The Dolphin Yacht Club (DYC) has operated out of a refurbished house at the Port of Camas-Washougal’s Waterfront Park since the 1950s.
The yacht club’s members would like to continue to hold their events there for decades to come, but know they will be challenged to do so after a recent decision by Port of Camas-Washougal commissioners that could significantly alter the club’s financial reality.
In late October, Port commissioners approved a new lease with the DYC, a nonprofit that operates as a membership boat club, which will effectively quadruple the yacht club’s rent by late 2024.
“As part of all of our leases, we look at higher and better uses for our property, if there are any,” Derek Jaeger, the Port’s director of businesses and real estate, told Port commissioners at their Oct. 26 meeting. “We noticed that their current rate ($415.24 per month) was significantly under what we could be charging for that property.”
Eric Buller, a DYC member and outgoing Commodore, told The Post-Record that Port officials told the DYC in 2022, to stop subleasing the clubhouse to non-members, a practice the club had been doing for many years.
“Last year, apparently, the Port was made aware of the fact that we were doing rentals, and they brought it to our attention,” Buller said. “I don’t know if the old Commodore and the old bridge crew knew anything about it, but apparently the lease that we had stated that we were not allowed to do that. It was something that had been done for decades, and I don’t think anybody gave it a second thought until it was brought up. We started negotiations in November of last year to get the rights to go ahead and start renting the building again.”
Those negotiations led to the completion of a lease that includes a three-year term with two one-year options, and an allowance for either party to terminate the agreement with six months notice. The DYC will pay the Port $1,500 per month from November 2023 to May 2024, and $2,000 per month starting in November 2024.
“Because we approached them to be able to rent the building, it was made clear at the very beginning that they didn’t feel that we were paying enough, so at least we had an inkling that there was going to be a change regardless, whether we wanted it or not,” Buller said. “Obviously, $415 is really cheap. But we’re also responsible for all the maintenance on the building. We don’t own any of it (the property), but we’re responsible for all of it. I guess in years past it was just kind of assumed that we would just be there forever.”
Still, Buller said, the yacht club leaders were surprised by the scale of the rent increase.
“We were hoping for maybe a little bit more of a, ‘OK, we’re at $415, let’s double it, let’s work something out’ (scenario), but it was a shock to find out that they wanted to go from ($415) to $2,000 a month without us having done any rentals (in the past year), without having been able to raise our membership rates, without any discussion with the membership. It was, ‘Here’s what it’s going to be. Accept it or move out.’ If we don’t rent the building at all, and we don’t do any special events to raise any money, we will run out of money at exactly this time next year.”
The lease does include a clause that allows the DYC to rent its clubhouse to non-members for events.
“It’s our way of trying to work with them to establish something new that allows them to generate some additional revenue,” Jaeger said.
The clubhouse has “rental space available for up to 75 people, and features a large dining room, a spacious deck with sweeping views of the Port of Camas-Washougal and the Columbia River, a fully stocked kitchen, and a nautical-themed bar,” according to the DYC’s Facebook page.
“Mostly the location (is the main attraction),” Buller said. “The view from the building, overlooking the river and (Parker’s Landing) Marina, is absolutely gorgeous. Obviously, parking is easy. It can hold up to 75 people. It’s got a full kitchen with two stoves and a microwave, so you can cook your own food or cater in. It’s got two bathrooms and an ice machine. It’s got a nautical-themed bar. It’s a nice, comfortable space. And the charm of the building (is another selling point). You couldn’t build a building like that now. It’s got a certain charm to it, and we’re working on making it nicer.”
Buller said he is optimistic that rental revenues will allow the DYC to afford its payments to the Port.
“We’ve had members working on marketing and advertising,” he said. “We’re on Facebook now, and we’re redoing our website. I have an email set up for just rentals. We’re getting a couple of banners made, and obviously speaking to (the media to) get the word out. It’s all voluntary, so it takes a little bit of time. I’ve probably gotten, I would say, 12 to 14 inquiries in the last three weeks, which is pretty good, and we’ve booked two. It’s a start.”
Buller acknowledged that club leaders have discussed the possibility of raising membership dues (it raised its yearly dues to $300 per family in 2023, up from $275 in previous years), but also hope to create additional revenue streams as well.
“It’s meant to be a family friendly, not exclusive, type of organization,” said Buller, adding that the DYC membership roster currently includes between 35 to 40 families. “We make good money off of special events — Opening Day, Closing Day. We make good money when the Christmas Ships Parade comes through; traditionally, we cook the captains and the crews dinner (before) they go back down (to the river) and hop on their boats. We (hosted a Super Bowl party) last year, and that was tremendously successful. We’ve also talked about the idea of holding an ‘open house’ for boating, and make it kind of a community outreach day.”
Port Commissioner Larry Keister expressed concerns about the lease and the Port’s continued relationship with the DYC.
“I do have reservations in regard to this lease due to the past maintenance and upkeep issues,” Keister said. “My concerns are about liability. I’m worried about the deck that was rebuilt — that needs to be inspected as to its load and its capacity to hold whatever weight we think is appropriate. A deck failure during parties is a huge liability for us.”
Jaeger responded that the six-month clause will allow the Port to potentially terminate the agreement if those concerns come to fruition.
“We will definitely stay on top of it,” Jaeger said. “This is a new venture, and we know that there’s going to be some potential challenges, but it’s something that we’ll definitely stay on top of as we try something new and different.”
Buller acknowledged that the DYC hasn’t maintained the building as well as it should have in past years, and is now “playing a lot of catch up.”
“Over the past summer, we redid most of the deck,” he said. “We’ve done some electrical (work) — nothing like running wires or anything like that, but just cleaning things up. We added high-speed Wi-Fi. We painted on the inside. As soon as we get a break in weather on a weekend and it’s not too cold, we’re planning on painting (the outside). We added new light fixtures. We re-sided two sides of the building that desperately needed it.
“But it’s also a 70-year-old building, so there’s only so much that we can do — and we don’t own it. The Port has made it clear that they are not in the business of maintaining their own buildings.”
Jaeger said the Port “started getting on (the DYC) about two years ago” about the condition of the building.
“I think the yacht club has admitted under past leadership, that they hadn’t (paid) as much attention to some of the things that they’ve been held accountable (for),” Jaeger said. “We’ve seen that with some of the parties that they were not allowed to have. We talked about terminating them earlier when they were having those parties that they weren’t supposed to be having, so they definitely feel (the pressure).”
Port Commissioners Cassi Marshall and John Spencer said the presence of the six-month termination clause made them feel better about approving the new lease with the yacht club.
“(The clause) is essential (due to the) maintenance concerns that Larry brought up and the past practices, or lack of practices, there,” Marshall said. “But also, it’s a new venture, and I think to protect all of the Port activities in terms of how it impacts parking, how it impacts our other marina tenants who aren’t DYC members, and our visiting public in general and garbage maintenance and all those things, it’s really good to give us that ‘test time’ to see if this venture, if them being able to rent it out as an event space, works with the rest of the Port activity. I mean, I wish them well, but in case it doesn’t work, I think that (clause is) really important.”
The DYC members, of course, hope that clause never has to come into play.
“We’d like to be here as long as we can,” Buller said. “In our discussions with the Port, it was made very clear that there’s nothing that’s not on the table. Really, the sky’s the limit, but I think right now, (it’s critical that we) build a relationship with them so that they — the Port Commission, especially — can start to see the benefits of the Dolphin Yacht Club being there for the community.”
“It’s going to come down, I think, to the Port deciding that we’re worth the time,” Buller said. “We’re not a McMenamins. We’re not one of these outfits that is attractive to these really, really high-rate, brand-new waterfront developments, so this would not be a scenario where if the going rate for the space was $6,000 a month that the Dolphin Yacht Club would be part of it, unless the Port decided that there was a need or desire to maintain a relationship with us.”
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