Public weighs in on Fort Worden State Park lease pact
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
David Goldman of Port Townsend registers his disapproval of the lease arrangement between State Parks and the public development authority Tuesday night in Port Townsend.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A draft lease agreement between the Washington State Parks and a public development authority for a portion of Fort Worden State Park is either the basis for a great partnership or a deeply flawed document, depending on who was speaking during public comment at a meeting Tuesday night.

“This model is the best fit for our community, for the financial future of the park and for the state as a whole,” Carla Main of Port Townsend said during the meeting hosted at Fort Worden by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

“It is the best way to strengthen existing partners at the park and find new partners that will invest in the future of Fort Worden.”

Her comments represented most of those at the meeting.

But David Goldman of Port Townsend said he opposed ratification of the lease.

“Who is the landlord?” Goldman said.

“The PDA has no elected board members. They are all elected by the City Council, and the State Parks commission is all appointed by the governor, so we can't essentially recall the people who are on the committee.”

The draft document presented at the meeting details a proposed 50-year agreement in which the Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority manages the “campus” portions of the 434-acre park — about one-fourth of the park and including most of the buildings — while State Parks continues to manage the camping, beach and recreation areas of the park

The transition is expected to be made in May.

About 80 people attended the meeting, which included a presentation about the lease by Assistant Parks Director Larry Fairleigh and public comment.

Under the terms of the lease, which is viewable at http://tinyurl.com/pdafortwordendraftlease, the PDA would operate the campus area under the name of the Fort Worden Lifelong Learning and Conference Center.

The PDA board will meet from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. today in the Cotton Building, 607 Water St., to discuss the lease agreement and make possible revisions before submitting it the state.

The State Parks commission is scheduled to consider approving the lease at 1 p.m. Thursday,
Aug. 8, at its regular meeting in Anacortes.

The draft lease says the learning center is “particularly attractive to nonprofit organizations for a variety of artistic, cultural, educational and recreational uses.”

It defines the relationship between the PDA and the state as that of tenant-landlord.

The PDA would pay no rent to the state but would be responsible for maintenance and operation, though the lease says the commission would be responsible for preventive maintenance the first four years.

The PDA also would be responsible for marketing and customer service, as well as paying taxes and utilities for the campus area.

It would be entitled to revenue realized from the operation of the campus area. In the seventh year of the lease, the PDA would owe the commission 3.5 percent of gross revenues annually.

No Discover Pass would be needed to visit the lifelong learning center, but in return, the PDA would be expected to sell at least $250,000 worth of Discover Passes under a separate vendor contract each year for the first seven years — with the first year prorated.

The operation and management of the campus would be monitored by a coordinating committee, made up of two PDA representatives, two state commission representatives and one at-large member.

Goldman said the interests of the actual landlord — the public — are not well-represented by the lease. He said it has too many qualifiers in its text.

“The lease talks about covering the cost of renovations 'if known.' But why wouldn't these costs be known?” Goldman asked.

“This lease does not represent me, and as the landlord, I'm not pleased.”

One contradiction, Goldman said, is the statement that the PDA accepts the buildings in an “as is” condition while another section says the commission is responsible for fixing code or deed violations.

“The question here is what 'as is' means,” Goldman said.

The lease has gone through an evolution, Fairleigh said, and the latest draft “doesn't give either party everything they want.”

One example is the State Parks system's inability to provide $250,000 startup funds, which the PDA now must raise itself.

The PDA also must provide a financial plan, a marketing plan, an inventory of property and a staffing plan.

The lease calls for a cutback in park personnel, with 16 people eventually losing their jobs.

The lease says that for the first four years, the state will provide law enforcement through parks rangers — although not necessarily in the campus area — and after that, it would be provided by the city.

Terri McQuillen of Port Townsend criticized the idea that no on-site law enforcement would be available, characterizing the proposed security process as “a hotel clerk sitting at a desk all night who will call 9-1-1 if there's any trouble.”

PDA Executive Director Dave Robison said McQuillen's characterization was essentially correct.

McQuillen and Goldman were the only two speakers to vehemently oppose the lease, though three other speakers ceded their time to Goldman, which allowed him to speak for about 15 minutes.

“The Centrum Foundation endorses the creation of the PDA and the negotiation that has been forged here, and we stand here as a willing partner,” said Centrum Executive Director Robert Birman.

“This is both a state asset and a local asset, and we can have a larger impact on the public good by continuing the work that has been done up to this date.”

Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum board member Mike Cornforth said: “We have more immediate local control of this very wonderful facility here, and I hope everyone in this room wants this to work because it's the best option we have.”



Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 31. 2013 6:05PM
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