The New West

“We learned from the first skatepark that we probably didn’t involve the kids enough, so for the second one we put three or four kids on an airplane, rented a car and went all over Southern California looking at skateparks. They took pictures, took their boards, got to ride them, saw what they were like and how they functioned,” recalls Hall.

“After they came back we sat down with them and a bunch of other skaters. We threw a box of clay down and said, ‘Okay. You guys design the park.’ So they went out and designed a 12,000-square-foot skatepark.”

Once the park was designed, Boise worked with a concrete company to donate about $20,000 worth of labor and the parks and recreation department came up with money for materials and supplies.

“It’s theirs… They own it and take care of it. It’s right next to one of our rec centers and one of the alternative schools. The more ownership you give the kids to design it and to have a say in how they’re going to be operated, the more willingness you’re going to have from them to protect it, take care of it and not vandalize it,” says Hall.

“We don’t have graffiti. We don’t have any problems. There’s a school liaison officer assigned to every elementary and junior high in Boise. They know the kids and visit them at the skateboard park, and it works out real well. We’ve gotten a lot of comments from the kids saying that we’re treating them like adults and giving them responsibility, and they really appreciate that.”

Some of Boise’s most valuable partnerships come from the construction trades — like concrete companies — and developers. Developers, once educated by parks and recreation, realize that it’s a no-brainer to work inside the master plan as best they can to accommodate its needs. They have to pay impact fees anyway, and funneling much of this toward parks and recreation creates public and private value.

A different partnership that Boise is currently pursuing with the local power company seeks to market both organizations while encouraging the public to conserve energy, which has been a real crisis in the West over the last few years, particularly in the summer.

“It doesn’t cost you a thing to go to a park and walk the greenway or take the kids to a playground. We’re planning to work with Idaho Power to convince them that we need to work together to advertise that you can conserve energy on a hot day by not going into your house. Instead, during that time period go to a local park, play with the kids, sit along the river, read a book, have a picnic… That will save energy costs at home,” says Hall.

“Also, getting kids to sign up for rec programs and activities may be cheaper in the long run, rather than having the health consequences of having their kids stay home playing video games.”

Boise’s parks and recreation department actually gets an important two-fold message out to the public — save energy and prevent the health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. While these are issues that obviously help create more activity within the parks and recreation department, reaping financial benefits, they’re also issues the department believes in for the greater good of its citizens.

Of course, these partnership examples are just the tip of the iceberg as Boise utilizes any number of different strategies to realize its goals.

Whatever the strategy, Hall says it’s crucial to find partners that fit your niche, to deliver what you promise and have public buy-in to the master plan. As Hall says, “Once you have that plan and the vision is set, it doesn’t matter if the economy is up or down.”

The reason the fluctuating economy has little impact is the aforementioned strategy of working within a partnership niche — sponsors that are typically associated with parks and recreation activities. And, once the partnership is realized in a new park or facility, expectations that have been met or exceeded create future partnerships and cash flow simply through reputation.

This aggressive strategy has shown great success. Hall says Boise has brought in about $30 million in partnerships while the cost to support them has been about $6 million.

Though Hall says the economy may not have a big impact on a well thought-out master plan, the current economic climate makes working the plan that much more pressing as people look locally for more programming, rather than spend money on vacations away from home.

Supporting Staff

All of these factors have combined to grow the department from 88 full-time employees to 141. Boise also has about 500 seasonal employees.

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