Fort Worden PDA approves new business plan

Funding is lacking, but board sees progress

PORT TOWNSEND — Fort Worden’s governing board has adopted a new business plan, part of an agreement signed with the City of Port Townsend and Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

Fort Worden has been struggling financially for years and in August, signed a memorandum of agreement with the two entities addressing various areas of concern, including fiscal responsibilities.

The business plan approved Tuesday was a component of that MOA, and identified several immediate and long-term needs for the fort’s leadership.

Among the immediate needs was determining the true cost of running the campus and equitably distributing the expense among the various tenants.

“What does it cost to run the place? Well, it’s really hard to figure that out,” said Celeste Tell, executive director of the Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority, the entity that manages the fort.

“There’s things like roof and roof maintenance and gutters and windows, that, it used to be that (Washington State) Parks did with internal staff so we have no way of measuring what that would cost until we get through a year of it,” Tell said.

Tell came on as executive director in October following the retirement of David Timmons, the former Port Townsend city manager who joined the organization in 2020 when the fort’s financial troubles were made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the PDA’s expenses are still outpacing revenues, Tell said at the meeting, and the fort needs approximately $950,000 more revenues annually to become sustainable.

That additional funding could come from state, county or federal sources as well as private fundraising efforts assisted by the Fort Worden Foundation, the PDA’s nonprofit partner.

However, Tell said the Fort Worden Foundation is waiting for the PDA to update its strategic plan before it’s willing to begin fundraising efforts.

According to meeting documents, the PDA is expecting to see more than $1.2 million in revenues in 2024 and $1.3 in 2025 but more than $1.6 million in regular expenses in 2024 and $1.7 million in 2025.

Those regular expenses don’t include additional items such as bond repayments, debt replenishment and the hiring of a two-person facilities team which are projected to cost just over $530,000 for two years.

The PDA also needs to resolve amounts for common area expenses shared among the various tenants at the fort. Lease language is vague, Tell said, and phrases like “common area maintenance” and “campus area maintenance” are not used consistently leading to disagreements about what expenses are being charged to tenants.

A third-party audit of the fort’s leases is one of the PDA’s goals for 2024, as is getting water and electric meters on each campus building, allowing for better data to be collected on utility usage.

Tell also reengaged with the PDA’s lobbying firm— Dziedzic Public Affairs of Olympia — in hopes of finding additional funding sources potentially from the state or federal governments.

Despite the PDA’s troubles, board members praised Tells’ work in the past two months in drafting the business plan which was due on Nov. 30.

“I’m really impressed with what’s been pulled together,” said Libby Urner-Wennstrom, the Port Townsend City Council’s liaison to the PDA.

“I understand there’s still some open question, but with less than 60 days this is very much a step in the right direction,” she said.

Tell said in an interview later that the PDA is working closely with Washington State Parks, which hadn’t always been the case in the past.

She also said that it became clear during the meeting the PDA could accept tax-deductible private donations despite not being a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

“The PDA can take donations, the question is how actively we can solicit donations,” Tell said. “There’s money in the private sector, but we haven’t even begun to look into some of these things.”

The PDA is also expanding its board of directors to at least nine members before the end of the year. Tell said candidates are lining up and interviews will begin Monday.

“Historically we’ve tried to hide the fact that we needed money and we’re trying to do something different,” Tell said. “We need to be able to diagnose what our needs our in order to address them.”

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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