HSSP RFPs not intended to close businesses
November 28, 2019
Wyoming Senate Vice President Ogden Driskill (R) was in Thermopolis last week for an open meeting at Storyteller for folks to voice their opinions on the State Park concessionaires and his bill, SF116, which becomes law January 1, 2020.
The bill requires the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources as well as the concessionaires throughout the state to have a contract in place of five years or greater. The contracts will be uniform across the board, During an interview prior to the meeting, Driskill told the Independent Record that neither side, the state nor the concessionaires, have been taking care of things as they should have over the years.
“The state hasn’t held the Department’s feet to the fire,” he said, “and the concessionaires haven’t done their part either.”
Driskill said things have been allowed to go by the wayside as the Department hasn’t been making the concessionaires do the repairs and upgrades they’ve asked for and the concessionaires haven’t been in any hurry to take care of things either.
“I have been asking for the ‘fix it’ lists for all the concessionaires,” he said, “and I have yet to see any of them.”
In his bill, Driskill called for Requests for Proposals (RFP) be created for all concessionaires and used when it comes time for renewal of contracts. He stated he was exceptionally disappointed the RFPs were not sent out sooner or had any kind of input from the legislature.
Two of the Hot Springs State Park concessionaires, the Days Inn and Star Plunge, are currently running on month-to-month contracts, so 160 page RFPs for those businesses were released on Wednesday night.
Driskill spoke with both entities on Wednesday night and said they both understand this is not intended to put them out of business.
Both businesses have the chance to submit their plan for meeting the RFP along with anyone else who would like to.
“Without this RFP in place, no one is going to stick their neck out to purchase either one of these businesses,” Driskill said. “Right now they aren’t in any position to dictate to the state, but they can certainly sit down and honestly work with the state. The state want to make this work, but whatever comes out, both sides will abide by the rules.”
In Thermopolis, the biggest issue has been the Star Plunge, which has been in operation under various owners and state contracts for decades.
The pool has been running on a month-to-month basis for the last several years, paying the state just $500 per month for their lease.
“If they were in Yellowstone,” Driskill said, “they’d be paying between 11 and 15 percent of their income on a lease. That amounts to $70,000.”
For Driskill, though, its not just the State Park he wants to see thrive.
“Thermop is the place I want to be the poster child for Wyoming,” he said. “You have to dream big. I would love to see this as the destination tourism spot. You lay on the best route to Yellowstone National Park.”
To that end, Driskill would like to see a partnership, not only with the state and the concessionaires, but with the county, town and other agencies to make the dream happen.
“Let’s make Thermopolis the model city for Wyoming,” he said. “This is really an opportunity to make this the Crown Jewel and the state wants to make it work. It won’t be cheap, but it is an opportunity.”
Driskill and his family, including his grandchildren, make several trips a year to Thermopolis to swim and see the sights.
“We can’t come to Thermopolis without going to see the buffalo,” he said. “You have a great herd here. I’d like to see a few more. What if we stepped it up even further and created a drive through zoo, you know, like Bear Country in South Dakota.
“There could be moose and elk, bears and wolves. People would go crazy for something like that where you could drive right through them.”
Meeting with the public
It was standing room only at Storyteller later in the afternoon when Driskill, along with Senator Wyatt Agar, met with the public.
Driskill first explained there is a long history of contracts with the state breaking down and the new law created by SF116 basically says, ‘no more.’
“Its really unfair to both sides to be running month to month without knowing where you stand,” he said. “Something long-term needs to happen for everyone. We have a responsibility to be the best, but we have a history of no follow through from both sides.”
Many of those in attendance spoke out in favor of the Star Plunge.
“This isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong,” Driskill said, “its about getting things moving forward.
“Some people think a long term plan is ridiculous. Think of it like a mortgage. Do you want to make improvements to your home if you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow?
“Its time to enhance the businesses without worrying they’ll be pitched out any time soon. We’re talking 20 and 30 year leases.”
Driskill acknowledged there hasn’t been much luck when it comes to negotiating. The law going into effect the first of the year puts a different face on the situation as they will be required to have the contract.
The RFP is available for anyone to look at on the State’s website in an effort to not kept it secret from the public.
Both Driskill and Agar pointed out the concessionaires need to recognize the land belongs to the state. They signed off on certain terms and now those businesses need to figure it out. “We want to move forward,” Driskill said, “not shut them down.”
Those attending the meeting were uncertain what the RFP would mean to the business owners.
Simply put, anyone can present a proposal to meet the RFP requirements set forth by the state. Even the current business owners may put in a proposal. The state will then determine which proposal best meets the terms of the proposal and make the choice on who will get the long-term contract.
If either of the current concessionaires are chosen by the state, they will continue to own the business. If another entity is chosen, that entity will pay the current owners what the business is worth based on its appraisal.
“I am happy to talk with anyone about this,” Driskill said. “I’ll even give you my cell number if you want to give me a call.”
Driskill may be reached by email at Ogden.Driskill@wyoleg.gov or by cell at 307-680-5555.