east of the MacArthur Bridge. It was one of the most successful boat clubs of its kind in the country at its apex. However, the club closed in 1996 following tough economic times.
Despite the facility’s closure, Friends of Detroit have continued to offer classes and programs at the club. “We have many high school students take our rowing classes and then get a full-ride scholarship to a college or university,” Dinan says. “I can’t imagine where those students would be if they hadn’t been offered a four-year scholarship. That is one of the most gratifying activities we do.”
Friends of Detroit has about 250 members, and the organization always welcomes people interested in joining. Membership is open to the public for a $75 annual fee. The organization is steeped in Detroit history. It celebrated its 175th anniversary last year.
As the plans for the Detroit Boat Club’s renovation continue, Friends of Detroit Rowing plans to apply for grants to help with the costs and to offer facility rentals at a later stage.