County outlines RFP needs for vets building
Sonoma has arguably the best-preserved veterans building in the county, but it is still losing close to $100,000 a year. The Board of Supervisors is determined to create a new management model with an outside party and, while there will be no interruption in veterans use and access to the building, nonprofits will soon see increased fees.
All that aside, the county isn't about the sell it, and if an RFP (request for proposals) process is successful, the long under-utilized Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building may actually become a cash cow, generating profits from what is now a liability.
That was the gist of a meeting held April 15 to receive public input on county plans to expand the use and improve the appeal of what county and city authorities believe could become a plum facility, giving Sonoma a much expanded convention and special-event space.
"We believe you could actually turn a fairly nice profit on this building," said 1st District Supervisor Valerie Brown, who chaired the meeting.
According to a county study, the building is only booked to an average of 22 percent of its capacity and some local interests, including the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, the Sonoma Community Center and developer/philanthropist Darius Anderson, see positive potential for greatly expanding its use. The upside is that the county will essentially hand over use of the building for free. The down side is that it will take a significant investment - estimated as high as $400,000 by some parties - to improve the space cosmetically and functionally for optimal commercial appeal.
And as that process unfolds, nonprofit organizations may find the building both more expensive and less available.
As it is, fees for use will climb significantly - but probably not painfully - for use by nonprofit organizations. A final fee schedule has not been released, but some representative figures quoted by Brown at Friday's meeting included: per-person increases for the Sons of Italy from $3.37 to $7.70 per meeting at the high end, down to a per-person increase for Cub Scouts from 55 cents to $1.12.
And a number of nonprofits have been getting a free ride, said Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart. "That's costing about $200,000 a year to the county," she said.
Stirred into the complicated equation of taking over management of the building, is the question of who will ultimately manage the surrounding property, including Arnold Field and the adjacent baseball diamond, where Sonoma Valley High School football, baseball and soccer teams play.
Brown indicated that she would love to see an agreement that ultimately included the whole package of resources, but that may be a long shot. The football field has been riddled with gopher holes and needs new lighting.
The City of Sonoma currently has access to 20 free days a year, for which it pays an annual fee of $10,000. Those days are then allocated to nonprofit agencies, who will continue having access to the days for another two years under the current contract. After that, the picture is not as clear.
The RFP is being finalized now, there will be a public meeting to review the draft document May 2 and county officials expect it to be completed shortly afterward.
The RFP will circulate for at least six weeks and a winner should be chosen before the end of the summer.