Is Study Really Needed?

Back in 2007, Allegheny County commissioned a consultant to give ideas about what to do with the parks system. Among other things, including creating a non-profit like the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, there was a belief that the County should be pushing for private sector involvement in the parks for "operation, maintenance, and renovation" and, in addition to tennis courts and swimming pools one facility for attention was the North Park boat house.

There was a major dredging project at the lake that was completed this year. A master plan for the lake area was published by the County in April that solicited public input on how to improve the overall area, including the boat house. That report mentioned "alternative uses for the building could include a concessions area or park café with an outdoor dining terrace overlooking the lake, bike and boat rental facility, fishing/bait shop, and satellite nature center office. The plan put the price tag for a "boathouse feasibility study" at $50,000.

According to the County Parks department website, a project that is part of a larger non-profit organization already handles kayak rentals at the boat house and they plan more hours in 2013. So that would appear not to be needed for study. And this week County Council is expected to take up whether a private operator should operate and manage a full service restaurant at the boat house. It is not clear if the feasibility study mentioned in the master plan from April has been completed: it does not appear on the Parks website. But it appears that when the master plan mentioned a "park café" this is probably what was in mind. If Council approves the proposal without the feasibility study in hand, and has a non-profit and a private entity entertaining folks at the facility, does the money still have to be spent?

Has Lake Privatization Talk Been Deep-Sixed?

With much fanfare this coming weekend, North Park Lake will reopen after a massive engineering effort to remove some 300k cubic yards of accumulated silt and restore the lake to its original depth of 24 feet, thus allowing for greater recreational activity and use at the lake.

The project went back to the 1980s (being put on hold several times "…as money ran out or technology proved ineffective") but gained real steam in January of 2008 when the Army Corps of Engineers issued its Final Detailed Project Report and the project got sufficient Federal financial support ($5 million) along with state and County money. What was a $13 million project grew to $16 million in 2010 when the County Executive requested an additional $3 million from the capital budget. The final reported price tag was quoted in a printed report at $17.5 million.

Along with a new lake was supposed to come a new mindset about park assets, not only in North Park but in all of the parks that comprise the 12k acres of the County park system. A report focused on generating revenue sources was issued in August of 2007, a few months before the Army Corps’ final report and about two years before the dredging actually began. In that revenue study it was recommended that the County "investigate public-private partnership agreements to operate, maintain, and renovate certain special facilities, such as the North park boat house" and "after the lake is dredged, pursue an operations contract with the private sector to maintain and operate the boats, docks, and fishing aspects of this facility…This operation could be tied into the boat house contract".

As of this writing there is still information requesting proposals for many of the parks’ assets, including the boat house, on the website of the Parks Department. To be fair, maybe the County was holding off on the second revenue recommendation until the dredging was complete. If that is the case, the clock should start sometime after the ceremonies this weekend.