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River boathouse operator loses bid for contract

Charles River Canoe and Kayak location on Comm Ave. in Newton on April 22, 2010.
Charles River Canoe and Kayak location on Comm Ave. in Newton on April 22, 2010.Jordan Hanley

For decades, Charles River Canoe and Kayak has been moored to the state’s historic boathouse in Newton, offering paddling classes and renting equipment to scores of area families and boaters. But change is ahead.

The company lost its permit to operate at the busy and high-profile location along the Charles River last month, when it was outbid by a Hopkinton business for the state contract.

The change of hands has surprised some Newton officials, and raised uncertainty about the transition just as the weather warms and the boathouse business picks up.

“I don’t know what happened, I’d like to know,” said Larry Smith, a Newton resident and owner of Charles River Canoe and Kayak. The company has been at the boathouse, on Commonwealth Avenue near the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 95, for 40 years. “We built it to what it is today.”


The five-year permit to operate out of the boathouse went instead to Boston Outdoor Recreation, an 11-year-old company run by Michael Aghajanian.

He said his company has not signed the contract with the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, and it is unclear when exactly the change of operators will occur. The new permit is supposed to start this summer.

“We’re very excited about this opportunity,” Aghajanian said. “And we will ensure that there is no impact to the public for services this summer and going forward.”

Aghajanian said he and Smith are working on a transition plan for the boathouse, including hiring some of the current staff.

“We are currently working with the previous operators and their staff to keep the continuity going, knowing their dedication to the legacy of the historic boathouse,” Aghajanian said in an e-mail.

The Newton boathouse is among several rowing and canoeing sites overseen by the state agency, which issued a request for bids covering 16 locations in February.


The minimum acceptable bid for the Commonwealth Avenue location was $5,000. Boston Outdoor Recreation won with a bid of $40,000 a year, or 3 percent of the gross revenue, and a promise to provide free programs for veterans and underprivileged children. The company also plans to make the dock area handicapped accessible, so someone with limited mobility can get into a kayak, Aghajanian said.

Boston Outdoor Recreation also won permits to operate at Hopkinton State Park, beaches in South Boston, and Lake Cochituate in Natick.

S.J. Port, a spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said the agency evaluated the proposals based on the variety of services and each company’s payments.

“We need to do what’s in the best interest of the taxpayer,” Port said.

Charles River Canoe and Kayak has been a good partner with the state, Port said.

“It’s a competitive bid process,” she said. “You’ve got to have a great bid. In a down economy the ability to run a business on state property is a good deal.”

The agency’s low-cost leases on public land, especially to yacht and boating clubs, have come under scrutiny in recent years as state lawmakers have looked at raising additional money from fees to bolster tight budgets. The state had leased some of its properties, such as the land for Harvard University’s Newell boathouse, for $1 a year.

Currently, Charles River Canoe and Kayak pays $5,000 a year to operate on state property in both Newton and Brighton, Smith said. The company has also made $30,000 in capital improvements at the locations, he added.


Smith declined to detail his latest proposal to rent the space in Newton, and state officials had not provided information about the losing bids by late last week.

Charles River Canoe and Kayak will continue to operate at the Brighton site on Soldiers Field Road, and also won the bid for a new site on Moody Street in Waltham. But both are smaller than the Newton boathouse property.

Smith, who also operates the Weston Ski Track and the Community Ice Skating rink at Kendall Square in Cambridge, said his company will continue to be financially successful, despite the loss of the Newton boathouse .

Bob Rooney, Newton’s chief operating officer, said there is not much that the city can do about the boathouse’s change of operators.

“We just appreciate having the recreation opportunity,” Rooney said.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@­globe.com.