Parks & Recreation Commission examines concession process

At Wednesday night’s Parks and Recreation Commission meeting at the central branch of the Free Library, commissioners received more information on how the Department will begin implementing a comprehensive revenue model by working with a variety of concessionaires.

Commission Chair Nancy Goldenberg also reviewed several new pieces of legislation that will affect the Department, and introduced several changes in how the Commission will operate.

Goldenberg began by announcing that Mayor Michael Nutter will present a citation in September to the family of Anthony Langford, the commissioner who recently passed away. She then presented an overview of five Councilmanic decisions: the awarding of a long-term lease to the Mann Music Center, the awarding of a long-term lease to Cosmic Catering at Lloyd Hall, the acceptance of a donation of a six acre parcel to the eastern part of the Wissahickon, approval of a land swap for a small portion of trail, and legislation that will facilitate the ability of the Department to keep any finances it raises.

Goldenberg also mentioned that as of May 2011, the Department was awarded greater control over the manner and presence of electronic signs on its properties. In introducing the next segment of the meeting — a pause for public comment on what had been heard so far — Goldenberg set the stage for announcing other decisions on how the Commission will operate from hereon.

Public comments will now be allowed at two intervals, she said, after the initial welcome by the Chair, and, as usual, at the end of the meeting.

And, Goldenberg said, starting with a Tacony locale in September, venues for Commission meetings will switch to a different district each time.

Finally, she said, the Commission has decided for the next year to make the safety of parks and recreation centers a primary focus, more closely examining everything from lighting and landscaping issues to uniformed presence.

Commissioner Pete Hoskins, chair of the Revenue Enhancement Committee, then introduced Matthew Hill from Civic Futures, who discussed his team’s findings on issues that park concessionnaires say they face when dealing with the city.

These include a complicated and lengthy application process and a lack of shared goals between different areas of the park system. To remedy those problems, Hill suggested that the Department look at creating a one-stop shop as far as permitting, and that it inaugurate a facilitator position and develop a web site specifically geared to vendor interests, where new opportunities and ideas for concessions might be posted.

For the longer term, Hill suggested the Department indulge in visioning exercises with community stakeholders to better understand the different type of park zones and their assets and gaps as far as concessions are concerned.

He suggested identifying a series of “gateways” — the Strawberry Mansion of East Park, for example — where attractions are concentrated and where opportunities for increased concessions are ripe.

Robert Allen, of the Department’s Property and Concessions Management division, added that the process of identifying such “revenue zones” was already underway, while Hoskins was quick to add that this effort was not only about enhancing revenue, but about enhancing the visitor experience.

Commissioner Jeffrey Hackett asked for more explanation regarding how revenues raised will be used, and Hoskins responded that “as much as possible, benefit monies are returned to the site [of the concession].” In responding to Hackett’s concern about the safety of vendors in some areas, Allen added that his division does access and share crime stats with potential vendors.

Goldenberg wrapped up the meeting by summarizing a report from the Department’s First Deputy Commissioner, Susan Slawson, on summer activities, including the continued opening of 70 pools, 8 spray gardens, and camps that host 7,000 kids.

In the stead of Land Use Committee Chair Deborah Goldstein, Goldenberg reported that the Department’s land protection ordinance became effective on July 1.

Commissioner Carol Rice, Communications Chair, reported that the Commission now has its own Facebook page and recognized the latest PaRC star, Frances McDonald, a member of the advisory board of Sturgis Park in East Oak Lane.

Contact the reporter at jgreco@planphilly.com

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