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Parks board urges concessions expansion

Thursday, December 7, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Taking a walk down one of the many beautiful trails of Butler Park, it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the scenery and forget that Lady Bird Lake is also one of the city’s financial assets. Parks and Recreation Department financial contract compliance staff made a presentation to the board at its Dec. 5 meeting on the annual concessions report for the park, and while revenue had increased in some areas, the board made a recommendation to approve the report on the condition that the parks department follow through on adding more concessionaires to the roster.

The park already offers several concessionaires for visitors to pay for recreational activities, including boat rentals, golf and a miniature train. Those venues in turn pay a percentage of their revenue to the city, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. This past year, rowing continued to be the most money-making enterprise at Lady Bird Lake, with Texas Rowing Center paying the most out of any other concession at $197,016.

It is the duty of the board in conjunction with the Environmental Commission to make a joint recommendation to City Council on what to do about concessions at the lake following the completion of the report. The Environmental Commission has made its recommendation, expressing its concern that marine waste disposal is not being monitored as well as it should be and that the number of boats may exceed a reasonable capacity.

Rather than proposing to rein in any aspect of the park’s management, Board Member Michael Casias said he thought concessions should be broadened. There are currently several interested concessionaire candidates, and Casias said that in the past when the board has made recommendations for new concessions staff had not followed through. For him, Butler Park could provide many more amenities than water-related entertainment.

“This report is just so sad,” Casias said at the meeting. “We have such potential to realize in what is our crown jewel.”

Not restricting his comments to Lady Bird Lake, Casias said that he thought the city should widen its vision for concessions in parklands in general. Acting Director Kimberly McNeeley announced that the department had published a new report that morning specifically on the subject of enhancing concessions around the city.

That report identifies many possible new locations for concessions, but focuses on temporary concessions rather than permanent ones. Unlike the commercial entities at Lady Bird Lake, which sign multiyear contracts with the city and give up a portion of their income, these temporary vendors only have to pay for a one-time $1,500 permit to operate for six months at a metropolitan park. The report does suggest, as a possible policy change, that the department could evaluate current temporary vendors and elevate the most successful to permanent status as a way of growing the number of permanent concessionaires.

Board Member Richard DePalma said that he was optimistic about the department’s efforts to revamp the revenue stream, but he requested that McNeeley schedule a follow-up meeting to update him and Casias on the progress of the search for new permanent vendors.

Photo by Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

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