By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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The changeover will happen with little fanfare.
“It won’t be a big deal,” said Michael Deighton, general manager of the public development authority, or PDA.
“It will be seamless. There will be no ribbon-cutting,” he said.
“It will just be life goes on at Fort Worden.”
Free events are planned May 31 to mark the transfer.
After an open house in which all partners will show off their facilities, a company picnic is planned at 5:30 p.m., and the Nanda acrobatic troupe will perform at Fort Worden’s McCurdy Pavilion that evening.
Today, State Parks cedes management to the PDA according to the terms of a 50-year lease signed Nov. 8.
The Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority had raised the more than $300,000 startup costs required in its lease agreement by January and has a $250,000 line of credit, Dave Robison, executive director of the PDA, has said.
From this point on, the PDA will oversee the campus portions of the 434-acre park for educational purposes while State Parks continues to manage the camping, beach and recreation areas.
The campus portion of the park includes PDA “partners” — the Centrum arts organization, the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Goddard College, Peninsula College and the Coast Artillery Museum.
Two improvements — a campuswide wireless Internet service and a new park reservation system — are expected to be in place by the end of this month, Robison said.
The reservation system will raise the level of customer service, he added.
“Both of these are game changers and will contribute greatly to the success of Fort Worden,” he said.
“Anyone who comes onto the campus will have free access to high speed Wi-Fi, and anyone who is staying here or needs information will be able to talk to someone 24/7 instead of now when the desk is only open from 8:30 [a.m.] to 4:30 [p.m.].”
The PDA’s initial investment in the Wi-Fi system through the Northwest Open Access Network — known as NoaNet — is $110,000.
The PDA will be the Internet service provider for all of the campus partners, Robison said, adding that the cost would be comparable to what they pay now.
Visitors to the park will be able to log in without passwords and enjoy faster speeds than many of them get at home, he said.
Password-protected faster speeds will be available for an additional fee to partners, guests and conference participants.
Check-in will be moved to the lobby of the Fort Worden Commons.
A front desk that resembles a modern hotel check-in is now under construction and will be open by the end of May, while the greeting area will be renovated to be more welcoming, Robison said.
The park, which has 450 beds, will become a lodging option for area visitors, PDA officials said.
“Fort [Wordon] has hosted conferences and put people up for 40 years, but much of the lodging was part of a larger house, so it wasn’t an option for couples or singles,” Deighton said.
“We’re splitting up the larger houses so they have some common areas but will have individual rooms so visitors won’t have to be part of a large group,” he added.
A Discover Pass, which is required to visit state parks, is no longer required for agencies and businesses in the campus portion of the park, although the PDA has committed to sell $250,000 worth of the passes each year.
Over the next few months, the PDA will work to attract conferences and gatherings outside of the summer months, Robison said.
Over the summer, it will conduct meetings with agencies in the park to see how it can help them and attract new businesses to the park.
“We want to bring people back who left over the last 10 years because of declining services and the Discover Pass requirement,” Robison said.
“We want to attract new users and new tenants, to see if we can support what we have while attracting new Centrums and new marine science centers.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.