Indianapolis mounting push to privatize parks

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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