PORT TOWNSEND — In its first five years, the Fort Worden Public Development Authority needed to grow its hospitality services to prove it could sustain the financial operations of the historic park.
Now the PDA is investing in buildings, recreation areas and classrooms that will continue to attract businesses, individuals and groups to the campus.
Dave Robison, the executive director of the PDA, said lodging services made up nearly half of the organization’s $6.3 million in revenue in 2018.
It’s come a long way since its first operating budget of $1 million.
“It’s just been tremendous growth,” Robison said to attendees Monday at a luncheon hosted by the Chamber of Jefferson County at the Fort Worden Commons. “We had a little over $6 million in revenue last year, and it’s been growing at a rate of 15 to 20 percent per year.”
The PDA, given authority to co-manage the park by the Port Townsend City Council, also works closely with the state parks department and the Legislature, particularly with building maintenance and infrastructure needs.
Its focus is to provide classes and resources to be a lifelong learning center, and its $13 million investment into the Makers Square project will open up more opportunities, Robison said.
“What we’re really trying to do is to broaden the fort out and make it year-round so we can employ a year-round staff and have this thriving center,” he said.
Makers Square, under construction and fully funded through grants and private donations, will renovate three buildings, including the oldest at the fort.
Building 305 was built in 1905, and the fort grew around it, Robison said. The other two are old warehouse buildings that have never had water or sewer connections.
It could be open by next fall, Robison said.
“We’ll use them as artists’ studios, classrooms, makers’ spaces and created programs,” he said.
One of the anchor tenants will be radio station KPTZ, which has raised $750,000 for the permanent space, he said.
“This really does become the hub for lifelong learning and fulfilling our mission,” Robison said.
The $2 million glamping project also is on schedule for 2020. Robison detailed 19 sites for glamping — “glorious camping” — with amenities that include queen beds.
All but four will have bathrooms, showers and toilets inside the unit, Robison said. The others will be more simple and “rustic.”
“Where each of the clamping units are used to be a barracks building,” he said. “It’s become heavily vegetated in the last 100 years since the park was originally created.”
Fort Worden has 456 beds with 26 historic accommodations, and Robison said it provides the largest contribution in terms of revenue to the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee.
The PDA has 15 partners, many of which are nonprofit, and the park has about 1.5 million visitors annually, he said.
Some of the legacy of the former military facility is the 73 historic buildings, many of which need repair. Robison said there is $100 million in deferred maintenance throughout the park, and the PDA’s 50-year co-management agreement with state parks can help with legislative funding.
The parks system had been providing $500,000 annually for maintenance funds for five years, but the PDA took on that additional expense in May, Robison said.
The PDA has a 10-year capital projects plan it is required to update every two years before it can ask the Legislature for grants, he added.
The fort has $6 million on infrastructure projects it will work on with the state parks department in the next two years, Robison said.
“This is a very unique partnership,” he said. “If you look around the state of Washington, this is the only partnership like this.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].