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E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Love lost

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Comments (15)

Does Parks suffer more from cash crunches (real or perceived) than the other city bureaus? Or is threatening to take away our intramural sports, swingsets, and dog parks a more effective way of getting taxpayers to pony up more money than, say, threatening to increase permit fees?

From using temp agencies to hire lifeguards (like EMTs, first responders who are paid very little), to trying to sell off a chunk of Mount Tabor, to seriously considering corporate sponsorship, Parks always seems to need to cut corners and save cash.

Maybe parks are considered a luxury by the city that should take a back seat to more vital services and infrastructure. Maybe its seen as "fat" that can be trimmed out of the budget first. Maybe with fewer families with children living in the city limits there is less political will to maintain them.

Unless, again, it's the whole "give us money or this puppy dies" (or rather, "will have no park to poop in") ploy.

If the city is really as concerned about staunching the flow of families and preserving our vaunted quality of life, shoring up Parks is one easy way to do so.

Without a doubt.

The city recently increased Parks SDC charges DRAMATICALLY!


The SJRC was ill conceived from the beginning. The center was originally suppose to go to another part of town but it was deemed "unfair" to minority and poor populations so it was built in St. Johns. Too bad no one bothered to see if the "community" wanted to play tennis. St. Johns is not very central to other areas so the center only served the small population there and never became a draw.

Back in the early eighties, when I played regularly, the city's tennis courts were in rough shape. If they've deterioated since then, they must be pretty well unusable.

Hey Jack, glad you remember about the proposed Mt. Tabor Yard and Nursery sale. A group of us got that plan killed, and have been hard at work planning out a better future for those facilities, and for the parks system in general. But we haven't gotten a lot of ink lately.

PP&R has been an excellent partner in this process, since we got through mediation last year. We've been moving forward on hiring an architectural firm, and studying transportation options. But unfortunately, Mayor Potter's proposed budget doesn't provide for us to continue our work.

We're working on getting that fixed, and if anybody's able to write a letter or email in support of our work, it would be a big help. Please see the blog post on my blog for all the details.

Our Portland area tennis courts are a vital part of our city - please keep them in consideration for funding in the future. Tennis is a wonderful sport from toddlers to elderly - we must keep this apart of our community!!

A friend of mine has a son who plays on a high school tennis team. They compete at PTC and the facilities are a joke.

It's bad enough that our football, track, and soccer fields look like poor elementary school facilities compared to the 'burbs (excluding the privately funded Lincoln of course) but apparently tennis facilities are an order of magnitude worse.

Come on, who needs a park when you can pay $4 to ride the tram? Kids also love riding on the streetcar, don't you know.

I played HS tennis in Portland, and there are schools who we played who could not reliably practice because of public course issues. I remember playing a qualifying round for districts on a court which had a 1/4" gap running all along the baseline about 8" inside of the line... right where alot of foot work is done. It was a bad court, but we played matches on courts that had the surface pealing away.

The following is quoted from PP&R's mission statement.

"OUR MISSION-Portland Parks & Recreation contributes to the city’s vitality by: 1) Establishing and safeguarding the parks, natural resources, and urban forest that are the soul of the city, ensuring that green spaces are accessible to all; 2) Developing and maintaining excellent facilities and places for public recreation, building community through play and relaxation, gathering and solitude; and 3) Providing and coordinating recreation services and programs that contribute to the health and well being of residents of all ages and abilities.”

When I read this mission statement, I’m impressed. These are ambitious goals. But the goals can be achieved as long as our city leaders make the parks program a priority.

However, it's clear that if the city follows through with these budget cuts, that the mission statement is just a fluff piece and that any / all of the parks programs are subject to getting the axe.

The city needs to revisit what their constituents are asking for. Continuing to support the tennis program and the parks in general makes good sense for all concerned.

Can we all agree the installation and maintenance of an FTTP network is more complex than managing a few tennis courts?

If the City of Portland can't manage city owned tennis courts, or maintain their existing physical plant, it makes no sense to expand their mandate beyond their (already dysfunctional) services.

It's all part of the shell game that ends up being played when the City funds new projects out of the General Fund. Things like Tennis get hit, because who will notice? I predict that we will begin to see a lot more of this kind of subversive cost-cutting now that rising property values and business taxes aren't filling the coffers. The worst is yet to come.

I played tennis at St. Johns for many years until a few years back. It became deplorable with bathrooms that didn't work, odors beyond retching, leaks from the metal roof onto the tennis courts, no heat... But the contracted owners tried to make it work, sometimes with humor, but in most cases the couldn't get the landlords, the Parks Department, to do very little.

The problem at Portland Parks starts at the top with Director Zari Santer. She is a horrible manager and it is way past time for the city to bring someone else in.

Can someone tell me how to get on the e-mail list for these meetings? As a tennis player who loves playing in Portland parks, this is one of the few e-mail lists I'd like to be on!

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