Consultants gather info, brief community on PARC survey

As an Anchorage consulting firm continues working on the city’s Park, Art, Recreation and Culture, or PARC, assessment, last Thursday members of the firm held a community workshop at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center to brief citizens and PARC group representatives of its progress.

Agnew::Beck has a $40,000 contract to do a needs assessment and will report next spring on its finding. The study got started last month with an online survey.

Chris Beck, one of the firm’s principal partners, said the heart of the project is finding a balance between what everybody would love to have and what the city can afford. Two “tribes” tend to advocate at either end of that spectrum, he said. 

At a meeting earlier Thursday, Homer business owners talked about that balance.

“The metaphor that came up is the ice cream methaphor,” Beck said. “We’d like a four-scoop cone with lots of sprinkles and there are those who say, ‘We can’t even afford the cone.’”

The needs assessment looks at not just the city of Homer, but the greater Homer area from Anchor Point to the end of East End Road, about 10,800 people. 

One idea PARC advocates have suggested is creating a Kenai Peninsula Borough recreational service area for the lower peninsula that would be supported by borough property taxes.

Meghan Holtan, an Agnew::Beck associate, briefed about 50 people at the workshop on the needs assessment’s progress, including preliminary results of the online survey, going on until Dec. 8.

“It was meant to get questions out there and hear back from people about what’s going on and get a starting point,” Holtan said.

The firm will do a statistically valid survey next year, but the online survey had some valuable information:

• About 840 people so far have responded who represent themselves or their households, about 1,400 people.

• About 40 percent are from Homer, with the rest about equally representing Anchor Point, Diamond Ridge, Kachemak City and Fritz Creek.

• The largest group responding, 135 people, are 60 and older, followed by about 100 each in the 50-59, 40-49 and 30-39 age groups. About 25 responded in the 21-29 age group and 19 in the 18-20 group.

• At least 85 percent reported participating in PARC activities at least once a week, with 46 percent three-to-five times a week and 26 percent daily.

• The dominant reasons for participating were fun, exercise and health, and quality time with family and friends.

In a study of 19 PARC providers ranging from athletic associations to arts groups, the providers gave this input:

• In the Homer area, PARC groups employed 300 people full-, part-time or contracted, including 180 jobs in Homer.

• PARC resources also help attract visitors to Homer, with the average visitor spending $257 per trip.

• Half of the PARC providers said they had more demand for services than could be met;

• In terms of space needs, 43 percent of the providers said they needed more heated indoor space, 35 percent said they needed more outdoor space and 48 percent said they needed more specialized space.

• Volunteers provide about 105 hours per day to PARC activities or about 38,000 hours per year.

• Taxes support four of the providers, while the rest get support from user fees, membership fees, grants, donations and fundraising.

Holtan said the online survey also asked a question about barriers to participating in PARC activities. About 40 percent said the cost is too expensive while 25 percent said they didn’t know what was available. Sixty percent said they didn’t have enough time to participate.

During the workshop, visitors broke up onto smaller groups and discussed topics like “What do we need?” and “How can things be funded?”

The lack of indoor, year-round facilities kept coming up in survey answers, Holtan said. At the workshop, Kathy Pate, a longtime Homer Council on the Arts volunteer, spoke of the need for things like a 250-seat theater with raised seating and good acoustics. 

John Whittier, a photographer, suggested a community art space with studio space. Rick Foster, a member of the Homer Yacht Club, said there was a need for a marine education area for teaching things like marine safety. Gail Edgerly, the HCOA director and a dancer, said there was a need for a wooden dance floor.

“We’re seeing a lot of common themes, beginning with a multipurpose indoor-outdoor center,” said Mike Illg, the Community Recreation director.

Edgerly also said part of the survey was to identify existing facilities people don’t know about. HCOA’s building, for example, is underutilized in the evenings, she said. The survey also should look at facilities like church buildings.

In terms of funding PARC facilities, people kept coming back to the idea of a borough service area. Julie Engebretsen, a city planning technician and the city employee coordinating the assessment, said a borough recreation area would be like a road or hospital service area. It would go to a vote of the residents in the area and be paid for by property taxes. Nikiski and Seldovia both have recreational service areas.

“I sense a convergence of ideas, and a sense of ambition and bold goals and also practicality,” Beck said at the close of the meeting. “Our intent is to pull your ideas together, try to make it clear and understand the case for why we want these services, but also to make it practical.”

People wanting to take the online survey can do so until Dec. 8. A link to the survey is at www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/recreation/park-art-recreation-and-culture-needs-assessment-parc.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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