PenMet Parks finding ways to meet needs

January 8, 2014 

The Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District is a unique organization in many ways. And as it continues to feel the effect of an economic situation that has it as a lower-priority property-tax collector, PenMet Parks has evolved and become a hub of collaboration that will continue to allow Gig Harbor-area residents to enjoy their natural setting.

PenMet Parks, formed in 2004 when voters approved a ballot measure, has reached out in the past decade to acquire property and build improvements, when it’s possible. Its crown jewel is Sehmel Homestead Park, 10123 78th Ave. NW, a 98-acre site that’s home to baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, a basketball court, an outdoor performing arts center and four miles of recreational trails.

That’s what we traditionally think about when we picture what a parks district should manage. But PenMet Parks has gone beyond that, particularly with mutually beneficial, creative partnerships.

Take last month’s transaction with Tacoma Screw Products, Inc., as the latest in a string of positive moves with the community in mind.

The Gig Harbor Athletic Club, just off state Route 16 at 36th Street, had been awaiting a buyer. PenMet Parks Executive Director Terry Lee showed interest, particularly because of the indoor soccer program that’s been held inside the building. He also envisioned the possibility of moving the administrative offices to the premises.

When it became apparent that the price tag was too much for the parks district, Lee kept his ear to the ground. He joined a few investors for a series of meetings, not necessarily to put money into the project but to see if there was a way PenMet Parks could remain involved.

“This thing is huge for the community,” Lee said. “If we don’t have it here in Gig Harbor, (indoor soccer players) are going to have to go to Bremerton.”

Later, Lee learned about Tacoma Screw Products’ purchase of the building. And he worked on a deal to secure a renewable lease for $1 per year to operate the indoor soccer center. PenMet Parks spent an additional $102,000 to buy the turf, sideboards and scoreboards, Lee said, and they hired a staff member and added an intern to help run the program.

And while the long-term future will be decided by Tacoma Screw Products — the company may build a new headquarters on the site — the soccer center will be there one year at a time.

“I think it’s going to be a gem for the community, not only to cover the indoor soccer component, but all the recreational programs that Gretchen Hayes runs,” Lee said.

Many of the programs will be new, and they’ll start this month.

The soccer-center solution is right in line with the parks district’s philosophy since Lee was hired in October 2010. He had reached his limit of two four-year terms on the Pierce County Council, and he saw several different ways and pieces of land that the county could transfer to PenMet Parks.

Lee also had special interest in the Tacoma Narrows Airport. While he was on the county council, he’d pushed the county to purchase the airport from the City of Tacoma, primarily because Pierce County controlled the zoning and permitting process. It only made sense that the county also run the facility. But the airport hadn’t turned a profit, and the price tag went up after Lee had council support for a lesser amount.

During Lee’s transition to the parks district, he saw Madrona Links Golf Course as part of the deal. Parks board members agreed to add $2 million to Pierce County’s $3 million offer to complete the purchase from the City of Tacoma, and now PenMet Parks owns the land on which the golf course sits. The land is leased to the company that runs Madrona Links for another 17 years, Lee said, and PenMet Parks gets a percentage of the greens fees that adds up to about $60,000 in annual revenue.

PenMet Parks also has partnered with the Peninsula School District and Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One for the space that’s currently the Rotary Bark Park, and additional projects are in the works.

When money gets tight, creativity wins.

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