By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“This is just the beginning,” said David Robison, executive director of the Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority, at the outset of a 90-minute meeting Thursday night.
“There will be a lot of opportunities for public input before we submit the plan to the [Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission] Oct. 25,” he said at the meeting at Fort Worden Commons.
The public development authority is seeking to manage a lifelong learning center at the state park.
The center would develop parts of the park into an academic campus that offers educational and recreational options, and would operate in tandem with existing park operations.
The plan, submitted by consultant Brian Trusty and based on a previous plan developed in 2008, proposes that State Parks manage the camping, beach and recreation areas of the park.
The Port Townsend-based public development authority handles conference management, program and event management, visitor services, marketing and sales, and new facility development.
“This will be easier for the parks service because they will be dealing with one partner instead of 15 different ones,” Trusty said.
“A sustainable co-management plan is very feasible, very practical and is already here.”
The public development authority had aimed at a Sept. 1 deadline for submitting the plan to the state, but that has been pushed back.
About 50 people attended Thursday’s meeting.
“We thought a lot more people would turn up tonight, but they’ll come out when this gets going,” Robison said.
Future meetings are scheduled on the proposal.
■ An extended PDA board meeting at 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday that includes comment opportunities at 8:30 a.m. and noon at the Cotton Building, 640 Water St., Port Townsend.
■ A public forum at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 that is scheduled for Fort Worden Commons.
■ A PDA board meeting from 8:30 a.m. to noon Sept. 13 at the Cotton Building.
The board is expected to take action on the final draft plan.
■ After this time, the plan will be submitted to the Office of Financial Management and an independent consultant for peer review.
The public development authority then will conduct a series of presentations at service clubs between Sept. 16 and Oct. 19 before submitting the final draft plan to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission by Oct. 25.
The commission is expected to take action on the plan Dec. 6.
Trusty said that while overall park visitation has remained static over the past 10 years, conference business has fallen 31 percent since 2002.
This can be reversed through marketing efforts that would be the responsibility of the public development authority, he said.
“The State Parks is not an agency that is well-tooled to develop an aggressive sales campaign,” he said.
“If you build it, they won’t just come,” he added.
“The idea isn’t to get more people to come to the parks but to give them a reason to extend their visits another day when they are already here.”
One way to do this, Trusty said, is to increase the quality of the park’s available lodging to attract a greater diversity of visitors.
The current facilities would require $85 million in facility repairs, renovations and redevelopment projects in the next 11 years.
“There have been multiple funding sources and methods identified that the PDA can effectively pursue to leverage appropriate outside investment into the long-term repair, renovation and redevelopment needs of Fort Worden,” Trusty said.
After the meeting, Robison described the immediate future as “a chicken-and-egg” situation.
“We need to attract people with new programs and better accommodations,” he said.
“Do you put more into the programs first or improve the accommodations first?”
Robison said many of the assertions in the business plan are not new and reflect what has been discussed over the past year.
“What is new is that the plan shows that it can work financially,” he said.
“The question is that whether we can get everyone — the parks department, the parks commission, the PDA and the community — that we want to go forward with this new way of doing business,” Robison said.
Among the repeated assertions is the assurance that nothing Fort Worden does now will change, and no extra costs will be added.
“This will always be a state park,” Trusty said.
“State parks will always have a presence here, but it will be more in line with the standard responsibilities, strengths and skills of a state park agency.”
Said Jim Buckley: “As one who as been critical of the PDA’s taking over title or management of Fort Worden, I think you’ve come a long way.
“I think you did listen to us, and I’m grateful for the clear words that the state will always be in charge, and there will be no transfer of title.
“Do I trust that completely?
“Not really, but basically, I think this is the first time the PDA has listened to the public.”
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.