The City of Portland parks bureau sure knows how to make enemies. Remember all the ill will they caused when they tried to sell off part of Mount Tabor Park to one of Jim Francesconi's clients? Now they're starting in with a new group of outraged Portlanders: tennis enthusiasts.
Apparently the city is planning continuing budget cuts for that sport, contributing to the deterioration that is already evident in the tennis facilities in the parks. That has led to a series of e-mails mobilizing players for Thursday's budget hearing. It's hard to resist noting that they plan to raise a racket about this.
One player, Doug Hansen, has done a bit of investigation of the state of tennis in the Portland parks, and he prepared a little report that is circulating among the T-ballers these days. It includes the following observations:
1. Tennis has been supported by Portland Parks and Recreation since the early days, when outdoor courts were constructed at many Portland parks. Most notable among these are the courts at Buckman Field as well as Washington, Grant, Laurelhurst, and Gabriel Parks.A while back, during the Willamette Week endorsement interviews, City Council candidates were asked which city bureau was the worst managed. They all refused to answer, but I know which one I would have mentioned first. Yep, Parks.
2. The era of year round indoor tennis arrived in 1973 with the construction of the Portland Tennis Center (PTC), which has now become the center of activity for public tennis in Portland.
3. A second indoor tennis facility, the Saint johns Racquet Center (SJRC), was added in 1980.
4. Since 1980, however, no tennis facility has been added by Portland Parks, while numerous new and enhanced sports facilities have been constructed for the benefit of other sports and recreational activities.
Most prominent among these are a new golf course at Heron Lakes, new club houses and driving ranges at Eastmoreland and Red Tail golf courses, a new softball complex at Delta Park, artificial turf for the Delta Park soccer field, new skateboard parks, a new disk golf course at Pier Park, as well as new community centers, which include sports and recreational facilities such as basketball and volleyball courts, exercise and martial arts rooms, swimming pools, table tennis and Foosball, etc.
5. In addition, over the same 27 plus years, many tennis facilities have been allowed to deteriorate due to neglect, especially the outdoor courts and SJRC.
6. Adding insult to injury, during preparation of the fiscal year 06-07 budget, the Parks Bureau eliminated General Fund operating money for PTC and SJRC (about 30% of the total cost of operations), and decided to turn over operation of both facilities to a private operator. To that end they issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a private operator, but the RFP was so ill conceived that it produced no proposals, thus leaving the Parks Bureau at the mid point of the fiscal year with neither sufficient operating funds nor another facility operator.
7. When the players first saw the RFP, they immediately recognized that it set financial terms that would be impossible for anyone to meet, and that it was thus doomed to failure, which it was. The players also came to the realization that, based upon the many years of neglect, as previously noted, plus the Parks Bureau actions on the operating budget and RFP, the management apparently did not know what they were doing with regard to the tennis facilities.
8. A group of players with business and financial expertise thus became motivated to perform an economic analysis of PTC and SJRC, and to develop a sound business plan for their operation, which they then submitted to the Parks Bureau.
9. The player group found that:a. PTC and SJRC combined were generating enough revenue to cover about 70% of their operating costs, which is much higher than all other sports programs except for golf and the PIR, as well as more than the community centers, swimming pools, etc. Currently, PTC is close to the break even point, due to continued high player demand for court time coupled with a recent increase in court fees.10. The proposal the players have presented to the Parks Bureau is sound, sensible and workable, but the Parks Bureau dithers, and the players are now once again confronted with the prospect of a continuing shortage of court time along with budget cuts for both operations and badly needed maintenance.
b. PTC and SJRC lack economies of scale due to their relatively small size and separate locations. Seattle, Vancouver and Beaverton (Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District), by comparison, all have much larger, single, centrally located tennis facilities, which are heavily utilized, highly regarded by the players, and apparently financially self sufficient.
c. There is very high demand for court time at PTC, and a high level of player frustration with the difficulty of obtaining court reservation. SJRC, due to its out of the way location, is still not fully utilized, but is currently generating increased business.
d. PTC thus has the potential to be financially self sufficient by covering some or all of the adjoining outdoor courts with an air-supported structure, similar to what has been done in Beaverton.
11. The tennis players are not asking for special treatment. They ask only that:a. Tennis be treated on a par with the other sports, (which it most certainly has not for many years), and
b. The Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation learn from their counterparts in Seattle, Vancouver and Beaverton a better way to manage a successful and player responsive tennis program.