Zero bids for Fall Creek Falls Park privatization

In a stinging setback to its privatization effort for Fall Creek Falls State Park, the Haslam administration’s proposed contract to outsource hospitality services has failed to draw a single bid from would-be operators, reports the Times Free Press.

Kim Schofinski, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, confirmed Wednesday there were no bidders for the request for proposals.

She said the department, meanwhile, is thankful the governor and state lawmakers “allocated funding to enhance the user experience at Fall Creek Falls, and we will evaluate how to best manage those resources as we move forward.”

It’s the second major blow to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s drive to outsource Tennessee’s hospitality services at state parks. In 2015, a similar effort to outsource hospitality operations at 11 state parks also failed to draw any interest from private vendors.

The administration said that was because of the shoddy shape of state park facilities because of years of state neglect by several governors. Haslam has argued that park services like restaurants, golf courses, inns and marinas are great examples of areas where private vendors can do a better and cheaper job than workers in the government he heads.

As a result of the 2015 failure, the administration plowed $55 million in capital improvements for parks because of the dismal shape of many at the public parks.

… Schofinski said the state’s request for proposal “included a flat amount for construction costs without any contingencies for additional expenses. The potential financial risk for respondents appears to be unknown demolition costs that would be the responsibility of the concessionaire.”

Schofinski referred a reporter over to the state’s Central Procurement Office, housed in the Department of General Services, for more information.

In an email, General Services spokesman David Roberson shed little light.

“Our attorneys tell me that, under [state law] a procurement file is not considered a public record until such time as all proposals have been evaluated,” Roberson said. “At that time the entire file becomes public record.”

But there’s a Catch 22 loophole that could mean the public never will know what happened.

Because “there were no proposals received – no bidders responded – there is nothing to evaluate, and thus the file does not ever become a public record,” Roberson said.

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