2017-10-13 / Community

Potential Fort Williams Park manager could be mid-year hire

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

As use of the park has picked up, how to manage Fort Williams Park, home of Portland Head Light, has been a frequent topic of conversation among councilors. (Michael Kelley photo) As use of the park has picked up, how to manage Fort Williams Park, home of Portland Head Light, has been a frequent topic of conversation among councilors. (Michael Kelley photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – As the use of Fort Williams Park continues to grow, town staff, councilors and members of the Fort Williams Park Committee have begun thinking about making changes about how the popular seaside park in managed.

“As the use of the park continues to grow and grow and grow, we may be better served to work with a park director, who can manage that,” Town Manager Matt Sturgis said at an Oct. 2 town council workshop on the topic.

The park is largely managed by Public Works Director Bob Malley, as well as his staff and a team of volunteers for organizations and social groups around the area.

Sturgis said Malley is “about stretched as thin as he can” and the management tasks of Fort Williams Park are “pulling him away (from his public works duties) more and more on a consistent basis.”

Malley told councilors at the workshop session he had spent 50 percent of his day that day on park issues.

Hiring a park director was one of the suggestions that came out of a joint workshop between town councilors and members of the Fort Williams Park Committee. The details of the directors duties, and start date, are still being discussed, but Sturgis supports bringing the position on as a mid-fiscal year hire.

“If we hire them July 1, they are going to spend the first year getting to know what the heck they are doing and the issues in the park,” Sturgis said.

There is a funding available, Sturgis said, for the individual to start Jan. 1, the middle of the fiscal year.

“I think we’ve found some areas in the budget to fund that person,” he said, adding one-third of the $60,000 to $70,000 cost of the position could come from the Portland Head Light Fund (revenue from the gift shop and lighthouse museum) and two-third from the Fort Williams Park fund. The Portland Head Light gift shop netted $242,211 in fiscal year 2017, which ran from July 2016 to June 2017. In that time, the town took in $65,232 in event revenue from ceremony, picnic shelter and gazebo rentals and site fess and another $43,170 in revenue from bus and trolley visits. The bus revenue is only for commercial operators. There is no cost, or procedure, at this time, for camps or schools to bring a bus full of children.

According to fiscal year 2018 numbers, the town expected to spend $313,635 from the Fort Williams Park Capital Fund. Malley said the town typically takes in $190,000 to $200,000 from rentals, retail leases, bus and other user fees and donation boxes. Councilor Jessica Sullivan said the Jan. 1 start date would mean the park manager is “coming in during the quiet time of year.”

Potential duties of the director, who would, if hired, report to the town manager, include creating and managing the park’s operating budget; overseeing grounds and building maintenance; overseeing Portland Head Light operations; overseeing the vendor program; maintaining event calendar and approving events of up to 100 people; overseeing the bus/trolley visits; serve as staff support for the Fort Williams Committee and Fort Williams Park Foundation; performing and organizing inspections; overseeing park ranger program and parking; maintaining a good relationship with stakeholder groups and providing policy recommendations to the Fort Williams Park Committee and town manager.

There may be room in one of the old fort buildings for the park manager to have as his, or her, base of operations.

Councilor Sara Lennon said she would like to see the park manager do some strategic thinking about how to create additional revenue from the park.

“I continue to think of the park as a great source of revenue, so what are some of the other opportunities,” she said, adding by finding increased revenue, the position could pay for itself.

Strategic planning experience, council chairman Jamie Garvin said, would be important in this position.

“A lot of (these responsibilities) seem operational, and rightfully so, but I want to make sure we don’t lose the need for someone who has some level of experience or vision on what something looks like today and what it should look like in the future,” he said.

Councilor Kathy Ray supports bringing the park director on to take the burden off Malley and his public works crew.

“I think this is a good time of year to bring someone in,” she said.

The issues plaguing the park may not be going away anytime soon, but Sturgis and councilors hope the park manager position will help control overuse and provide better management.

“There’s a lot of really good reasons for this,” Sturgis said.

The changes made to the park’s operations is not just a council decision. Councilor Sara Lennon said in a September workshop with the Fort Williams Park Commitee, she would like to involve the entire community in the decision-making process.

Lennon said at the workshop it was imperative to have public input about the future of the park.

“We need the most resident input we can get in the least expensive way possible as soon as possible,” Lennon said, advocating for sending a survey to residents to gauge what issues they see in the park and what their longterm vision for the property is.

Fort Williams Committee member Donald Clark said at the workshop any operational or management change made by the council could adversely impact other groups that are working to preserve the park, such as the Fort Williams Park Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds from donors all over the area for park improvements or the vendors and gift shop, which both live off proceeds from tourists and visitors.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

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