Broken Record

This is a generally fair discussion of private management of park operations in New Jersey.  But I am simply amazed at how this old trope keeps popping up every time

A chain restaurant in Wharton State Forest. A Ferris wheel at Liberty State Park. Weddings, flea markets, and corporate events taking over New Jersey’s historic sites and scenic lands.

That could be the future if the state goes forward with plans to privatize parts of its park system, some warn.

“Next thing you know, you have to pay more for everything and the public’s access is limited,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey. “You’ll be getting fee’d to death.”….

The problem, Tittel said, is “what happens down the road when private vendors take over park functions. They’re not professionals and don’t have the same level of caring for the parks,” he said. “Who’s screening them? Will valuables walk away?

“Then, there’s the loss of access,” he said. “If you can make more money on a Saturday afternoon renting out a park area, then the public doesn’t have access.”

The state could “bring in franchises that are detrimental to the theme of the park, like skeet-shooting, private golf courses, an amusement park, or a hotel catering hall,” Tittel said.

Readers will find answers to most of these questions both in the FAQ on this site as well as here.

But, in short, privately operated parks look just like the public ones, they are just operated less expensively.  None of our contracts allow us to add nutty new commercial facilities at will or limit access in any way.  The only differences are that we tend to actually charge less than publicly operated parks (because our costs are lower) and the facilities are in much better repair, because it is in our best interest to keep them nice (after all, Holiday Inn or McDonalds don’t make money by letting their facilities fall apart) and we don’t have to rely on the vagaries of the appropriations process get maintenance money.  Companies like ours are able to keep parks open and well-maintained using just the existing gate fees, without any additional taxpayer money — again because we are not saddled with the high costs and onerous work rules of a public agency.

To emphasize these points, we actually had a fact-finding trip of media, park officials, and legislators to two public parks in AZ, one publicly operated and one operated by a private company.  The case study from this trip is here.