UPDATED — State parks panel delays action on proposal to transfer Fort Worden to Port Townsend control

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — The state Parks and Recreation Commission delayed action Thursday on a proposed resolution that would give the Port Townsend Public Development Authority ownership and management of Fort Worden State Park as a lifelong learning center.

"That was a very recent proposal and the commission isn’t going to consider that today,” said State Parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter.

Instead, a public hearing on the proposal to transfer ownership and management of Fort Worden to the public development authority, or PDA, and possible action, is planned at the commission’s next meeting at 9 a.m. March 29, at Fort Worden State Park, Painter said.

PDA ownership would open financing avenues with banks and other partners that could help pay for the park’s continued operation, maintenance and management and offers greater financial incentives than a long-term lease, Dave Robison, PDA interim director, has said.

Robison and PDA board Chairwoman Cindy Hill Finnie attended the commission meeting Thursday in Tumwater.

A special Fort Worden PDA board meeting open to the public has been called for 8:30 a.m. today in Building 204 at Fort Worden State Park to discuss the proposal further.

Robison will talk about the Fort Worden PDA proposal at a Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at noon Monday at the Elks Lodge, 555 Otto St. in Port Townsend.

Under the proposal, Fort Worden would remain a park but would no longer be called a state park.

Painter earlier this week said if the PDA completes a business plan showing that it can successfully fund the park and if it agrees to certain deed restrictions and conditions as required by the commission, Fort Worden State Park could be transferred to the PDA to operate by July 1, 2013.

Robison said the PDA already has a detailed business plan in development.

A public development authority is an independent government entity, legally independent from the jurisdiction that created it — in this case, the city of Port Townsend.

Examples of PDAs in Washington state are the Pike Place Market and the Seattle Art Museum.

The Port Townsend PDA proposal was prompted by Kate Burke losing the job she has held since 2002 as manager of Fort Worden, Fort Townsend and the Rothschild House state parks.

Burke was displaced by a new director, Allison Alderman, a 21-year State Parks employee who “bumped” Burke because of her greater seniority after losing her job as region operations manager in the State Parks Northwest Region Office.

Robison said the PDA board would consider bringing Burke on board for her institutional knowledge.

He said Burke was instrumental in the eight-year process that led to establishment of the park as a lifelong learning center, which would provide outdoor space for recreational and educational opportunities and a variety of programs and classes.
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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com.

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HERE's OUR EARLIER STORY FROM TODAY (Feb. 9):

State parks panel today to consider transferring Fort Worden to Port Townsend control

PORT TOWNSEND — The state Parks and Recreation Commission will consider a resolution today that establishes the conditions in which it would be willing to transfer Fort Worden State Park to the city of Port Townsend-created Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority.

Should the commission approve the resolution, it would give the Port Townsend PDA ownership and management of the park, which PDA interim director Dave Robison said is the preferred option.

“The reason for that is it doesn't mix management and other responsibilities” to keep the park in operation, Robison said.

“It creates financing opportunities for the PDA.”

PDA ownership would open financing avenues with banks and other partners that could help pay for the park's continued operation and management and offer greater financial incentives than a long-term lease, he said.

“One of challenges that plague the Lifelong Learning Center is the ability to attract new partners and investors,” Robison said.

Robison and PDA board Chairwoman Cindy Hill Finnie will attend the commission meeting in Tumwater, where Robison said they would be available to answer questions as the resolution is considered.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the Labor and Industries Auditorium, 7273 Linderson Way S.W., and public comment will be heard.

“If the PDA completes a business plan showing that it can successfully fund the park and if it agrees to certain deed restrictions and conditions as required by the commission, Fort Worden State Park would be transferred to the PDA to operate by July 1 of 2013,” state parks commission spokeswoman Virginia Painter said in a statement Wednesday.

Robison said the PDA already has a detailed business planning process under way.

A special PDA board meeting open to the public has been called for 8:30 a.m. Friday in Building 204 at Fort Worden State Park.

“It gives the full board an opportunity to discuss the commission's actions on Thursday and to discuss next steps,” Robison said.

“It also gives us a chance to hear from the public.”

As part of the PDA's public outreach efforts, Robison on Wednesday was putting together a presentation of the PDA's plans, which he will take to the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at noon Monday at the Elks Lodge, 555 Otto St. in Port Townsend.

Under the local proposal, Fort Worden would remain a park but would no longer be called a state park.

It would likely take on the name Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center, Robison said, and the PDA would have to keep it open and accessible to the public just as it is today.

The transfer from state parks to local PDA would happen only on the condition that Fort Worden be managed as a park and available to the public, Painter said.

If that failed to happen, it would revert back to the state, she added.

Consideration of the Fort Worden transfer is the latest in a long series of discussions about long-range planning for the park.

The proposal was prompted by Kate Burke losing the job she has held since 2002 as manager of Fort Worden, Fort Townsend and the Rothschild House state parks.

Burke was displaced by a new director, Allison Alderman, a 21-year State Parks employee who “bumped” Burke because of her greater seniority after losing her job as region operations manager in the State Parks Northwest Region Office.

Robison said the PDA board would consider bringing Burke on board for her institutional knowledge.

“The Lifelong Learning Center is the end product of an eight-year process, and Kate has been instrumental in that process,” Robison said.

“For her to leave now is a challenge for everybody.”

A formal long-range planning process for Fort Worden State Park began in 2004, and subsequently, a group of citizens and potential park partners organized as a public development authority.

Since 2004, the commission has adopted a vision and mission statement for Fort Worden State Park, approved a road map and assumptions to guide long-range planning, adopted land classifications, a long-term boundary and park use and development principles.

The planning process, supported with public and private funds, resulted in a 2008 commission adoption of a long-range plan to transform the park into a Lifelong Learning Center.

The Lifelong Learning Center concept is envisioned to provide outdoor space for recreational and educational opportunities and to house a variety of programs and classes.

“One of reasons the city created the PDA and to focus on Fort Worden is it saw it as a real critical economic driver for Port Townsend and Jefferson County,” Robison said.

“It's a big project, and we really need to build support.”

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 09. 2012 5:06PM
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