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New round of bids for city rec centers gets few takers

Low turnout on second round of bids throws Rawlings-Blake’s high-stakes privatization plan into doubt.

Above: City officials inspect the Greenmount rec center earlier this month. It was one of only five facilities bid on by private parties today.

The second round of bids by private groups to run recreation centers was even less successful than the first round, throwing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s plan to save money by privatizing the facilities into question.

Only three new bidders, along with two previously rejected parties, submitted proposals by today’s deadline. City officials had expected a dozen or more groups to offer bids based on interest at pre-bid conferences.

The new bidders were Youth Sports Program for the Oliver center, Diamonds on the Rise for Hilton, and Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge for Parkview.

The first two have no track record in running rec centers. The latter is a black separatist group known for its in-your-face demonstrations in Washington, D.C.

They were joined by two parties rejected in the first round – John Darrell Brantley Financial Service for Oliver and Park Heights Renaissance for Towanda.

Fate of Many Rec Centers Uncertain

The paucity of applicants – coupled with the scant financial resources of four of today’s five bidders – means that, at best, only a small portion of the centers originally slated for privatization will have a new operator.

The fate of rec centers that the Rawlings-Blake administration pegged for privatization – including Cecil Kirk, Central Rosemont, Crispus Attucks, Northwood, Solo Gibbs and Woodhome – is up in the air.

Some of Brew’s prior coverage:

Chief of rec bureau calls some city rec centers “horrible”
Jack Young vents his concerns
Groups slated to run rec centers have few resources
Proposed rec center operator withdraws bid

Rec and Parks officials first said that as many as 10 centers not attracting private operators would be closed by December 31.

The agency backed down after a public uproar and promised that all 55 youth facilities would remain open until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2012.

Charging Fees to Rec Users

For months, the administration had hoped that an experienced operator (such as the YMCA) or a major institution (such as Loyola University) or a sports organization (such as the Orioles ball club) or another public organization (such as Baltimore city schools) would agree to operate some of the  centers, which the city describes as obsolete and too costly to operate.

Instead, no major group has materialized.

Last month, the city handed over four rec centers – Brooklyn O’Malley, Collington Square, Easterwood and Lillian Jones – to three private parties over the objections of City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Each group was awarded $50,000 in “seed money” by the Board of Estimates.

Most of today’s bidders said they would make ends meet by charging children and adults for use of the rec centers. In its Request for Proposals, the city offered to award two $50,000 seed grants for smaller rec centers and $100,000 for a rec center over 8,000 square feet.

Here are profiles of the five proposed operators, based on a review of the material they submitted today to the Board of Estimates.

1 – Youth Sports Program (Oliver, Greenmount)

The non-profit was established seven years ago by Shantel Thigpen. The group says it will maintain the current rec programs at Oliver and Greenmount, but charge $30 a week for children for “after-school care.”

The group says it will also operate a summer camp at $50 a week per child, with a $100 registration fee.

The fees from the after-school and summer camp programs will generate $57,500. The groups says it will raise another $20,000 from fundraising. The group’s exact budget was hard to determine, but it says that a $55,000 salary would go to director Thigpen.

2 – Diamonds on the Rise (Hilton)

The group, found by Elisa Tyler in 2009, specializes in enrichment programs and self-esteem workshops for at-risk youth.

Staff currently consists of volunteers and interns and has raised $1,000 in donations. It proposes enrichment, sports and academic programs at the Hilton center in West Baltimore, with a small annual enrollment fee for children. There would be additional fees for arts and crafts and cooking classes as well as a summer camp fee of $225 per child.

The group projects a budget of roughly $140,000 a year, including a $49,000 salary for Tyler. The group hopes to raise funds from car washes, pizza sales and fashion shows. It projects total revenues of $11,577 a year “from grants and contributions.”

The proposal does not explained how the group plans to bridge the yawing gap between its expenses and revenues outside of receiving a one-time $50,000 seed grant from the city.

3 – Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (Parkview)

The group, founded in 2006 to provide “a support system for substance abusers, sexually abused individuals, criminals (adults and youth) and gang members,” has outlets in Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C. Its director is listed as Holly Sawyer of Washington.

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes ISUPK as “an extremist Hebrew Israelite group that preaches hatred of white people, Jews and anyone else who doesn’t embrace its radical separatist ideology.”

The group has an all-volunteer staff and says it receives donations of less than $25,000 a year. It would charge fees for programs it runs at the Parkview center near Druid Hill Park, including $10 per session for martial arts, $30 per session for “homework help” and $80 per session for “GED prep.”

The few recreational activities provided by the group would take place on Friday nights (basketball, jump rope, “hoola hooping” and roller skating, according to its proposal) and on Saturday.

The group projects total revenues of $104,712 during its first year of operation and expenses of $97,743.

4 – John Darrell Brantley Financial Service (Oliver)

In a reprise of his rejected bid for Oliver, Leith Walk and Northwood in October, owner John D. Brantley proposes to move from a recreation-program paradigm to “a safer and more encompassing service that expands with available partnerships based on financial reality” and will serve “as a improvement and creative relief” to the city.

To achieve this goal, Brantley will offer after-school math and science programs taught, he says, by the Baltimore City Schools and an entrepreneurship program taught by “Staples,” apparently referring to the office supply company.

He will also teach “thinking skills” to “the observated neighborhoods” and provide financial planning seminars.

Brantley would pay himself $60,00 to run Oliver and depend on grant funds from various groups to cover the operating budget.

5 – Park Heights Renaissance (Towanda)

This is a resubmission of the October proposal by the non-profit community group headed by Julius Colón. The group proposes to continue and expand the rec activities at Towanda in northwest Baltimore and apparently would not charge youth for using the center.

For its first year of operation, PHR seeks $50,000 in city seed money to supplement its $90,000 commitment. After that, the community group plans to use “the annual slots allocation provided to the Park Heights Master Plan” as well as funds from the Family League and Sinai Hospital.


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