When one door closes, another opens — at least that is the presumptive plan currently when it comes to bait shop services at Harvey County East Park.
Both parks director Kass Miller and Commissioner Chip Westfall alerted the county commission to plans for the current independently owned bait shop, Hunter's Bait Shop, at the park to close following the end of the 2020 season.
Though that closure is still a year away, county staff are currently in the process of shaping their capital improvement project budgets for 2021, which led Miller to come before the county commission at its meeting last week to get direction regarding a couple of different paths forward regarding bait shop services at East Park.
"If we decide to put in a bait shop, my first inclination is to put it in Volunteer Hall, move the offices to there, combine it with the bait shop and maybe a small nature center," Miller said. "We take the office/shop now, we just open it up inside and get all of our equipment in there, and then we'd have to build a new rental shelter out at East Park somewhere."
Commissioners asked if the option was available to take over services offered at the current Hunter's Bait Shop, but Miller noted the owners are not willing to sell as they have other business plans.
Previously, the Parks Department operated a bait shop at East Park through 2009 — but those services were stopped given the existence of Hunter's Bait Shop, which has been in business for 17 years, it was reported.
"Our goal was to not compete with a public business," said county administrator Anthony Swartzendruber.
Now, with the impending closure of Hunter's Bait Shop, the county is left with the decision to either discontinue bait shop services entirely or have the Parks Department take on those services — preferably establishing a new location in Camper's Row.
Before services were shuttered by the county, the Parks Department's bait shop was run out of the public office area. The uninhabitable nature of some other office spaces, however, has forced those offices to serve as a major storage area. In fact, Miller noted $25,000 has been set aside in the 2021 capital improvement budget for storage needs alone.
Whether reutilizing Volunteer Hall for bait shop services/office space (opening up more storage space in current buildings and an avenue to construct a new rental shelter) or building a new, separate bait shop, the idea behind the discussion was to make the county commission aware of its options.
"I think the key thing that we need to have guidance on is is it an amenity that we need for the campers, the fishers and everybody who's out there, or maybe this discussion getting in the newspaper will spur the idea for somebody who lives in the vicinity to start up their own bait shop," Swartzendruber said.
For the short term, Swartzendruber did note that building a separate bait shop made more sense if services are to be offered by April 1, 2021.
Commission chairman Randy Hague also seemed more interested in building a separate bait shop and potentially using that to create more office/storage space, though he had concerns about the feasibility of adding such services.
"This sounds to me like a lot of money being spent for something that's going to lose us money," Hague said.
Swartzendruber said the commission should not plan on bait shop services making money, as that is not the case at West Park currently, with Miller noting the goal would be to break even.
Like Swartzendruber, commissioners were for getting the idea out there and seeing if any citizens would want to take on those services, but they were also for county staff exploring its options — giving Miller direction to discuss bait shop services with the Parks Advisory Board.