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.

rec center greenmount

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

Photo by: Mark Reutter

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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  • Unellu

    All these private companies sound like they are already teetering on the brink of disaster.  I wonder why they want to do it.  Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital was involved with Staples and now Staples through Oliver will be involved in an entrepreneurship program at a rec center in Baltimore if it wins its bid.  Why does that sound like poetic injustice?  Only because Mitt Romney’s claims about job creation are horribly exaggerated and Oliver’s proposed intellectual foray on behalf of Baltimore’s students, at 60,000 dollars a year for Brantley the CEO, sounds more like a pipe dream than like achievable reality.  Financial planning seminars?  The man sees no conflict of interest in this? 

    Towanda seems to be best cushioned with money from Sinai Hospital.  Hospitals are squeezing the doctors and the patients but seem to have money for extracurricular activities.  I suppose this would be considered a charity, community involvement and a tax deduction.  Three fruits with one stone for Sinai.  Bravo–I’d tell the city to go for that one. 

    Diamonds on the Rise will take a long time to be completely risen if one is to judge it by its budget proposal.  Very reminiscent of the US Congress’s  fiscal shenanigans. 

    57,000 dollars plus 20,000 dollars=67,000 dollars.  That’s Oliver, Greenmount and 55,000 dollars from that vast sum to Thigpen, the CEO?  What’s left is a measly 12,000 dollars for the kids?  Thigpen couldn’t do it all himself.  He needs help and it sounds like the help has to work for free. 

    I love the Brew.  It brings to the subject of budget a “Saturday Night Live” dimension.  If this is the state of private industry in the USA, then President Obama speaks from la la land about enlivening employment.  Even the non profits are mostly about CEO pays.  No private enterprise is really interested in the fate of the poor kids of Baltimore. 

    SRB is wrong about the greater viability of the rec centers if they are ceded to private managers.  Jack Young is right.  She wants to turn her back on the poor children of Baltimore and in her canny way she knows how to dump those kids.  She will invite the ilk of Thigpen etc to submit proposals.  She will turn down many of the bids for the right reasons and then she will turn around and plead budgetary shortfall for closing down the rec centers.  She tried didn’t she with the private bids?  She certainly couldn’t go with private operators who smell like fly by nights could she?   Brilliant! 

    Sheila Dixon couldn’t have pulled that one off.  The poor woman may have actually possessed a heart a little softer than the one ticking in the rib cage of SRB–not much softer I admit, but a teeny bit softer.                

  • Ktrueheart

    Are we to believe that any of these rec. centers will be open and operational after the first year? … It’s a shell game to shift the final act of closing rec. center doors from our Mayor to some struggling non-profit, great cover for SRB!

  • Unellu

    Great comment.  But why do you think these non profits are struggling?  Is it because of lack of grants and support, is it because of fat CEO salaries–the salaries of the CEOs in question here are not all that fat–although compared to their capital outlay the salaries seem relatively high.  There is little left for the kids.  These non profits will run on a shoe string budget and will run out of business fast but why?  Towanda may be operational after the first year–again maybe–but the rest sound like jokes.  I am disheartened about the non profit scene.  It looks like an impoverished version of the equity fund scene.  Just come in–say you can do it–then take the last dollar out of it for yourself and run.  And we say capitalism is good and private enterprise is better than public effort.  Capitalism has deteriorated to cronyism and outright preying.         

  • Maryland Esquire

    If the bid process has essentially failed twice, someone should be reviewing the specifications of the solicitation to determine what is wrong with the specifications (e.g., are they unduly restrictive and thereby limiting competition?).

    If it’s true that Baltimore City wanted another governmental entity to step in and run the centers, I would question whether the City’s procurement rules allow for no bid procurements between government agencies (the State has such rules).  If those rules exist, then why hasn’t the City chosen that path, unless the intended result is failed bidding?

  • Flint Arthur

    We should also acknowledge that taking a service that was previously freely available to urban youth and now charging them for it effectively a regressive tax policy on the youth of certain neighborhoods.   Some rec centers are remaining freely accessible.   How can we justify the disparity? 

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