On Nov. 8, the financial clock starts ticking for the Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority (FWPDA).
Representatives from Washington State Parks and the FWPDA plan to sign a 50-year lease agreement at a public ceremony at 3 p.m. on Friday at the Fort Worden State Park Nora Porter Commons. Stipulated in the lease are about a dozen benchmarks the FWPDA must reach over the next 60, 90 and 120 days.
“We are feeling very confident and are making tremendous progress on a variety of fronts,” Dave Robison, FWPDA executive director, told the Leader on Nov. 5. “As long as we can keep focused and keep our committees moving ahead, we should have no problems meeting any of our milestones.”
Within 60 days, the FWPDA must provide the commission with documentation of a $300,000 mobilization (startup) fund, in addition to a minimum $250,000 line of credit, including a “comfort letter” from an accredited lender.
Robison said he plans to announce the partnering financial institution on Friday.
Also moving forward are plans to renovate Building 202 into an education center. Built in 1904 as an army barracks, the two-story structure has been used as group-style overnight accommodations. Turning it into a well-wired school building potentially frees Building 298 (the school house) for other uses.
“The project has been submitted to the City of Port Townsend for permitting,” said Deb Frazier, vice president of administrative services at Peninsula College. “This is a significant milestone and we are all very pleased.”
In June, an award of nearly $700,000 from the Washington State Department of Commerce significantly boosted efforts to renovate Building 202.
In 2011, the state Legislature approved a $2.3 million capital budget for Building 202 through Washington State Parks, and $2 million through Peninsula College. Another $500,000 was committed to the project from the City of Port Townsend, based on its multimillion-dollar capital bonds of the past three years. Factoring in the grant, the $6.1 million project remains about $600,000 shy of its goal.
“The FWPDA is moving forward with applying for Historic Tax Credits, which could fund the remainder,” Frazier said.
Earlier this month, the National Park Service (an office of the U.S. Department of the Interior) and the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office ensured that the lease does not encumber or violate any property deeds or titles – the final review process required before the agreement can be executed.
The agreement is the result of a nearly two-year negotiation process to shift the park and conference center toward an enterprise business model, an idea first offered by Washington State Parks about six years ago as a potential solution to declining general fund revenue and other budgetary constraints.
The FWPDA anticipates taking possession of the campus on May 1, 2014.
The property remains state-owned property. The FWPDA would have a 50-year lease for the “upper campus” area, which includes about 90 acres and 70 buildings. The state would continue to manage the two campgrounds and Artillery Hill area.
“On Friday, [the FWPDA] will also be announcing some new initiatives to help prepare us for taking over the campus in May,” Robison said. “We plan to bring some tremendous improvements to the day-to-day operations at Fort Worden including a new reservation system, new hospitality services and new technologies.”
The Discover Pass vehicle access fee remains for all of Fort Worden now, but when the FWPDA takes over some of the campus next spring, only the parts still managed by the state would require a Discover Pass.