Bicycle rental shops, tennis pros offering lessons and other businesses might soon greet District residents at the city's parks.
A measure making its way through the D.C. Council would clear the way for private companies to provide concessions at properties that are under the control of the Department of Parks and Recreation, including dog parks, fitness centers and public swimming pools.
The proposal would also allow DPR to establish and operate its own retail outlets.
The existing legislation, which will face its first hearing before city lawmakers next month, would permit far more than traditional food stands hawking bottles of water or hot dogs. Instead, the proposal's broad language would give the OK for any "revenue generating activity, event, class, program, operation or service, for the benefit, enjoyment, education, amusement or convenience of the public" on DPR-owned land.
"What this will do, frankly, is leverage the outside resources to meet the demand that we know is there," DPR Director Jesus Aguirre told The Washington Examiner. "I think there's a significant number of providers who can support what we do, and I think in the end the taxpayers get a broader array of activities."
Aguirre said District officials would define what kinds of businesses would be allowed to operate if the bill passed, but he said the outside companies would be limited to those that promote wellness.
"It can only be about healthy living," Aguirre said. "If somebody wants to sell lobster rolls on park property, that doesn't make sense to me, but if we have a farmers market that comes in and wants to have a mobile vending cart, that might be appropriate."
The city stands to profit from the arrangement, which Mayor Vincent Gray supports, if it clears the council, though the District's top financial official said it was impossible to predict how much the District's coffers would expand.
"Once implemented, the program could generate revenues," District Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi wrote in an assessment of the measure. "Without any specific plans, the potential revenue cannot be estimated at this time."
Aguirre said recreation officials anticipated intense demand from businesses seeking to operate on parkland.
"We get thousands of requests for permits on an annual basis," said Aguirre, who noted the city denies most applications because they involve potential commercial transactions. "We know that the market is there."
The District wouldn't be the first major American city to allow outside vendors into its parks. Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City are among the U.S. cities that permit private companies to conduct business on public parkland, and Aguirre said District officials were studying the models in those jurisdictions to see how they could be applied to D.C.
Aguirre said the city could begin to implement the program later this year.