Commentary

Baltimore Continues Pursuit of Private Partnerships for City Rec Centers

This summer Baltimore, Maryland Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s Recreation Center Task Force focused on saving the city’s 55-facility recreation (rec) center network by identifying $300,000-$400,000 in annual cost savings through public-private partnerships (PPPs). If implemented, the Recreation Center Task Force Report published August 19, 2011, would have ensured:

  • All City recreation centers would have remained open with current operating hours through summer/fall 2011. No recreation centers are planned to close this year;
  • There would have been no layoffs of existing recreation center staff;
  • Recreation center staffing and hours would have been increased at most City centers;
  • Baltimore City Recreation and Parks would have appropriateed over $14 million within the next two years to build new community centers and extensively renovated certain existing centers; and
  • The Department would have implemented charter center, collaboration, and partnership programs at up to 25 existing centers.

The full Recreation Center Task Force Report is available online here.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake applied the Task Force’s recommendations and issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) (posted online here) for three-year contracts to “stabilize recreation facilities and move them towards safer, more encompassing community centers with expanded services available through partnership based on financial reality.” Only five bids were accepted as meeting minimum city requirements; however even if they were all accepted, 18 rec centers would still have to be closed.

Mark Reutter of The Baltimore Brew reported today that a second RFP was issued Friday December 2 identifying 18 specific rec centers for private operation. This second RFP represents a modest scaling back of Rawlings-Blake’s pursuit of PPPs for city rec centers. According to The Baltimore Brew, the most concentrated number of parks identified in the second RFP are located in northeast Baltimore. Further, two previously closed parks (the ex-Police Athletic League Center in West Baltimore and the Bocek Rec Center in far East Baltimore) could be reopened through PPPs.

If a PPP agreement can’t be reached, the city will only have enough funding for 25 recreation centers on January 1, 2012 when funding would be reduced by a final total of nearly $520,000.

Baltimore is not alone in exploring this innovative approach. Local government policymakers across the country have implemented PPPs to keep parks open during economic downturns. For several PPP success stories, including New York City’s famous Central Park and Bryant Park, see my previous posts here and here.

Harris Kenny is a state and local government policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Harris has worked alongside policymakers in Colorado, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon and elsewhere to implement public policy solutions. Harris is currently serving as a member of the Local Authority Working Group of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's Amendment 64 Task Force, which is providing guidance on implementing recreational marijuana legalization. He conducts research on public finance, public-private partnerships, privatization, public safety, criminal justice and regulatory policy issues.

Harris has appeared on various television and radio outlets, such as National Public Radio, HuffPost Live, Al Jazeera, Voice of Russia and Colorado Public Television. His writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Denver Post, The Sacramento Bee, The Orange County Register, Real Clear Markets, reason.com, and other print and online outlets. He also serves as co-editor of Reason Foundation's Annual Privatization Report (reason.org/apr) and Innovators in Action (reason.org/innovators) publications.

Prior to joining Reason Foundation, Harris worked at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. He earned a BA in Economics from Pepperdine University, where he worked as a research assistant to Dr. Luisa Blanco at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy.


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