Fort Worden is temporarily reducing its staff and services in response to the coronavirus, but officials want prospective guests and visitors to know that it’s not discontinuing its operations …
Fort Worden is temporarily reducing its staff and services in response to the coronavirus, but officials want prospective guests and visitors to know that it’s not discontinuing its operations entirely.
“It’s important to know that we’re still in business for leisure guests and groups that are under the current state-mandated limit for gatherings,” said Joan Rutkowski, executive coordinator and public records officer for Fort Worden. “Our crew that remains is focused on supporting these guests, maintaining campus facilities and responding to inquiries from folks seeking to visit in the future.”
Rutkowski added that people can still walk around and appreciate the tranquil atmosphere of the campus and state park.
“Over the last couple of weeks, it’s clearly been an important place for people who need to take a break from the news and experience some peace, as they soak in the beauty of the fort,” Rutkowski said.
Nonetheless, due to conference cancellations, as well as other current and projected business losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fort Worden Public Development Authority has reduced its operations, placing the majority of its employees on standby status.
Approximately 65 employees were placed on standby as of March 18, and 10 more were laid off because they were ineligible for standby.
Under standby status, most PDA employees qualify for unemployment benefits almost immediately, and the PDA will cover health insurance premiums through April 30 for employees with those benefits.
This temporary staff reduction is expected to last into May.
Both of the PDA’s restaurants — Reveille and Taps at the Guardhouse — are closed in the meantime.
The PDA has retained a skeleton crew of 14 employees whose roles maintain critical functions so normal operations can resume quickly at the appropriate time.
PDA Executive Director Dave Robison described this as “a very difficult decision,” that was deemed necessary due to Washington state being at “the epicenter” of this country’s outbreak.
“Our employees are dedicated to Fort Worden, our partners and our customers, and we look forward to bringing them back as soon as possible,” Robison said. “But right now, we are in a crisis.”
That being said, the Fort Worden Historic State Park remains open, as Rutkowski noted.
Visitors can still access the beach, bunkers and other park amenities with a Discover Pass or day-use pass, and if they want to check for the latest updates on state park operations, they can visit the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission’s website at parks.state.wa.us/covid19.
The PDA estimates it has already lost close to $500,000 in booked reservations due to the business downturn caused by the virus.
And the PDA released a statement saying it further anticipates that “substantial revenue loss” will continue, due to fewer leisure guests visiting the area, as well as Gov. Inslee’s directives on closing restaurants, limiting group gatherings and social distancing.
“The hospitality industry has been devastated by the spread of this virus, and life as we know it has changed dramatically,” Robison said. “But we’re heartened by the public’s commitment to these containment measures because they will save lives. That’s what is most important.”
Robison characterized his team as resilient, “like the fort itself,” and expressed confidence they “will lean on one another to get us through.”
The PDA had already implemented changes in food service and increased campus-wide deep cleanings early in the virus’ outbreak in Washington state to reduce social contact, but Inslee’s emergency proclamation compelled them to close Taps at the Guardhouse and limit Reveille business to take-out only on March 16.
Robison has been pursuing meetings with local and state officials to obtain additional financial assistance for the PDA’s employees who are on standby.
“So many people in this state and beyond need support, and our community needs to find creative ways to meet this challenge,” Robinson said.
Robison touted the Give Jefferson Emergency Funding Campaign as but one example of “a creative approach to strengthen the community’s support network,” by raising money for nonprofits and community-serving government agencies responding to increased demand for services from those who are either at high risk of contracting COVID-19 or are experiencing financial hardships due to its economic impacts.
With the remaining crew at the fort offering limited hospitality and public services, the fort is still open for visitors who want to rent overnight accommodations.
According to Rutkowski, staff have been fielding phone calls and working with customers who made reservations for conferences and other gatherings at Fort Worden and have helped them reschedule their events either later in the year or in 2021.
Robison explained that two large PDA construction projects remain on schedule at this time, especially since the government and grant funds that support Makers Square and the private loan used to develop the “glamping” project can’t be transferred from these capital projects to support the fort’s general operations.
“We look forward to Makers Square and glamping eventually helping the PDA to expand its customer base and business, rebound from this crisis and facilitate a return to normal operations,” Robison said.
The fort’s 15 nonprofit and for-profit partner businesses that are part of the PDA’s Lifelong Learning Center are making independent decisions about their operations, a number of which are also closing temporarily.
For updates on those organizations’ statuses and program plans, visit fortworden.org/ourstory/onsite-programs.