2012-03-08 / Front Page

Financial analysis on Fort Getty released

If RV campsites are axed, multi-use facility may be answer to generate revenue
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

Ensuring that its pending debate on the future of Fort Getty will be well informed, the Town Council this week accepted an extravagantly detailed analysis of the existing and proposed uses of Jamestown’s only town park.

The analysis includes projections of Fort Getty revenue with, and without, alternative income sources to offset a potential reduction in the revenue from RV camping: the dominant use of the park during the summer months.

The council, which met on March 5, didn’t debate the options for Fort Getty uses. That discussion will happen when the council has its workshop on the analysis, which will probably be held in mid-April.

The analysis was prepared by the Worcester-based Landworks Collaborative, which also facilitated the May 19, 2011 charrette on resident preferences for the future uses of Fort Getty. Although Landworks didn’t evaluate every preference identified during the charrette, the analysis provides detailed scenarios in which the RV campground is reduced, eliminated or kept as it is.

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting is just an overview,” said Town Council President Mike Schnack, describing the analysis as a model that will enable councilors and the public to plug in any number of different assumptions to gauge their economic impacts on the income from the park.

Before the meeting, Town Planner Lisa Bryer told the Press that the Landworks analysis is a major milestone in the 20-year debate on the future of the park. “When the current council started this process, one of their questions was: Is there something out there to replace the revenue from RV camping? The analysis supports the argument that there are uses out there that can do that while providing the open space the community wants.”

She continued: “It’s exciting to think that the park could pay for itself and it’s exciting that so many people in the community are invested in making that happen.”

The presentation on the analysis – a 23-page spreadsheet – was delivered by Landworks principal Matt Mrva. Describing it as a “detailed land-use plan,” Mrva said the analysis is “a document to use as a tool,” pointing out that “all of our assumptions can be updated” at the council’s request.

It was the “open space and passive recreation” scenario that emerged as the most-preferred option among the 111 voters at the charrette. It will be up to this council, if not a future council, to decide if open space includes room for all of the RV campsites: 83 sites allocated for seasonal rentals and another 21 available for overnight rentals.

Currently, the RV campsites dominate the 28-acre park. Landworks assumed that it would cost $1.05 million to repair or replace the infrastructure serving the campground, with the annual debt service(ata4percentrate)being $77,461. The assumption is based on cost projections from the Department of Public Works to increase the amperage at each of the electrical pedestals ($330,000), replace the water main into the park ($253,000), and repair all of the water pipes damaged during the electrical work ($475,000).

The DPW estimates have been disputed, however, with some stakeholders arguing that the cost could be reduced if the department was tasked with performing as much of the work as possible.

Although the infrastructure issue won’t be debated until the workshop, it’s already known that DPW will be engaged in the North Road landfill closure and could even be involved with the interconnection work required for a Taylor Point wind turbine. So the department’s availability, along with any potential overtime charges for working at multiple job sites beyond its usual assignments, would have to be quantified.

During the presentation, Schnack pointed out that a “reconfi guration” of the RV campground – by which he meant a reduction in its size – would result in reduced infrastructure costs. So the extent of infrastructure work and its costs won’t be known until a decision on the RV campsites is final.

Landworks assumed that the revenue from all Fort Getty activities was $419,393 in 2009 and $402,509 in 2010. Expenses and payroll to run the park were assumed to be $150,432 and $111,296, respectively. Given those assumptions, the park brought in an average net profit of $280,087 during that two-year period. How could the revenue, which Landworks projects as increasing by 2 percent per year through 2032, be replaced if the RV campsites were reduced or eliminated?

One way would be building a two-story, multi-use marine education and community sailing facility at the northernmost tip of the park. Landworks assumes a construction cost of $1 million, but the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation has proposed to pay for the first floor, with the town paying the costs to build the second floor – and reaping the revenue from second-floor rentals.

Landworks projected the annual revenue from a multi-use facility to be $293,726, with operating costs being $70,913. But the facility could also serve as a stage for theatrical or musical performances. While Landworks didn’t specifically associate the multi-use facility with cultural events, the analysis projects the revenue from such events as $54,000 per year. The projection assumes 12 events per season with 100 seats priced at $50 for front-row seats and $25 for lawn seating.

Mary Meagher, who chaired the Fort Getty Master Plan Committee, told the council that she was impressed by the analysis. “As someone who has been critical of Landworks in the past, I very much appreciate this analysis. The work required to provide this much detail with so much breadth and depth is mind-boggling, and I am really looking forward to the workshop.”

Some of the ideas that emerged at the charrette are much more modest than a multi-use education and sailing facility. For example, someone identified aquaculture as a preference for future Fort Getty uses. In its analysis, Landworks proposes the installation of additional floating docks and pier improvements to produce $16,482 more in boating-access revenue, with the costs of those facilities being funded with revenue from the aquaculture associated with the dock expansion.

Landworks also projects that expansions in boat-trailer parking and tent-site camping would annually add $1,950 and $7,200, respectively, to the revenue from those uses. The increases may seem small, but – as many Fort Getty stakeholders believe – their addition to other potential income streams, such as those from performing arts and second-floor rentals at the multi-use facility, could eventually increase total revenue from non-RV uses of the park to the level of revenue currently produced by the RV campsites.

The Landworks analysis will be posted on the town’s website.

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