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Indianapolis mounting push to privatize parks

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IndyParks put out a request for proposals Friday that could lead to privatization of some or all of the city’s parks and recreation facilities.

The department also is accepting ideas from third parties interested in opening new attractions within parks properties, or changing and improving existing parks facilities.

Proposals could include a single attraction within a park or an operations plan for the entire parks department portfolio, IndyParks officials said.

“We know this RFP is broad. We wanted to cast a wide net to engage the creativity of the community,” said IndyParks Deputy Director Jen Pittman. “We’re looking for proposals that will take our parks from good to great.”

The RFP went out Friday afternoon and will be posted on the city’s website Monday. Proposals will be due Jan. 31. An IndyParks review panel will examine those requests, and some of the proposals could be implemented in 2014.

“We’re going to move quickly where we can,” Pittman said. “But we want to get this right, and we’ll take the time needed to do that.”

The key objectives of the RFP are making the parks more efficient; optimizing and modernizing parks facilities; improving parks services; ensuring the parks’ long-term viability; attracting more park users; and creating significant additional revenue. The proposals must strive toward these objectives without costing the city any money, and a revenue-sharing component bringing the city some cash is strongly suggested, Pittman added.

“These proposals must be low- to no-risk for IndyParks,” she said.

The city is especially interested in proposals for new programs—anything from youth sports leagues to after-school programs and facilities.

One major facility that is expected to garner lots of interest from potential third-party operators is the World Sports Park on the city’s east side. The city is in the midst of converting Post Road Community Park into the 48-acre World Sports Park, slated to have five multi-purpose fields for hosting soccer, rugby, cricket, lacrosse, hurling and other international sporting events.

This isn’t IndyPark’s first foray into privatization. For instance, private operators manage the city’s golf courses, Major Taylor Velodrome and the Go Ape zipline attraction within Eagle Creek Park.

The idea for the RFP cropped up just more than a year ago when city officials were brainstorming for ways to improve local parks facilities. Late last fall, IndyParks officials put out a request for information—requesting ideas for ways to upgrade city parks.

“We got some really interesting responses from a variety of sources,” Pittman said. “It gave us an indication that there’s an appetite for these types of initiatives.”

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  • Balance
    There's a fine balance between contracting out parks and having them run and or maintained by in house staff. The personalized customer service to the local citizens given by city staff is usually unmatched by a contractor. Almost like talking to a real person vs a phone tree. However, in some situations, taking out the safety element or running a complete facility may be the wiser if the revenue increases or at least pays for itself.
  • This Has Happened Before
    In the late 70s the city "privatized" a park on the Near-Eastside by handing the land over to the Schwitzer Corp. It went our of business, the property switched hands several times, and finally was donated to a neighborhood association last year. In that time literally nothing was done as the area fell in to disrepair. It took 30 years after privatization for the land to become a park again. The idea that this should be expanded is just terrible.
  • community need
    All taxpayers - together - fund the parks and recreation system; typically because they believe collectively that it has value and increases everyone's quality of life (in addition to reduced crime and obesity). Privatizing the parks and rec system will remove the "public" part, reducing and/or eliminating free and inexpensive quality programming. All new options will serve only those with resources ($$$) to play/participate. The truly needy - the ones these types of programs help lift out of poverty long term - get left further behind. Sad that more and more people feel only those with money should have a chance in this world.
  • Idea factory
    The conservative solution is to eliminate any vestiges of public control. Apparently only when their private security final breaks down will they be amenable to serving needs larger than their own personal bubble.
  • Re: Paul Ogden
    I completely agree with Paul Ogden. This is Crony Capitalism at its worst.
  • and why
    and why would citizen taxpayers, individually or as organized groups, continue to be motivated to promote, support, advocate for, fund raise for, or otherwise engage in activities that will now help a private company's bottom line rather than a public entity that belongs to the community?
  • Mortgage the Future
    Len is exactly right. Let me though clarify a bit. The parks produce a revenue stream. What the city would be doing is entering into a lengthy lease to a company to receive that money (and fees that the company can increase) over the term of the lease. In return, we today get the money upfront. You're literally mortgaging the future for an upfront cash payment. They'll try to claim that we will retain control over the parks, but we won't. They'll make claims of increased attendance, which won't happen. It's all about getting the deal done and our tax dollars in the hands of a private company
    • FYI
      Speechless Republican World view
    • ABSOLUTELY ABSURB IDEA
      ABSOLUTELY ABSURD IDEA / CONCEPT! It sounds like the Mayor and his 'cronies' [i.e.; former Governor Mitch Daniels and his 'cronies' did] are trying to mortgage the future for his own immediate glory and gratification today!
    • Shameful.
      This city is an absolute disgrace. There is no leadership here. No vision. Nothing. Our forefathers had the vision and wisdom to set aside land for parks. This current generation of pimps and prostitutes is selling out the public good in exchange for a fast buck. How embarrassing it is to be from this place. On the plus side, the city continues to provide excuses for the few remaining residents to flee.
    • Terrible Idea
      Think "Playland brought to you by McDonald's" here, folks. This will just be an excuse to market junk food, video games, and other garbage to kids in parks. And will almost certainly result in any decent jobs in our parks department becoming McJobs... A terrible idea all around.
    • Drop in a token, look at a duck
      It seems the mayor may have spent too much time with Ron Swanson when he was in town. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiXQu0Yqr9o
    • Need Marketing
      My family uses the city parks for everything from ballet to swimming. We also watch live music and we have even participated in a few Easter egg hunts. In my opinion the City Parks are awesome! However, I think too many people have no clue the City even has all of these program offerings (most of which are free or next to free). I'd be interested to know if the city solicited any ideas from park staff for ways to improve. I'd also be interested to see if a small social media marketing campaign couldn't improve park attendance. Privatization can be good but it can also be a short sighted way of thinking.
    • SOP Ballard Style
      Remember, first we have to sign a hundred year lease to a private contractor to give them total control of all of the parks (including the swing sets). In return, the city will receive $1.27 and a job for one of Ballard's aides.
    • Funny, Patrick
      I get what they are saying, compete for the youth and amatuer sports market. Why not? Many parks have extra room for Pay2Play sports. If it funds the free stuff at the parks, I'm for it!
    • Revenue!
      So, we want to make the parks profit centers! Great idea! $10/hr to use the swing set! That'll work.

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