Onorato has action plan for county parks, looks for foundation, public-private help
Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato has unveiled his County Parks Action Plan to transform and enhance recreational opportunities at the County's nine regional parks.
The key components of the plan are the creation of a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to raise private funds for the regional parks and the establishment of public-private partnerships to operate some of the parks' major amenities and attractions.
“Allegheny County's nine regional parks have the potential to be one of the finest park systems in the country,” said Mr. Onorato. “We also have tremendous opportunity to raise significant private funds and generate revenue from the parks' assets to help with renovation of the facilities and development of recreational programs.”
Within 30 days, Mr. Onorato plans to name a board of directors to oversee the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, whose mission will be to raise private funds for the county's nine regional parks and the proposed riverfront greenway. To help establish the foundation, the county executive will direct $1.0 million from the county's capital budget to the new organization, and he has committed to matching the foundation's future fundraising dollar-for-dollar with county capital funds.
“With the establishment of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, we will be able to implement many of the goals and recommendations in the Allegheny County Parks Comprehensive Master Plan,” added Mr. Onorato. “By matching private giving, we will also double the amount of funds for deferred maintenance, recreational improvements and facility enhancements.”
Mr. Onorato also announced an effort to partner with the private sector to operate a number of major park facilities. The county will issue requests for proposals for adaptive reuse of the North Park Boathouse, Hartwood Stables, South Park Fairgrounds, and Boyce Park Four Seasons Activity Center, including the skiing and tubing area.
The county will also seek a private operator for its tennis courts in Boyce Park, North Park, Settler's Cabin Park and South Park. In addition, county officials will engage the services of the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Florida, to review the county's golf course operations in North Park and South Park.
In May 2006, the county executive announced a lease agreement with the Horticultural Society of Western Pennsylvania to provide a 452-acre parcel in Settler's Cabin Park for the Botanic Garden of Western Pennsylvania. The agreement will allow the Horticultural Society to develop, construct and operate the Botanic Garden on the county-owned land. It is estimated the Botanic Garden will draw more than 300,000 visitors annually, ranking it among the region's most visited attractions.
“We want to take advantage of the private sector's creativity, energy and resources to help us maximize the potential uses of our major park facilities,” added Mr. Onorato. “We are also open to future private-public partnerships to further enhance the development of our parks.”
Many of the announced changes were recommended by the American Institute for Leisure Resources, which conducted a study of the Allegheny County Park System this summer. The institute's study and report were made possible by a $25,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and Benedum Foundation.
“The county will also enlist the support of our friends' organizations in each regional park to assist with fundraising, programming, volunteerism, partnerships and sponsorships,” said Mr. Onorato. “And we will explore the use of name rights to also raise funds for our parks.”
Another recommendation that Mr. Onorato has asked staff to explore is working with the justice system and law enforcement agencies to establish a supplemental labor force to perform special maintenance projects in the regional parks. This workforce could include weekend offenders, community service workers, welfare workers and juvenile work crews.
To accomplish his goals, Mr. Onorato has named County Parks Action Plan Implementation Team, which includes Deputy County Manager Kathleen McKenzie, Parks Director Andrew Baechle, Public Works Director Tom Donatelli, Economic Development Director Dennis Davin and Administrative Services Director Tim Johnson.
Over the next several months, the county executive will be hosting community meetings in or near all nine regional parks to engage the public in the effort and gather input on additional programming, recreational and facility needs.