Park district board considers proposal to privatize kayak center

An islander with a passion for kayaking would like to take ownership of the Vashon Park District’s kayak center and run it as a private, for-profit enterprise.

Doug Kieper, a clinical research scientist who moved to Vashon a year ago, recently made a presentation to the park district’s commissioners outlining his proposal. Under his plan, he’d purchase the district’s fleet of kayaks, providing an immediate cash infusion to the financially strapped agency; he’d also pay the public agency a yearly fee — a rent, of sorts, based on a percentage of his annual revenue.

“It seemed like a really good opportunity to help the park district out,” he said in an interview last week.

During the recent park district board meeting, commissioners, noting that the kayak center used to be privately owned and operated, expressed interest in the proposal. Bill Ameling, the district’s board chair, said it was necessary, however, for the agency to publicly issue a request for proposals before it enters into contract negotiations with Kieper.

The district has since issued a request for proposals. As of Monday, only Kieper had expressed interest in holding the park district concession, according to Susan McCabe, the agency’s interim director.

Kieper (pronounced “Keeper”) has been kayaking since 2004, when he moved to the Northwest, and has become passionate about the sport, he said last week. Both in his presentation to the board and during an interview, he called Vashon “a kayaker’s paradise” that is little-known outside of a small cadre of paddlers.

But with the park district facing financial difficulties, he said, he worries that the kayak center — “a remarkable amenity,” as he put it — could become a casualty. Park districts around the country are struggling, and some are selling off assets to remain afloat, he said.

His goal, he added, is not to support himself by running the kayak center. He would maintain his day job, vice president of science and technology for Dilon Diagnostics, a firm that develops molecular imaging products for early cancer diagnoses. But he does believe he could expand services and break even at the center, while returning to the park district the same amount of money or more than it currently garners from the small center at Jensen Point.

“The park department would have a cash influx, and they’d continue to make basically what they’re making now,” Kieper said.

“I don’t think it’s a high financial risk for me to do. I don’t think it’ll make a lot of money. But I think I’ll break even,” he added.

He would hire a manager to run the center, as well as other staff. “It doesn’t have to be a money-generating operation for me,” he added.

David Steel, who owned the kayak center with three partners for nearly two decades before he sold it to the park district six years ago, said he supports Kieper’s proposal. He’s met with Kieper and discussed it with him.

“He’s impassioned about kayaking and has a business background, and he has the resources,” Steel said. “I think he’s got a good spirit about it.”

Robert Teagardin, an islander who organizes paddles, agreed. “He has some good ideas,” he said of Kieper.


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