Fort Worden will be partially reopening its hospitality services and restaurants in August after a unanimous decision by the Public Development Authority Board last week.
Other options presented for consideration at the board’s June 24 meeting were to wait until April 2021 to reopen, or to dissolve the organization because of a fragile financial forecast.
The decision was based on multiple projections of potential revenues and reservations already on the books for leisure stays from August to December.
When the fort plans to reopen, Jefferson County should have already entered Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-stage “Safe Start” plan, which means gatherings of up to 50 people would be allowed.
The hope is that reopening will provide the much needed cash flow to offset the great losses the organization has faced since closing its doors in March.
Waiting until April 2021 to reopen would put the business in a deep negative cash position, according to PDA projections. The plan to open in August still projects a cumulative negative net revenue through the end of the year of approximately $693,545.
Board members weighed the pros and cons of each scenario. A presentation to the board suggested that an advantage of reopening in August was that the community at large could get value out of the restaurants at the fort. Reopening was also thought to help build community support and confidence in the PDA.
The PDA is anticipating that there will be “pent-up demand” for leisure travel to the fort from across the Puget Sound, which will bolster revenue. Lodging revenue is projected as $356,334 in the third and fourth quarters, a 72-percent decrease over averages from the past three years.
Reopening in August does not come without considerable risks, however. A COVID-19 outbreak on the campus could spell disaster, causing affected accommodations or buildings to go offline for three weeks as well as scare off potential customers according to PDA documents.
There are also many costs associated with operating under COVID-19, like increased cleaning or plexiglass barriers. These costs could shrink revenue margins.
The Taps restaurant, which is expected to operate only with outdoor seating, is anticipated to operate on extremely thin profit margins. From July to December, Taps is expected to generate only $2,675 in net revenue. The other food service location to open will be the Canteen. The Canteen is expected to generate $12,304 net revenue over the same time period according to PDA documents.
For the overnight accommodations, the PDA is anticipating reserving the available spaces at no more than 50 percent capacity. Dorm spaces will not be available.
Operating costs for overnight accommodations are expected to be lower than before the closure as the fort will not be reopening the Commons or the front desk. Instead guests will check in outside on the porch of the sales office.
In between guests, housekeeping will not enter a room for a full 24 hours after guests have departed. The PDA also plans to purchase ultraviolet light cleaning equipment that will “reduce labor time and provide better sanitization,” according to PDA documents.
Other recovery efforts underway to secure funding to bridge the gap to a “new normal” are meeting drawbacks. David Timmons, Port Townsend’s former city manager, was contracted by the PDA to assist in exploring and securing relief funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as other governmental or private organizations. It was partially Timmon’s experience with FEMA that made him a good fit to take on the task, PDA officials said earlier.
In last week’s progress report to the PDA board, Timmons said work with FEMA had come to a standstill.
The requirements the PDA must meet in order to be eligible for reimbursement or relief are not clear, he said, and seem to be constantly changing. From his perspective it seemed FEMA was chronically disorganized and his hope of receiving anything helpful was waning.
“It’s not like anything I have ever experienced. The requirements seem to be so strict and inconsistent,” he said. “We jokingly said once, ‘Do we have to drag somebody who’s sick onto the campus to be eligible?’”
Instead he is now setting his sights on state-level emergency funding.
Robison said the Makers Square project has begun construction and is on track for an Oct. 7 completion date.
As for the “glamping” project, he said construction could resume in July but his recommendation is to wait and see.
Another financial boon weighing large in the future of the PDA is a requirement to begin revenue sharing with Washington State Parks in May 2021. Revenue sharing is a term of the original lease agreement of the campus.
Robison said he is going to request that state parks defer the requirement for two years. Board Member Jane Kilburn said that she felt two years was too short of a time frame to be realistic. Robison agreed and said his preference would be to eliminate the requirement altogether.
Robison will be presenting on the status of the fort and requesting a deferment July 30 at a meeting of the full Washington State Parks Commission.