Portage ponders lakefront park's operations

2013-10-26T11:15:00Z 2013-10-27T23:35:07Z Portage ponders lakefront park's operationsJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | When the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk opened five years ago, officials knew it would be a success.

They didn't know, however, how successful it would be with hundreds of people flocking there each day during the summer to take advantage of everything from the beach to the handicapped fishing pier.

They didn't, either, come up with a long-term plan on how the park would be operated and maintained into the future.

The 56-acre park is owned by the National Park Service, but through an agreement, it is operated and maintained by the city of Portage.

In September, the city's Redevelopment Commission approved spending up to $325,000 on repairs and maintenance projects at the site. They also asked for Director of Public Works A.J. Monroe to develop a report on the operation and maintenance costs of the park.

Monroe and Parks Superintendent Jenny Orsburn made that report this week to the commission and, in what Monroe said was the "start of an honest discussion," presented a proposal, which included the hiring of a property manager and dedicating a $200,000 budget for the operating and maintenance of the site in 2014.

Monroe said the proposal was the "best model for operating the site" and a starting point on planning for the park's future.

Monroe said it is difficult to determine how much it costs to operate the lakefront site. While some $75,000 to $100,000 in costs can be identified, there are other costs that were melded into the overall park department's budget that is difficult to break out. He estimated, however, that it is likely costing the city close to the $200,000 to operate the park.

Orsburn said the parks department budget is all inclusive and that the report was the first time they have broken out an individual park to determine costs.

Monroe said they are also working with the NPS to expand the leasing potential of the park site.

The site, including the pavilion, can only be leased to outside groups for environmental education classes and marriage ceremonies. If an agreement can be reached, the site could be leased for other activities, which would bring additional revenue into the park. That revenue could be used to offset expenses of park operation and maintenance.

"There is so much potential with rentals. We just haven't been able to take advantage of it," Orsburn said.

Redevelopment Commission members did not commit to funding the proposal at this point. It is something, Monroe said, that would have to be decided by spring so that it could be put in place before the summer season.

"It is so far beyond what I expected. If the park can't operate it, we have to look at somewhere else to get the funding. Now we have to figure out how to divide the cost," Commission member Steve Nelson said.

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