Fairmount Park looks for ways to bring in money

Cash from con­ces­sion­aires could con­trib­ute to cof­fers.

Matt Hill of Civic Fu­tures gives a present­a­tion for Gen­er­at­ing Fu­ture Rev­en­ue through Con­ces­sions in Fair­mount Park dur­ing Phil­adelphia Parks & Re­cre­ation Com­mition meet­ing Wed­nes­day Ju­ly 20.

Fair­mount Park, the city’s 9,200-acre park sys­tem, is un­der­u­til­ized.

At least, that’s what mem­bers of the Phil­adelphia Parks and Re­cre­ation Com­mis­sion said dur­ing a Ju­ly 20 meet­ing at the Cent­ral branch of the Phil­adelphia Free Lib­rary on Vine Street.

Com­mis­sion­ers presen­ted the res­ults of a year­long study that looked at gen­er­at­ing rev­en­ues for the park sys­tem through bring­ing in con­ces­sion amen­it­ies — things like res­taur­ants, bike rent­als, paddle boats, a fam­ily ad­ven­ture area with games and golf as well as con­certs and oth­er events.

Con­ces­sions are “per­haps, the easi­est way to gen­er­ate ad­di­tion­al rev­en­ues for the park sys­tem,” Matt Hill, a prin­cip­al with Civic Fu­tures and a mem­ber of the con­sult­ing team that put to­geth­er the study, told the audi­ence last week.

The study shows a wealth of un­tapped po­ten­tial to gen­er­ate rev­en­ue throughout the park sys­tem. In fact, there are cur­rently few­er than 20 con­ces­sion­aires in op­er­a­tion throughout the en­tire park sys­tem.

Through rent or per­cent­age of in­come, these busi­nesses cur­rently con­trib­ute to about 10 to 15 per­cent of the park sys­tem’s total op­er­at­ing budget.

The hope is to raise that fig­ure, as the study found com­par­able park sys­tems in cit­ies like New York, St. Louis and Min­neapol­is gen­er­ate between 35 to 40 per­cent of their op­er­at­ing budgets.

The $45,000 study — paid for by the Phil­adelphia Parks and Re­cre­ation Com­mis­sion and the Fair­mount Park Con­servancy — gathered in­form­a­tion from parks rep­res­ent­at­ives from 10 com­par­able cit­ies across the coun­try.

It also con­tains a list of the needs of con­ces­sion­aires and the cur­rent hurdles that keep new con­ces­sions from com­ing to the park sys­tem.

“In all too many cases, the city was kind of an un­friendly place for a con­ces­sion­aire,” said Pete Hoskins, a board mem­ber of the parks com­mis­sion. “We want a mod­ern sys­tem of amen­it­ies in our parks for our cit­izens to en­joy.”

Of the con­cerns, con­ces­sion­aires re­por­ted that they need points of entry — simply find­ing out how to bring their ser­vice to the park sys­tem — and a need for a con­ces­sion­aire ad­voc­ate who could help ex­plain “how and where to get star­ted.”

This is something already un­der way; the parks com­mis­sion has cre­ated a Prop­erty and Con­ces­sion Man­age­ment Di­vi­sion.

Also, po­ten­tial con­ces­sion­aires in the park sys­tem found the ap­plic­a­tion pro­cess too com­plic­ated, with many city de­part­ments in­volved with what could be made a simple li­cens­ing pro­cess.

“Our idea was ‘how could we get the per­mit­ting bod­ies all in one room at the same time to cre­ate a one-stop per­mit­ting shop?’” asked Hill.

With this same idea, Hill said, con­ces­sion­aires also asked for a re­vamped web­site to al­low for an easi­er way to se­cure and ap­ply for per­mits.

This is still in the works, Robert Al­len, a mem­ber of the new Prop­erty and Con­ces­sion Man­age­ment Di­vi­sion, said.

Also, still to be de­term­ined is how funds raised through new con­ces­sions might be spent. Al­len said rev­en­ue would go in­to the city’s gen­er­al fund, but some sort of pro­vi­sions would need to be in place to make sure the profits be­nefited the park.

A bill is cur­rently cir­cu­lat­ing through City Coun­cil, he said, that would see the funds ded­ic­ated to the park sys­tem.

But, dur­ing the meet­ing, South Philly res­id­ent Lamar Reaves sug­ges­ted the fund­ing be used in com­munit­ies closest to the large park sys­tem. He said this might have an ad­ded be­ne­fit of keep­ing the park safer, es­pe­cially if the ad­ded rev­en­ues went to area schools or home­less pro­grams.

“If we use that [money] for schools and for home­less shel­ters in the com­munity, we can keep them [the home­less] out of the park,” he said.

Frances Mc­Don­ald, a mem­ber of the ad­vis­ory board of Stur­gis Park in East Oak Lane, said she liked the idea of bring­ing in more con­ces­sions to cre­ate hubs of activ­ity.  For too long, she said, areas of Fair­mount Park have gone un­der­u­til­ized and have be­come po­ten­tially un­safe.

“This is nice to hear, but without the po­lice and com­munity in­volve­ment, this is go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing,” she said. “When I was grow­ing up, we used to go over there to play ten­nis, and at one point, you’d have to bring your own net in there. Then it got to a point where it got so bad, you didn’t want to go out there at all.”

Nancy Gold­berg, chair of the parks com­mis­sion, agreed, not­ing that for the rest of this year, the com­mis­sion will be look­ing at ways to im­prove safety throughout the city’s sys­tem of parks, play­grounds and re­cre­ation cen­ters.

So far, Al­len said, it’s too early to de­term­ine with cer­tainty ex­actly what new con­ces­sions would be brought to the park sys­tem — though, he hin­ted that a res­taur­ant could be brought to the banks of the reser­voir in East Fair­mount Park — but he hopes to see a sig­ni­fic­ant in­crease in con­ces­sions throughout the park with­in the next year or two.

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com 

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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