Critics want more data on Worden development

By Charlie Bermant

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PORT TOWNSEND — Modifications in the plan for the development of Fort Worden State Park into a lifelong learning center and its management by a public development authority have satisfied many early critics, but some still feel they need more data before proceeding.
“I can’t believe that you are going ahead with these proposals without knowing exactly how much money is coming in from all of the partners,” said Julie Jamon of Port Townsend at a meeting last week.
“I would think you’d want to know every detail before committing yourself.”
About 20 people attended the meeting in the Cotton Building on Thursday, which was intended to present the latest iterations of the two options in developing the plan.
The business plan is due to be submitted to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commissioners by Sept. 1.
In response to Jamon, PDA executive director Dave Robison said that research about financial assets will be conducted.
The PDA plans to hire a business plan consultant. The choice will be announced at its June 6 board meeting.
It plans to hold a public meeting with the consultant June 19 and review the resulting business plans during July and August meetings.
The management of the park has been the subject of a series of meetings beginning in January, centering around the management of the non-park aspects of Fort Worden and how they should be managed.
A variety of proposals were discussed, including a transfer of ownership from state parks to the PDA, but that option has been off the table since the Parks and Recreation Commission ruled in March that Fort Worden will always be a state park.
Since that time, the PDA has refined the plan to manage certain components of the park, determining what it can control, how it will implement its programs and how it can make money doing so.
“The park system will continue to perform the traditional functions they do so well, while the PDA will run the aspects that they are not so good at,” Robison said.
“We can focus on managing the buildings and the partners, which is outside of their normal function.”
The management coming out of the plans may include the administration of leases, hospitality functions and marketing and public relations.
A sense of urgency has driven many of the meetings since the Legislature has voted to wean the parks from all state general funding in the next few years.
The two plans have similar results, both including lease and property management, partner recruitment and conference sponsorship, but Option 1 is less ambitious and provides a more gradual approach.
“With Option 1, we will phase in over time based on our capabilities, our financial model and ability to take on all these functions,” Robison said.
“It is a more cautious path, but the down side is that it will be a much longer process for implementation.
“The question is how do we balance out the risk against the need to more forward, especially in the face of a very, very grim financial picture.”
“Over time, we could build up more confidence that we could take over more things,” said PDA board member Scott Wilson of Option 1.
“The problem is there may not be a PDA at the end of that process — by the time we have decided we have the ability to do these things, we might not have the revenue.”
Port Townsend Mayor David King believes the partnership between the PDA and the Park Service will be successful.
“The Park Service asked us to create this entity to help them deal with the stuff they don’t want to deal with,” King said.
“They don’t want to deal with partners and the entrepreneurial aspect of the park. They just want to run the park, and we are now talking about how we are going to do this.
“The Park Service doesn’t want to restrict or constrain what Fort Worden might be. But they don’t want to manage it.”
“The commissioners made a decision to go in this direction,” said Rodger Schmitt, a parks commissioner who serves as a liaison to the PDA.
“It’s not if we are going to do it,” he explained. “It’s how we are going to do it.”
For more information, visit http://fwpda.org.
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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 20. 2012 6:22PM
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