November 11, 2015

Parks in crisis: Is Fort Worden’s PDA a remedy?

Dave Robison, the [Fort Worden Public Development Authority] executive director, and his crew are intensely aware that Port Townsend is watching closely as the  PDA confronts the risky task of developing and managing a 90-acre campus with more than 70 buildings, many of them more than a century old. His challenge is to turn that cluster of deteriorating buildings into a “lifelong learning center” – a nonprofit university, resort and arts center all rolled into one.

Interest in the PDA’s success or failure extends far beyond Port Townsend’s city limits. Parks across the state – and across the nation – are struggling with the same kinds of budget shortfalls that face Fort Worden, but this town is the first to roll up its sleeves and attempt to address the problem more or less on its own.

Gerry Johnson, a Seattle attorney who specializes in helping set up public-private partnerships and public authorities, has worked with the PDAs that manage Seattle’s Pike Place Market and public housing in the International District and other neighborhoods. And he warns that most parks do not lend themselves to such enterprising management strategies.

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