Ford Park management contract contested as new proposal emerges

Ford Park management contract contested as new proposal emerges

The nearly 15-year monopoly SMG has had in running Jefferson County’s Ford Park Entertainment Complex is now threatened as another company has made a move to acquire the rights to spearhead the county-subsidized venue. In years past, SMG has failed to bring the venue up to a point where the county wouldn’t be shelling out millions of dollars annually to cover the difference between what SMG pays to run the facility (including $1.6 million in salaries such as six-figure amounts for top staffers) and what it brings in in revenues.

SMG has run Ford Park since 2002, according to county records. This year, Jefferson County commissioners sought to bring in new proposals for the entertainment complex’s management contract. County Purchasing Agent Deborah Clark said the county sought proposals five years ago, when the SMG contract was last re-signed, but received no other proposals aside from the already-signed SMG.

This year was different.

“This year we have two,” Clark said. Along with the proposal from SMG, Global Spectrum (aka Spectra) also submitted their ideas for serving as the Ford Park management team. What is written in those proposals, Clark could not say.

“If it was a bid, it would be open,” she said. “This is a proposal, though, and they’re not open to the public.”

SMG’s last contract with Jefferson County is open to the public, however, and allows for little oversight from the county in how SMG expends its funds. For example, county commissioners have no say in payroll, and there is no incentive put in place to urge the company to turn a profit or even break even. Both provisions – or lack thereof – have proven troublesome for SMG in other areas and with other contracts.

At the Ford Idaho Center and Horse Park, Spectra recently beat out SMG for the management contract after years of subsidies proved problematic for the elected officials of Nampa. Spectra proposed managing the complex with stipulations in place that would realize a rebate to the public entity if the management company’s performance did not meet expectations.

And reports from as early as 2010 alluded to “questionable expenses” such as pricey dinners, booze and vacations billed to entertainment venues run by SMG that were eventually subsidized by taxpayers.

Whether Spectra will take over Ford Park in Jefferson County remains a mystery; the proposals will now be submitted to an evaluation committee for review. Since there are only two to review, Clark said, she expects the turnaround time on that process to be quick. County commissioners will come up with names for the review committee, she added, although that has not happened yet. When the committee members are chosen, each will be presented with both proposals and will grade them according to the stipulations set out in the request for proposals.

“They just read them and score them and send them back to me,” she said. If there are any abnormal numbers, there may be a meeting called for the committee, but Clark doesn’t anticipate any problems.

Clark further noted that the county is contractually bound to give SMG notice by Oct. 1 of its intention to either re-sign with SMG or go with another option. If no decision is made by that date, Clark said the county can seek a temporary extension of its agreement with SMG.

“But I don’t think that’s going to happen,” she said. “I think we’re good.”