Staff Members Set The Standard

By James W. Frazitta

The history of the Burlington Waterfront in Vermont dates to the early 1800s, but the Burlington Community Boathouse was built in 1988. Currently, it acts as the gateway from Lake Champlain to the historic downtown and Church Street, and is a main contributor in the ever-growing world of the city’s waterfront.

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The boating community is heavily intertwined with the city; the waterfront-operations staff members are responsible for maintaining not only the relationship between residents but also visitors from other states and Canada.

The Lay Of The Land
One vital aspect of the operation is the on-site facilities. Seasonal and transient boaters have the advantage of a 105-slip marina, while 107 seasonal boaters utilize the Perkins Pier Marina and the 51 transient mooring field, which the availability of on-site amenities crucial. A designated Service Dock provides pump-out services as well as water for all boaters.

On the south side of the boathouse a men’s restroom has two urinals, two stalls, and two shower stations, and a women’s restroom consists of two stalls and two shower stations; both are blocked off and held strictly for the use of boaters. Additional restrooms located on the north side of the boathouse are used by boaters and the vast number of public guests who visit daily. Meanwhile, eight hourly slips are designed to maintain constant turnover for local boaters who want to take a stroll into the city for a few hours or even grab lunch at the on-site restaurant. 

The restaurant in the boathouse is one of only two waterfront dining options throughout the city and is a major attraction for sunset viewing. It offers a full-service bar, outside seating on the main-dock platform, an upstairs space reserved for private events, and a to-go café inside and on the main floor. It is privately owned, but both the boathouse and restaurant operations run cohesively and are bound by contract. This restaurant presents the boathouse as an attraction beyond the boating industry and touches all aspects of the local and tourist communities. In addition, both parties work diligently to uphold the growing standards of composting.

A Park Connection
The boathouse is fully integrated with the natural surroundings. Waterfront Park is located north of the boathouse, and the two are connected by the famous City Boardwalk. The boardwalk overlooks the northern docking system as well as the Burlington Harbor and the New York Adirondack Mountain ranges across Lake Champlain. Waterfront Park plays host to events such as Kid’s Day, the Vermont City Marathon, the July 3rd Festival, the Maritime Museum Festival, the Vermont Brewer’s Festival, the Dragonheart Festival, and the Grand Point North Festival.

Passive recreation is equally important to park areas as well as organized events. To facilitate the general use of surrounding park areas, the city strives to maintain quality infrastructure to support healthy habits. Guests will find sunscreen-dispenser stations, automated recycling and refuse-containment systems, and free exercise equipment on the Greenway Path. Swinging benches line the boardwalk to facilitate relaxation and appreciation of the views. The Greenway Path also connects the boathouse with the local skate park, community dog park, and North Beach and Campground. This path integrates operations with the local community and other forms of tourism. The ability to travel throughout the park by foot or bicycle is something the city takes great pride in. Free transportation is also provided to downtown areas and the University of Vermont via College Street and is conveniently located next to the marina.

The Glue That Holds It All Together
All of this is run and operated by staff members, who are the most important aspect of the boathouse. Waterfront operations are managed by three full-time employees and up to 30 seasonal employees. Operations run 24/7 from May 15 through October 15. Staff members are divided between day staff and overnight security staff, which ensure the protection of customers as well as assets. With the boathouse being the key waterfront location within the city, on-water experience is vital to staff members, but with the overall scope in mind, other characteristics must be considered in the search for good employees.

With the application and interviewing process, the focus is on customer-service skills, work ethic, ambition, a willingness to get dirty, and the ability to complete multiple tasks in a fast-paced environment. Among the duties of staff members are proper vessel dockage, bathroom cleanup and stocking, handling reservations, trash pick-up, bilingual communication (predominantly French for guests from Quebec), security rounds, event set-up, and landscaping, to name a few. The ability to understand that no applicant will cover every area of experience is the first step to building a quality staff. There is an art to choosing applicants who have the desire to obtain knowledge and retain it throughout the season. Furthermore, it is paramount to find a balance between returning staff members and new staff members. To do this, recognizing which applicants have the potential to be long-term employees and which ones appreciate the overall goals and message is the key.

In addition to the boathouse staff, maintenance staff members have the responsibilities of dock removal and installation, as well as mooring-field installations and repairs. The maintenance crew is the glue to operations, and developing a relationship between them and the boathouse staff is crucial to keeping that glue intact. The program promotes the ability to communicate, record, and track any maintenance-related issues that arise so the crew can repair problems in a timely manner. Keeping showers running and restrooms clean is one way to show boaters and public customers how important they are.

Despite the variety of responsibilities for staff members, the number-one priority is the people. In order to serve guests and residents best, it is crucial to understand their short- and long-term needs. We serve the public, first and foremost, which means anyone is welcome to approach staff members, call, email, or even send written letters. Whatever is most convenient for guests is what works best for us, and the ability to be flexible in that regard is what allows us to affect such a wide range of people in what looks like a simple two-story building on a floating barge!

James W. Frazitta is the Marina Manager and Deputy Harbormaster for the city of Burlington in Vermont. Reach him at JFrazitta@burlingtonvt.gov.