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Boyce Park could join Allegheny County's privatization of operations

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
Boyce Park ski lift attendant Mark Kaczanowicz chops chunks of ice under the lift chairs on Thursday. Officials say privatizing the ski operation could reduce the county's costs while extending the operating system. Eric Felack | Tribune-Review

Boyce Park's skiing and snowboarding facilities could become part of Allegheny County's plan to privatize more operations at its nine parks, a county councilman said.

County parks department Director Andrew Baechle and Council Vice President Nicholas Futules have been discussing making a proposal to the county administration to contract with a company to operate the facilities, said Futules, D-Oakmont, chairman of the parks committee.

Baechle could not be reached for comment.

The county requested proposals from private companies several years ago but did not receive any, so the discussions have centered around requesting proposals again, Futules said.

County spokeswoman Amie Downs said the administration had no comment on the Boyce privatization proposal.

“The county executive, through the county manager, has asked all of the directors to identify efficiencies (and) opportunities for additional revenues, and that has included commercialization opportunities like the North Park boathouse and the zip line,” she said.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald talked about those plans in an interview on Jan. 23.

“We're going to take a look at, say, our ski slopes, (and ask) is that a business we should be in. I don't know that it is,” he said. “Certain things we'll keep as part of traditional park-like activities.”

In Monroeville and Plum, Boyce is a 1,096-acre park whose facilities include skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing slopes, a lodge and a ski lift. Privatization would not cut jobs but would allow longer operating seasons and reduced costs for the county, Futules said.

A company that specializes in ski resort operations might provide better maintenance, he said.

“When you know ski season is coming, you might want to test the equipment. You don't want to find out the day it snows that you've got something that's not working. And that's something that's happened,” Futules said.

In the past few years, Boyce's ski area has had temporary closings because of mechanical issues. Those included the lift's being down for nine days in the 2010-11 season because a cable came off the guide wheel.

The slopes were open 22 days in 2011-12 because of mild weather, and snow tubing was not offered that season because the park could not make enough snow, Downs said.

The county's nine parks cost about $26 million a year to operate and generate about $5 million in revenue, Futules said.

The parks are partly subsidized with $18 million in Regional Asset District money, which comes from the additional 1 percent sales tax in Allegheny County. Property tax revenue also covers some park costs, Futules said.

On Tuesday, council is scheduled for a final vote on Fitzgerald's proposal for a 10-year contract with Adventure Forest LLC of Derwood, Md., which would build a treetop adventure and zip-line course known as Go Ape North Park at North Park.

The county would collect $20,000 in the first year, with the fee topping out at $40,500 after the fifth year.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com. Staff writer Mike Wereschagin contributed to this report.

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