Boathouse design in Mystic panned by social media critics

“What the hell is that?

“This is a seriously ugly building.”

“Way too contemporary for a quaint New England village.”

Those were just some of the more than 200 comments posted on and the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page after the unveiling of the design for the $2.5 million boathouse at the Mystic River Boathouse Park last week.

While those at the forum where the design was unveiled Thursday applauded the building, posters on social media almost unanimously panned the design, which was in part intended to pay homage to the former Rossie Velvet Mill across Route 27 and reflect a computer modeling of the elaborate stroke patterns of rowers.

The overwhelming reaction caught the private group raising money to build the boathouse partly by surprise, and group spokesman Mike O'Neill said it will hold another forum to explain the design and the reasons behind it to more people.

“We’ll do another forum. We want this to be a community building. We want people to be excited about it in a good way,” said O’Neill, who is the director of rowing for the Friends of Stonington Crew and vice chairman of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee.

He said the design was a conceptual drawing and the group was open to changing it.

“If we come out of the next meeting and it’s too controversial, we’ll change it and look at another option,” he said.

“We wanted to get public input. We would have hoped it was more positive but we’re not totally surprised. It’s a very difficult street. Everyone cares about this road. We care about this road,” he said about busy Route 27, which has been called the gateway into Mystic.

First Selectman Rob Simmons, who has spearheaded the park project from the beginning and chairs the Mystic River Boathouse Committee, said he was "not surprised by the reaction from people on social media who did not take the time to attend the meeting” and listen to the presentation.

He pointed out that those who did take the two hours to come out and listen to Alex Anmahian, whose Boston architectural firm of Anmahian Winton designed the boathouse, explain it, had positive things to say.

Two years ago, Stonington residents approved $2.2 million in bonding to create the park with public access to the Mystic River. A private group of rowing supporters is raising money to construct a boathouse which will be home to the 90-member Stonington High School crew team and the Stonington Community Rowing Center which will be open to the public as well. The design for the 1.5-acre park just north of Mystic Seaport Museum, created by Kent + Frost of Mystic, was also unveiled last week and calls for docks, a large lawn and a boardwalk.

The two-story boathouse would be constructed of weathered metal with a elaborate skin that will be open in some areas and let light through. Plans call for a large bay on the first floor to accommodate rowing shells and public bathrooms. The second floor, which will be accessed by an elevator, will have a training area with indoor rowing machines and weights, lockers, coaches' offices and a balcony to view regattas.

O’Neill explained a number of factors figured in the design of the boathouse.

First, he said it needs to be long and narrow to accommodate the rowing shells. With a second floor to accommodate indoor training for the high school team, the building had to meet flood zone requirements and height restrictions, which meant it could only have a flat roof. And in an effort to preserve as much of the site for the taxpayer-funded public park, the building was placed along Route 27.

He said moving it closer to the road generated the thought process of reflecting the industrial feel of the mill.

Anmahian said at the forum that his firm looked at the historic buildings in the recreated Mystic Seaport village and shipyard but felt that copying them would have been “disingenuous.”

O’Neill said Anmahian Winton studied the character and history of Mystic for ideas about design elements while incorporating the needs of rowing program and the park.

As for an early colonial design with a pitched roof that the committee showed last year as an example of what the boathouse could look like, O’Neill said he drew up that sketch before the land constraints were figured in.

John Thornell, a board member of Friends of Stonington Crew, said more education about the building is needed.

“We want to be open and transparent. We can’t make everyone happy, but our goal is to make most of the people happy with it,” he said.


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