Gray skies might have welcomed the rowers from approximately 100 colleges and universities beginning competition Friday at the 81st Jefferson Dad Vail Regatta on the Schuylkill River, but Jim Hanna wore a smile that brightened the official welcome gathering.
“Going ahead with the river dredging, we can say the Dad Vail Regatta is here to stay in Philadelphia,” Hanna, the president of the regatta’s organizing committee for more than 20 years, said to a round of applause.
Mayor Jim Kenney and officials announced last week that a public-private partnership had raised $4.5 million to dredge the river beginning in the late summer. The news ended concerns that regattas such as the Dad Vail, an annual event here since 1952, would abandon the river because of silt buildup.
For the Dad Vail, which brings more than 3,000 contestants and their families to the city every year, generating millions of dollars to the local economy, the news was gratifying to regatta officials.
“We were sitting really on the edge of our seats,” Hanna said. “We were losing sleep.
“Everybody really was very, very concerned and stepped up. So it was a great endeavor. It’s wonderful to see this public-private partnership because you just don’t see it that often. In the end, Mayor Kenney said this is a very, very high-priority matter, so his voice carried us over the finish line.”
Kenney said Friday that soliciting funds “wasn’t a hard sell,” and that everyone understood the importance of keeping the Dad Vail and other regattas on the Schuylkill. He also didn’t think there was a threat that officials would run out of time to raise enough money.
“We never got to the point where [regattas] were going to move,” he said. “Obviously if we didn’t dredge it, they would go somewhere else, which we didn’t want to see. But I didn’t sense much urgency as far as them threatening to move. It wasn’t an adversarial situation. It was very cooperative.”
Paul Laskow, chair of the Schuylkill Navy River Restoration Committee, said dredging work could begin in mid-to-late August covering the area from Boathouse Row north to just below the Columbia Avenue railroad bridge. The job in that area must be completed by Nov. 1 for environmental reasons, he said.
Laskow said that after a break for the Head of Schuylkill and Navy Day regattas, dredging will begin on the 2,000-meter national racecourse.
Hanna is thrilled to see it happen.
“It’s iconic for Philadelphia,” he said. “It’s a jewel in the crown of the city, to have a national racecourse right in the middle of the city in a park, and Boathouse Row, it’s really an epicenter for rowing.”