Prospect Park Concessions: Raising the Quality of the Park Experience
Since its founding in 1987, the Prospect Park Alliance, a nonprofit fundraising, advocacy, and management group for Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, has been operating most of the Park’s concessions. The Alliance obtained the right to run the concessions from the Parks Department by furnishing public amenities to Park users that private operators could not provide. Although the concessions do not provide significant income, they allow the Alliance to improve Prospect Park as a community resource by operating high quality concessions and providing amenities.
Before the Prospect Park Alliance was founded, Park usership was low and existing concessions were unprofitable. Generally, New York City park concessions are privately operated, and the concessionaire pays fees to the City’s general fund for the right to run a particular business. The Alliance managed to waive fee requirements for several of its concessions in exchange for providing the public with a variety of amenities. When the City stiffened its regulations with respect to nonprofits, however, the Alliance included modest fee payments in its concession contracts.
The concessions director manages all of the following concessions with a permanent staff of four and twenty or more seasonal workers.
The Prospect Park Carousel
The Alliance reached an agreement with the City in 1988 to renovate a historic carousel in exchange for the right to manage the facility for ten years. The Alliance also agreed to keep ticket costs for the facility at $.50 to ensure accessibility for low-income residents. Because the accord with the City was settled before concession regulations changed, the Alliance does not pay fees to the City’s general fund for operating the carousel. The Alliance was able to solicit $600,000 from individuals and corporations, and $200,000 from foundations.
The Picnic and Boat Houses
The Alliance also manages the existing picnic and boat houses. In lieu of paying fees to the city, the organization set aside part of the boat house as a welcome center for Prospect Park, with visitor information, an exhibit about the Park, and a small for-profit snack bar inside. The buildings are occasionally rented out for weddings and other events, and paddleboats can be rented for tours on the lake.
The Skating Rink
In 1993, the Alliance bought ice skates from a private concessionaire who had been renting them to the public without being able to make a profit. After numerous public hearings and meetings with City Council, the Alliance agreed to make restrooms available to the general public during the summer, to open the rink even at unprofitable times, and to provide a free program for low-income children.
In return for paying the concession fee (which amounts to approximately $1,000 per month) and providing amenities, the City granted the Alliance full authority over the rink building. The skating rink, along with rentals and fast food vending, is the most lucrative business that the Alliance handles, with over 300,000 visitors each skating season.
Food Vending at Ballparks
The Alliance operates hot dog carts in Prospect Park’s ballparks with an agreement to pay a concession fee of $4,800 per year and spend a minimum of $5,000 per year on field maintenance. In addition, if profits from the carts exceed expected levels, PPA will develop a program to help low-income children participate in the Little League.
Some of PPA’s concessions are just beginning to turn a profit. In 1995, PPA netted $50,000 out of $500,000 in gross receipts; these profits will go to the general operating fund to be reinvested in the concessions. Eventually, the Alliance intends to earmark some of its profits for the Woodlands Campaign, an initiative to restore Brooklyn’s last forest.
While the concessions business means a great deal of visibility for the Alliance, it also means that the image of the organization is always on the line. Running concessions is complicated in other ways as well: the Alliance had to completely restructure its operations in order to handle bookkeeping, auditing, and insurance.
Despite these and other obstacles, the Alliance has managed to develop successful concessions, drawing people from surrounding neighborhoods and promoting usership of Prospect Park. PPA attributes some of its success to the support of the City administration, which values the added resources brought to the community through well-run concessions more than concession fees. As long as this support continues, the Alliance will be able to expand concessions in Prospect Park.
Tupper Thomas, Director, Prospect Park Alliance, tel. (718) 965-8951
Regina Cahill, Director of Concessions, tel. (718) 965-6545
Paul Sawyer, Woodlands Project Coordinator, tel. (718) 965-8951