By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
We’ve been gathering more information in the four days since we broke the news about the proposal – which had not previously been brought to general public attention, though the city and the UK-based company have been working together for almost a year. Our original report is now the third-most-commented-on non-snow story in WSB’s five years of covering West Seattle news, with 235 comments as of this morning.
The comments so far are mostly expressions of concern or opposition. Last weekend, opponents launched a Facebook page – “Stop GoApe Zipline in Lincoln Park.” So far, we have not heard of any corresponding effort by supporters (if there is, please let us know).
In research so far, we found that two other urban-park-based proposals in the U.S., where it has three locations in addition to its two-dozen-plus in Europe, were dropped after opposition similar to what’s being voiced here, while one potential location, on land owned by a California airport, appeared to have been welcomed by the community. Ahead – more on that as well as new information about how the Lincoln Park proposal emerged, and what happens next:
A Seattle Parks document says the city “selected” GoApe as a potential partner last August, as part of its Expressions of Interest process (outlined in this city document), though the policy notes regarding partnerships that “(l)ocal ownership, leadership, and beneficiary participation are keys to success.” (Go Ape is based in the UK, with U.S. headquarters in Maryland.) If you missed it in our first story, here’s where a Go Ape PowerPoint says the Lincoln Park installation would be:
Pursuing more details on what preceded the decision last August to pursue a partnership with Go Ape, we compiled a list of questions for Rebecca Salinas, Parks’ senior manager of partnerships, who supervises Charles Ng, the point person on this project, who we learned in early research is unreachable until next week. We did not hear directly back from Salinas, but received answers Monday afternoon through Parks spokesperson Karen O’Connor.
She says that it all started when, through the Expressions of Interest process, a similar organization “came forward and we showed them around … then we didn’t hear back from them. Soon after that, two other organizations contacted us, one of which was Go Ape. We showed them a few of our parks. We decided there was some interest and put out RFPs [Request for Proposals]. We received three (proposals), and selected them.”
(3:33 pm update: O’Connor says she has since learned an RFP was *not* issued:
After further discussion with Rebecca Salinas, our Partnership Manager, I learned that we did not put out a Request for Proposal for the zipline in Lincoln Park.
In June 2010 Parks developed an Expression of Interest form that was posted our Partnerships web page. The purpose is to encourage and welcome interested parties who may want to engage in partnership opportunities with Seattle Parks. As a result, in April 2011, three companies sent in written preliminary proposals to construct and operate a high ropes course on Park property. High ropes courses, ropes challenge courses and zip lines are becoming popular throughout the country.
Parks issued a detailed questionnaire to each of these three organizations in May 2011, and evaluate their responses in order to select an organization to potentially construct and operate a high ropes course for Seattle Parks and Recreation.
Go Ape, a for-profit business, was selected as the potential partner for providing a high ropes course in a Seattle park.
(back to original report)
We have asked for a copy of the Request for Proposals that yielded this one, but have not yet received it. Meantime, O’Connor continued [in Monday correspondence], “We showed them a bunch of different parks. They loved Lincoln Park for all the reasons we love Lincoln Park.”
O’Connor said Parks had one initial concern – competition with the Ropes Challenge Course installed at Camp Long in West Seattle last year, also through a partnership – in this case, with the nonprofit 4-H. “But we talked to Camp Long, and this was totally different, so we started moving forward. We brought in our naturalist and our forester and had them look at the proposal. We’re (now) trying to figure out if we need an environmental-impact study … we think we’re going to move forward with that.”
(Photo added 4:25 pm: Concerned park users/neighbors toured the proposed course area today with Erika Schultz, left, Seattle Times photojournalist, and pointed out nests)
Commenters have raised concerns from wildlife – particularly the numerous bird species in the park – to vegetation; we found that Lincoln Park has long had a vegetation-management plan on file – see it here. The plan notes that, “”Despite Lincoln Park’s tremendous popularity, much of the park’s native vegetation has been conserved over time, representing a significant legacy and key to its landscape character.” (We couldn’t find a wildlife plan.)
Questions so far also have included whether the city would be fairly compensated for giving over a chunk of parkland to a for-profit company whose current admission fees are $55/adults, $35/youth. One page in their PowerPoint, which a concerned citizen sent to us, outlines what the company sees as the benefit to Seattle Parks:
The “significant revenue share” isn’t attached to a number there, but it is in the “project summary” document we received (see it here, or in see the full text of it in our first story): Estimated at $40,000 to $65,000. We asked Parks if that is the only direct revenue expected – for example, would they charge Go Ape rent? No, says O’Connor. But she cited something we hadn’t yet heard: Go Ape “would do some advertising for us, advertising we can’t afford, for the Camp Long ropes course, and promote it. And they would do some environmental work in the park – that would be part of the agreement.”
(Critics have pointed out that volunteers already do a significant amount of work in the park – volunteers who had not heard of this till some information about the proposal was e-mailed to them last week.)
Our last question for Parks, for now, involved the time lag between the initiation of a relationship between the department and Go Ape, and the proposed deal coming to light now. According to Seattle Parks’ “Public Involvement Policy for Parks Planning Processes and for Proposals to Acquire Property, Initiate Funded Capital Projects, or Make Changes to a Park or Facility” (see the full policy here):
It is the policy of Seattle Parks and Recreation, in carrying out its mission:
• To invite and encourage direct public involvement in its planning efforts and in the review of its funded capital projects and any proposal that would, in the judgment of the Superintendent, substantially modify the property’s use or appearance.
• To provide early and thorough notification of proposals and projects, through a variety of means, to users, user groups, neighborhoods, neighborhood groups, and other interested people.
O’Connor herself “just learned about it recently,” she said, adding, “We’re still trying to figure out if we are even moving forward. … We want to have a public meeting in early-to-mid August, we’ll advertise that, put out an e-mail blast.” And she reiterated that the proposal would have to go before the Parks Board and City Council to get formal approval. Currently, it’s still in “internal exploration” mode, she said.
Researching other U.S. parks where Go Ape installations have been proposed, we found two others where local residents said they didn’t find out until relatively late in the game. In Fairfax County, Virginia, the park authority made a deal in summer 2011 involving 400-acre Riverbend Park, whose neighbors and users started finding out in the fall, according to this report from last year, and an online compilation of e-mail comments on the proposal. The plan subsequently was dropped, according to this February 2012 story.
In fall 2010, this brief story was reported to be the first word that neighbors and users of 287-acre Byrd Park, also in Virginia, got of a plan for Go Ape to build there – a plan that was, by the time they heard, about to go to the local Planning Commission, with construction to start within months. The plan stalled after a public official identified as its major proponent quit his job. Go Ape has opened two facilities in the same region as the two aforementioned proposals – its first U.S. location at 1,800-acre Rock Creek Regional Park in Rockville, Maryland (here’s the Go Ape page for Rock Creek), and 600-acre Freedom Park in Williamsburg, Virginia (here’s the Go Ape page for Freedom Park).
Go Ape’s third U.S. facility opened in May in Indianapolis’s Eagle Creek Park, and it has had at least one other on the boards – in South Lake Tahoe, California, which would be the first Western U.S. location. According to this report from last November, 12 acres belonging to the Lake Tahoe Airport were to be leased to Go Ape, which also was to provide a revenue share. Construction was supposed to start this summer, but according to this report from May, there were issues to work out with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Back to the Lincoln Park proposal: This would be the first facility of its kind in a Seattle city park (there are on-the-ground “zipline” type swings for kids, including the well-known one near Lincoln Park’s south parking lot). Affected by deep city budget cuts in recent years – which have led, among other things, to dramatic cuts and changes in the community-center system – it has been pursuing more partnerships, jn an effort to keep facilities open and maintained. One of the longest-standing partnerships is with the Associated Recreation Council, which – though many don’t realize this – operates many of the programs you’ll find at Parks-owned properties.
We asked Parks’ Karen O’Connor who, at this stage of the Go Ape proposal, is the appropriate person with whom feedback could be shared – a question asked by many – and she replied that it would be Charles Ng, the partnerships manager, whose contact information is here.
To date, the only scheduled public presentation remains the Morgan Community Association‘s regular quarterly meeting on July 18th (7 pm, lower-level meeting room at The Kenney [WSB sponsor], 7125 Fauntleroy Way SW). Since they meet only quarterly, the agenda is likely to have a multitude of other items. As noted earlier in this report, Parks says it will schedule a meeting specifically about the proposal next month. We are also continuing to check with other area community groups to see if this will appear on others’ agendas; Lincoln Park is in the coverage area of the Fauntleroy Community Association, which had not heard about the proposal when we contacted its president last week, but planned to check with Parks.
Regarding the rest of the timeline: When we first spoke with O’Connor last week, she said the Partnerships division had projected it might get an agreement to the City Council by year’s end; before going to the full council, it would first go through the Parks and Neighborhoods Committee, whose chair, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, is also unavailable for comment until next week.
Added 3:37 pm: In O’Connor’s aforementioned statement received by WSB today after publishing this story, she mentions an expected “Park Board review and public hearing in September.” That would be before any proposal goes to the City Council.