[Source: AP via azcentral.com]
Arizona officials might turn over management of two small state parks to private operators so they can reopen the sites that were closed because of budget trouble.
The 28-park state system already uses concessionaires to provide some services but now may go further by turning to the private sector for the actual operation.
The parks system has requested proposals due Sept. 23 for operation of Oracle State Park in southeastern Pinal County and is considering whether to issue a request for proposal for Lyman Lake in southern Apache County.
Ultimately that could result in the parks being operated by private companies, parks Executive Director Renee Bahl said Wednesday.
The move is being viewed with some skepticism by at least one potential bidder.
Arizona lawmakers wrestled with parks-related funding issues throughout their 2010 session, ultimately passing legislation specifically authorizing state officials to contract with public, tribal and private entities to operate parks.
Recreation Resource Management, a Phoenix-based company that operates campgrounds and marinas in about a dozen states, in February offered to take over operations of some Arizona state parks for a year so they could remain open.
Parks officials did not reject the request outright but said privatization was not a “silver bullet.” Instead, they have turned to cities, counties and other public entities, reaching agreements that help pay for continued state management of certain parks and management of others by non-state public entities.
Now, nine state parks remain open under state management, while seven others are being operated by state employees through partnership agreements. Five others are being run by other public entities and six are closed.
Partnership agreements haven’t proved to be feasible with all parks, including Oracle and Lyman Lake, said Renee Bahl, the parks system’s executive director.
“We weren’t able to find a solution for the public sector,” Bahl said of Oracle, which is located near a small unincorporated community of the same name and which closed in October. “Everything is on the table right now. We want the parks to be open for the public and the economy too.”
However, a Phoenix-based company that operates parks in about a dozen states and that previously offered to run some Arizona parks to keep them open to help out the state expressed only cautious interest in bidding to operate Oracle.
“The Oracle RFP is pretty thin gruel,” said Warren Meyer, president of Recreation Resource Management.
The park has many restrictions that appear to undercut its value as a “good commercial opportunity,” particularly as a stand-alone project without opportunities to spread overhead costs over several parks, he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
However, Meyer said RMM still might bid to operate Oracle to pre-empt any strategy by parks officials to undercut privatization efforts.
Meanwhile, Cindy Krupicka, president of a booster group for Oracle State Park, said she’d welcome privatization. “I’d just like to see the park open,” she said.