An eighth lane could be added to the Oak Ridge rowing course by March, officials said Tuesday.
The work is made possible with help from a $40,000 state Tourism Enhancement Grant announced Tuesday by Randy Boyd, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Officials celebrated with a brief ceremony at Calhoun’s Event Center on Melton Lake Peninsula.
The eighth rowing lane has been on the city’s wish list for at least a decade, possibly longer.
Oak Ridge has received a $250,000 state grant for the proposed eighth lane. The city has planned to contribute $150,000, and Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson has solicited more money from other agencies that would benefit from the rowing course improvements, including in Anderson and Knox counties. That meant there was enough money available to fund a project of about $560,000, which is close to a targeted estimate that Watson gave Oak Ridge City Council members in March.
But since then, the city has received two bids, and the low bid was $1.74 million, which was “totally out of line with projected estimates,” Watson said in a June 8 memo to City Council.
On Tuesday, Watson said the project has a new design. The work should now be less intensive, and that should reduce the cost, Watson said. He said the previous low-cost design included pylons, which are expensive and require specialized contractors. The new design features a slope to a retaining wall, Watson said.
The project went out for bid on Tuesday, the same day the $40,000 grant was announced. It will still be subject to City Council approval.
Watson said other agencies that have agreed to contribute to the eighth rowing lane include:
- Oak Ridge Rowing Association—$25,000;
- Explore Oak Ridge (the former Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau)—$25,000;
- Tennessee Valley Authority—$20,000;
- Visit Knoxville—$15,000;
- Anderson County Tourism Council—$15,000; and
- Oak Ridge Economic Development Initiative, a partnership between the city and Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce—$25,000 in unused funds from last year.
The $40,000 in funding from Explore Oak Ridge and Anderson County Tourism Council matches the $40,000 state grant.
“This is almost covered,” Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said.
Officials, including Commissioner Boyd, gave credit to Stephanie Wells, executive director of the Anderson County Tourism Council, for putting together a “great package” in the grant application.
Twenty-nine of Tennessee’s 95 counties won a grant, Boyd said. Only one grant per county was allowed.
Wells said it’s the first time tourism grants can be used for infrastructure, as opposed to marketing.
She said all five cities in Anderson County agreed to use the state grant for the eighth rowing lane in Oak Ridge. The project was “ready to go and in the process,” Wells said.
Marc DeRose, executive director of Explore Oak Ridge, said there is about 300-500 feet of a peninsula on the western shore of the rowing course, along Melton Lake Drive, that will have to come out. That peninsula is in the first quarter of the 2,000-meter rowing course and visible from Calhoun’s.
Officials have said the eighth lane will allow the Oak Ridge Rowing Association to compete for bigger races and international regattas, and it will provide more on-water capacity.
The Anderson County Commission and Oak Ridge City Council both approved the grant application by the Anderson County Tourism Council, Tennessee Senator Randy McNally said.
Officials said it will have a regional impact.
“This will have a major impact on rowing,” Gooch said. “This is just going to be an outstanding investment.”
“We chose this project as one that will benefit the entire county,” Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank said.
The Oak Ridge Rowing Association hosts about five to seven rowing events per year, but that could go up to 10, DeRose said. There are about 800-3,000 competitors per event, with even more, up to about 3,500 participants and spectators, for USRowing events, DeRose said.
The Oak Ridge rowing course also hosts spring training for 30-45 teams, and up to 60, with about 50 people per team staying in the area for about a week, DeRose said.
Wells said there are 700 hotel rooms in Oak Ridge and 300 more in Anderson County (Clinton).
Officials said some of the rowers and spectators stay in west Knox County while competing or training in Oak Ridge.
“It will have a regional impact on tourism,” Wells said of addition of the eighth lane.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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