More Public-Private Partnership Models

April 15, 2021, Department, by John L. Crompton, Ph.D.

2021 May Finance for the Field More Public Private Partnership Models 410

For an enhanced digital experience, read this story in the ezine.

This column focuses on four additional frameworks to those discussed in the April column that facilitate collaborative partnerships between park and recreation departments and private-sector partners. They include priming private-sector pumps, using private facilities, restoring an exploited natural resource and expanding existing facilities.

Priming Private-Sector Pumps

Developers are sometimes amenable to donating land or infrastructure to a city on the condition that the city develop amenities on it. Their purpose is to enhance the value of lots in their development. This is relatively common in golf developments, where the city constructs a public course (sometimes with at least partial funding from the developer), or in contexts where there is a large amount of floodplain area through which the city can develop a trail system.

This not only assists in adding value to the lots, but also it relieves the developer of an obligation to operate and maintain the facility that invariably is not a profitable enterprise, and it removes the requirement to pay property taxes on it.
From the public’s perspective, it saves the cost of land, which would be a substantial cost if it were to independently purchase the land to develop these facilities. It may behoove a city to send out a request for proposal requesting a land donation of (say) 50 acres on which to build a public park or other desired facility to test whether a project offering mutual benefits could be developed.

Use of Private Facilities

An inventory of recreation facilities operated by all sectors in a community is likely to reveal opportunities for a public recreation department to expand its offerings without capital investment or building overhead costs. At many private sites, there will be downtimes that could be leased; at others, private businesses may welcome the opportunity to host public recreation classes as a means of introducing residents to their services.

Most motels have pools that are underutilized in the morning hours and could be used to teach swim classes or water aerobics; school pools could be used during weekends; while aquatic and fitness classes could be offered in apartment complex facilities. Churches, community buildings and libraries could be bases for senior programs. Golf course lounges during off-peak times could be used for fitness classes.

Consider a bowling center where demand was strong in the evenings and weekends, but lagged for much of the remaining time. A recreation department negotiated a lease that enabled programs for its older adults to be based there during slack time periods. This facility could offer an indoor “track” of 10 laps to the mile; meeting rooms for various activities; pool rooms; concession stands for snacks and drinks; and a thriving senior bowling league.

Negotiating with private entities that offer activities, such as gymnastics, horseback riding, fitness programs, ceramics, golf, sailing, tennis, etc., can result in potential benefits to both partners. Typically, in these partnerships, the agency promotes the class or activity and registers participants, while the private partner provides the instructors.

From the private partner’s perspective, the department acts as a broker that matches clients with recreation providers who meet their needs. In essence, the agency is an unpaid agent that is efficiently reaching client groups who are attractive potential prospects to the operator. A typical agency promotes a large number of class offerings, so the promotional costs per class are likely to be much lower than those a single operator would incur to reach a similar number of residents.

There are many who are likely to feel more comfortable participating under the auspices of a recreation agency with which they are familiar, while they may be timid and, perhaps, embarrassed about venturing into an unfamiliar commercial establishment. This enables them to try out the facility. If it is a positive experience, then they can subsequently enroll as a regular user.

Restoring an Exploited Natural Resource

In some communities, it has been possible to finance park and recreation facilities by permitting controlled exploitation of a resource owned by a government entity and using the accruing revenues to develop the site for recreational purposes. The mining of sand and gravel deposits is a common example. The mining fees pay for the site’s transformation to recreational use, and the mining is done in accordance with the agency’s specifications to ensure a well-designed recreation area when the mining is completed.

More than 60 golf courses have been constructed nationwide on landfills. They have to conform with environmental regulations addressing such issues as settlement, leachate and gas emissions, but improvements in construction technology in recent years have made such facilities feasible.

Closed landfills often are one of the few large open spaces in dense metropolitan areas. In a study of their potential for recreation, Peter Harnik noted, “they may be as small as dozens of acres or as large as 1,000 or more and the land may be free or inexpensive to buy or possibly even come with its own supporting funds for environmental restitution.”

Expansion of Existing Public Facilities

In northern states with long winters, outdoor facilities have a limited season. Some communities have joined with private-sector partners who provide additional investment to convert facilities to accommodate indoor use in the winter months. The following is a typical example:

A city leased an existing five-court outdoor tennis complex to a private partner for 10 years, with two successive five-year options to extend the lease. The leasee paid the city 5 percent of gross revenue. The developer constructed an air-supported structure over the courts and built a permanent support building. The partner had exclusive use of the courts for a 32-week winter season and erected and dismantled the structure at the beginning and ending of each season. The city had exclusive use for the 20-week summer season.

The remarkable creativity that characterizes many partnerships is indicative of the changing role of a recreation manager. No longer is this person limited to being an administrator who is given tax funds to deliver services. Rather, the manager’s role has transitioned and expanded to that of a public-sector entrepreneur who is given a relatively small allocation of tax funds and is expected to use them to leverage additional funds from partners to deliver desired programs and facilities.

John L. Crompton, Ph.D., is a University Distinguished Professor, Regents Professor and Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University and an elected Councilmember for the City of College Station.