RD482 - An Examination of Public-Private Partnerships in Virginia State Parks – November 2016

Executive Summary:
This report has been prepared in accordance with and fulfills the requirements of the Appropriation Act Item 365 (G) (Regular Session, 2016) which directs the Board of Conservation and Recreation to consider whether public-private partnerships would (i) result in greater operational efficiencies in the planning, development, construction, and operation of new state parks and in the management of existing state parks and (ii) generate cost savings, allow for additional state park amenities, and increase operational revenues for state parks.

Recent years reflect a growing interest in privatizing government services to reduce costs and increase efficiencies. Proponents of using private entities, including non-profit organizations, to operate a park or operate certain existing facilities within a park, believe the private sector is able to operate at a lower cost than the government entity or has special knowledge that will increase profitability. In contrast, research reflects an opposing view for the privatization of parks, park operations, and park facilities to include an unfavorable opinion regarding private entities profiting from the operation of traditional park services funded by tax revenue.

The Virginia State Park System has a long history of collaborating with private individuals, companies, and organizations to create and offer services to park guests. These include contracts with concessionaires, special permit events, infrastructure services; engineering and construction services; festivals and performance events; volunteer services; and most recently management and operation agreements as seen with the new Natural Bridge State Park and state park land in Loudoun County.

Several components must be present for a successful public-private partnership. Significant components include the legal authority of the public sector to enter into a partnership and the ability of the private entity to operate the park or provide services more efficiently and effectively and at a lower cost than the public sector. In examining the use of public-private partnerships, other factors to consider include how the land is acquired, potential limitations and restrictions on development, challenges pertaining to physical location of the park and general public support.

The State Park system in Virginia remains open to potential public-private partnerships, but in general the conditions that favor privatization of entire parks or major park services in the federal government and some states, mainly high employee and other operating costs, are not present in Virginia. In conclusion, the Board of Conservation and Recreation offers the following recommendations for the Department of Conservation and Recreation:

Recommendation 1: Proactively consider and identify additional facilities and services within its mission that can be created through public-private partnerships, consult with the private sector as to the feasibility of these projects, and solicit such arrangements if opportunities exist. Incorporating the identification of facilities and services that could be provided through public-private partnerships could be included as a component of the existing state park master planning process set out in §10.1-200.1 of the Code of Virginia.

Recommendation 2: Explore potential partnerships with nonprofit organizations as a way to bring in development capital or special services on properties that are otherwise restricted to partnerships with for-profit businesses.

Recommendation 3: Continue to explore potential partnerships to improve electronic communications and connectivity services in State Parks.