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Allegheny County Executive Fitzgerald pursues business in parks

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 12:10 a.m.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's push to open county parks to more public-private partnerships will continue on Tuesday when county council considers a plan to allow a company to construct a treetop zipline course in North Park.

It's one of four items on council's agenda involving private operations in the parks.

“There's times when we feel the best solution is contracting with private companies rather than using our own employees,” said Councilman Nick Futules, D-Oakmont, who chairs council's parks committee.

Fitzgerald proposed a 10-year contract with Derwood, Md.-based Adventure Forest LLC, which will build the treetop adventure and zipline course known as Go Ape North Park.

The county would collect $20,000 in the first year, topping out at $40,500 by the last year of the five-year contract.

The move occurs two months after council approved a Fitzgerald-backed plan with South Side-based OTB Bicycle Cafe to renovate the North Park Boathouse and open a restaurant and bar. That agreement will net the county annual rent starting at $36,000 in the first year and reaching $60,000 by the fifth year.

Fitzgerald said he wants to expand private business in the parks. Spokeswoman Amie Downs said he asked all department heads to look for creative ways to raise money.

“Partnerships like this provide a return to the county while offering something for residents and visitors alike that the county hasn't been able to do on its own,” Downs said.

Park backers said they favored opening the parks for more uses.

“I suppose it might be good for family fun. I know the county is into these public-private partnerships. I think a lot of it makes sense,” said Gary Rigdon, 51, of McCandless, chairman of the Friends of North Park. “These partnerships do tend to be pushed more by Republicans rather than Democrats, but I think it shows Fitzgerald is a centrist and is looking for ways to generate revenue from the park system.”

Fitzgerald, a Democrat, also will seek the renewal of three agreements in South Park. The South Park Theater will continue to operate and manage theater in the park, South Park Youth Football will continue to use the concession stand above the oval, and the South Park Area Radio Kontrol Society will continue to operate the model aircraft field.

“All I've heard is positive things about it,” said David Buchewicz of South Park, head of Friends of South Park.

The Go Ape course would provide visitors with the chance to explore North Park from otherwise unobtainable vantage points while navigating through treetops using ziplines and Tarzan swings, Downs said.

The course would be located between Pierce Mill Road and the tennis courts to the east of the boathouse.

Fitzgerald is reviewing recommendations from a vision team, from which he sought ideas to improve the parks system. Among those recommendations were: developing a countywide riverfront park; moving park workers under one department; renting cabins and RV spaces; improving trails; and asking voters to decide whether to raise the real estate tax to finance parks.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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