PORT TOWNSEND — Hoping to help the Fort Worden Public Development Authority move toward better times, the state Parks and Recreation Commission has granted it a number of financial relief.
The PDA’s 50-year lease on campus — lodging, dining, conference space — at Fort Worden State Park was a topic at the commission’s all-day meeting Thursday. Commissioners from across the state gathered at the park to hear a report on the past, present and future of the PDA, which is responsible for maintaining the Fort as a center for lifelong learning. .
State Parks staff had recommended that, in light of declining tourism revenue, the PDA be given a one-time waiver of several requirements. These include providing camping and reception reservation services and selling $250,000 in park discovery passes.
Another staff recommendation called for the PDA to receive a one-time reward of up to $150,000, to offset the cost of maintaining the grounds of the Fort. Over the past year and a half, staff and volunteers have provided this work on and off.
The PDA’s lease had also required the sharing of 3.5% of its gross revenue throughout the year. As part of the proposed lease amendment, state parks staff argued for the stay until May 2023.
After a lengthy report from Peter Herzog, Assistant Director of Parks Development, the State Parks Commissioners unanimously approved all of these changes to the PDA lease.
Commissioner Ken Bounds expressed his admiration for the work of David Timmons, the executive director who took over as head of the PDA at the end of 2020. A combination of financial mismanagement and the global pandemic has left the organization in bad shape nearly two years ago – and Timmons “pulled it out of trouble” and turned it into an enduring model, Bounds said.
Timmons, a former Port Townsend city manager, was first hired in March 2020 to help with the PDA pandemic response effort. Then-executive director Dave Robison retired and, as Herzog put it, a “management meltdown” ensued.
Timmons, first as acting chief and then as executive director, led the PDA into a new relationship with the city of Port Townsend and with State Parks providing increased oversight, Herzog said.
A new board was put in place in July, he added.
Timmons restructured the PDA’s debt. And as part of the reorganization strategy, the PDA is finalizing an agreement with Fort Worden Hospitality, a newly formed nonprofit, to manage accommodations, venues, and food and beverage operations on campus.
Timmons spoke to the commission about his optimism about the fort’s future.
Still, there are days, he says, when he feels like he’s on a landmine.
“We’re not out of the woods yet as PDAs,” he said.
“We still have a lot of rebuilding and restructuring to do, not only financially but also organizationally.”
Timmons also offered details of campus plans. The Jefferson County Public Infrastructure Fund provided a $150,000 grant to begin renovating Building 203 for dormitory-style worker housing, he said.
That sum will only pay for the initial design of a roughly $13 million project, Timmons said in a later interview.
Building 203 could be converted into housing for state park employees, AmeriCorps workers and seasonal staff sometime next year, he hopes.
Fort Worden could also become the home of a new climate and energy institute, Timmons told the state park commission.
In an interview Friday, Timmons said the Renewable Nations Institute in Chelsea, Vermont, was working with the PDA to assess the viability of a climate and energy research center on the Fort campus.
“It’s kind of an exciting opportunity,” he said, adding that the institute could fit in well with the center of lifelong learning.
Elsewhere on campus are the PDA’s glamping tents. The construction of these wooden-floored bedroom and bathroom structures began in 2019 and stopped in 2020 with the onset of the pandemic; Timmons is now looking to finish what his predecessors started.
He refinanced the $2 million loan for the project and restored funding, he said in an interview. To complete construction, a contractor must be found — and “those are rare,” Timmons said.
Stepping back to look at the Fort as a whole, the PDA director added that he envisions a “shared economy,” based on partnerships with state parks and with campus organizations such as Centrum.
“It’s time to move on,” Timmons added, “and that’s what we’re doing.”
Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidela [email protected]