Pay To Play At Park Possible

July 25, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County commissioners will discuss soon whether to create a user's fee for access to the public beach at Millennium Park.

A recommendation to do just that, along with additional suggestions for revenue streams, can be found in a recently filed consultant's report that outlines a strategic business plan for the 1,500-acre park in northwest KentCounty

"There are a wide number of counties that are charging fees. It is a nominal fee," said David Walsh, of Schultz & Williams.

Schultz & Williams, a Philadelphia-based consultant, develops strategies for nonprofit cultural attractions and has done similar work for the zoological association and JohnBallPark. The county hired the firm in January to put the park's business plan together.

"We feel the beach can sustain a user fee. Not for parking, but for the beach area," said Walsh, who added that he found support among local groups for such a charge.

Receipts from an admission charge to the beach would be used for operation of the park, as would the other potential revenue sources listed in the report. Boat-launch fees, bicycle rentals, more concession stands, retail kiosks, recreational activities like rock climbing, and rental charges for parties and other events were listed as possible income generators for the county.

"There is more opportunity to have pay-to-play activities out there. It's not huge dollars, but it does offset the cost to run the park," said Walsh.

"Our recommendation is to outsource as much as possible and then take a fee," he told members of the county's Finance Committee last week.

As of the end of last year, $33.1 million had been invested in the park. The county has contributed $15.5 million of that total. A private fund drive raised $11.8 million of that amount and the state of Michigan gave $5.8 million for land acquisition last year.

"That is an amazing amount of investment coming from the public and private sides," said Walsh. "You've got to keep that momentum going."

The Finance Committee did just that. Members agreed last week to spend $1.23 million of county and state funds to acquire another 148 acres for MillenniumPark in two separate transactions. If the full board approves the purchases this week, that would bring the total number of park acres under the county's control to 1,257. But about 40 acres of that new acreage wouldn't become available to the county until 2011.    

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