USGA maintains a steady ‘no’ on Lakewood’s promotion ideas

While Fort Steilacoom Park was under consideration as a parking area for this month’s U.S. Open, the United States Golf Association denied repeated requests from Lakewood city leaders to let community groups sell concessions or other services to spectators catching shuttle buses, according to documents recently obtained by The News Tribune.

The USGA also later rejected a request from the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau to place an information kiosk at the park to provide tourism brochures to golf fans.

Keeping outside groups away from spectators was described by one USGA official as “a non-negotiable point for us.”

In the end, Lakewood agreed to those conditions. The city and USGA signed a contract for the association to pay $40,000 to use Fort Steilacoom Park during the June 15-21 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay golf course.

Emails between the two parties illustrate the tight control that the USGA exerts over its 120-year-old golf championship and the communities that host it, from parking lots to grandstands.

“We do this every year, and our goal is always to make the parking operation as successful as possible,” USGA championship director Danny Sink wrote in an email last year to Lakewood parks director Mary Dodsworth. “With that said, we appreciate all of the interactions and suggestions by everyone but don’t necessarily need the local communities (I get emails like this all the time) to help us reinvent our operations.”

Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson told the newspaper this month there’s no ill will between the city and the USGA as a result of the rejections; he said the City Council approved the contract for use of Fort Steilacoom Park “without dissent.”

He said the USGA has “a successful business model” in part because it controls access to U.S. Open spectators.

“The USGA kind of has possession of them from dawn to dusk,” Anderson said. “Basically, they have a piece of everything.”

The USGA first approached Lakewood in 2013 about possibly using Fort Steilacoom Park as an off-site parking lot. The association was in the process of formulating its transportation plan for the event, which is expected to attract more than 30,000 people per day to the Chambers Bay golf course in University Place.

The final transportation plan entails shuttling golf fans for free from Fort Steilacoom Park and the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup.

Negotiations between the USGA and Lakewood heated up early last year, according to emails obtained by The News Tribune through a public records request.

On Feb. 3, 2014, Dodsworth, who was acting as the city’s point person, sent an email to Sink with the subject line “parking contract.”

The purpose of the email was to schedule at meeting to discuss the contract, but Dodsworth warned Sink that some city leaders wanted community groups to be able to have fundraising activities at the parking area.

“Heads Up Topic – This question came from our Mayor and City Manager,” she wrote. “They want local non-profits to be able to sell water, coffee, hot dogs, etc. … at FSP if we do the parking lot there. They didn’t ask me if they could – they said they wanted them to be able to (do) this.

“Not sure we even have anyone to do this, and I know your plan is to get people in and out ASAP – so how do I respond to that? Deal breaker?”

Sink replied later that day the USGA wasn’t interested in providing access to the park to fundraising groups.

“Biggest negative to selling that stuff off-site is it makes a huge mess on the buses, and you are right, we want people in and out ASAP,” he wrote. “In addition, our security plan dictates that spectators can’t bring outside (food and beverages) onto the championship grounds.”

In a subsequent email that day, Sink wrote, “Just empowering you with the facts so you can keep the natives calm, we are still 15 months away!”

Email negotiations continued throughout February, with discussions of the cost to rent the park ($40,000) and how many cars per acre the USGA estimated it would park on the site (110).

On Feb. 20, 2014, Dodsworth again raised the possibility of allowing community groups to sell items at the park.

“Also, Mayor is still wanting local service clubs or Chamber to be able to show off their wares (or maybe sell something not U.S. Open related) at the park during this event,” she wrote to Sink. “The contract says no – and I know it hasn’t been successful in other locations and they can’t take food or beverages on the buses – but it will come up so let’s chat about that in advance.”

Sink replied later that day that the mayor’s request was a nonstarter.

“I would prefer that the issue of not selling things in the parking lots be emphasized with everyone by you before we sign the contract,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, this is a non-negotiable point for us.”

Dodsworth obliged, according to a Feb. 24 email to Sink. She included in that correspondence her response to city leaders who had questions about the contract.

“Also, the local vendor(s) on site is not negotiable,” Dodsworth told her superiors. “We may find better ways to help our local service clubs and Chamber. Let’s not draw a line in the sand too soon.”

The City Council relented and approved the contract on March 3, 2014.

But the issue came up again in January 2015, according to an email from Dodsworth to Sink with the subject line, “latest community idea!”

“The Lakewood Baseball Club would like to rent golf carts to help people get from their cars to the buses,” she wrote on Jan. 30. “They would provide the cart and driver and would accept tips as payment from parking lot guests. They would sell advertising to put on the golf carts as another way to generate revenue.

“If it’s a no — I’d like to burst their bubble soon. If you’re open to it, we can chat more when we meet.”

This time it was Hank Thompson, director of U.S. Open administration for the USGA, who delivered the rejection.

“Our parking company provides this service on a complimentary basis to those that may need some additional assistance or arrive later in the day and has to park further away,” Thompson wrote in a Feb. 2, 2015, email to Dodsworth. “We would prefer to remain this way and to continue to work with our vendors to operate the parking lot versus having different people/groups involved that we are not familiar with and possibly not properly insured.”

Finally, there was the request from Bennish Brown, president and CEO of the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, who wrote Dodsworth about “information ‘trailers’ at U.S. Open parking.”

“I wanted to circle back and pick up on nagging you about any possibilities of providing a location for use to have information volunteers available near the shuttle parking sites during the week of the U.S. Open,” Brown wrote in a Feb. 20, 2015, email. “May we all begin the dialogue again and talk about the possibilities?”

Dodsworth wrote him back later that day to sum up a meeting she attended earlier with “USGA folks.”

“I mentioned this idea, and they normally do not support these type of units at the shuttle parking lots or in the guest staging area,” she wrote.

People using the shuttle lots usually are in a hurry to either get to the course or get back to their hotel rooms or homes, Dodsworth explained.

“The USGA folks try to get the guests from their cars onto a bus and on their way in 7 minutes,” she wrote. “So people are not waiting in line for long, and if they were, they are in a secure area where they have been screened and this is not the area a kiosk or trailer could be located.”

Mayor Anderson said Lakewood was pleased to help with the biggest sporting event ever in Pierce County by renting out Fort Steilacoom Park, even though the city doesn’t expect to gain much revenue.

“We wanted to help with the event, but we didn’t want to incur a great expense in doing it,” he told The News Tribune. “There is going to be a little bit of money for the parks and probably some to cover police overtime. It’s probably going to be a wash in the end.”