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Hamburg sees greener days for Woodlawn Beach Park

Hamburg has big plans for Woodlawn Beach State Park.

The town wants to rent out the banquet room, build picnic shelters and open a revamped concession stand, all things that the state had done.

But the town plans something the state never did: to break even.

"Our big thing that we plan on doing much differently is promoting the facility," Supervisor Steven J. Walters said. "We're confident there are going to be no tax dollars spent on this venture."

The town plans to get the keys to the park next month in an operation closely watched by two other communities -- Aurora and Lewiston -- seeking to run closed state parks in those towns.

Hamburg has an ambitious agenda and budget to meet.

In the state's 2007-08 fiscal year, 213,997 people used the park, the highest number in the last five years, according to figures provided by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The state spent $276,000 that year and took in $50,000 in revenues from attendance fees, concession contracts and rentals.

Walters said the town expects to spend $189,000, much less than the state, while making more money renting out the banquet facility and shelters.

He declined to release the town's budget for the park, saying the Town Board has yet to approve it.

"We've already spoken with several folks in the private sector about partnering up with us," Walters said. "The state did not get the utilization out of the park that we felt we can get."

He plans to present the budget at the Town Board's Feb. 14 meeting. The board is expected to set up an enterprise fund for park operations, much like the one for operation of the town golf course. The state plans to turn over access to the town Feb. 15, the supervisor said.

Under the enterprise fund, fees generated at the park would pay for the expenses.

"There are provisions with enterprise funds to have transfers from the general fund," Walters said, adding that he does not anticipate that will happen.

While the golf course has run a deficit in some years, its reserves have covered it, he said, noting that he had denied the course's request for a transfer from the general fund.

The town signed a contract last month with the state to operate the park under a 10-year lease, with an option to renew for another 10 years. The town can cancel the contract at any time on 90 days' notice.

The town cannot raise the $7 per car admission fee without permission from the state, which also must approve the town's budget, changes and improvements.

Hamburg must honor the Empire Passport, obtained from the state for an annual fee, as well as the Golden Park Program, which provides free admission for senior citizens on certain days, and the Access Pass, providing free park use for people with disabilities.

Walters said the town knows how to operate a beach, since it runs its own beach just down Lake Shore Road from Woodlawn. It also rents out its Taylor Road facility. The state beach will be another responsibility for the Recreation Department. No full-time employees are to be hired, Walters said.

One current buildings and grounds employee will be moved over to the park year-round. Seasonal employees, such as lifeguards and recreation attendants will be hired. The town plans to seek bids from concessionaires to run the snack stand, while Hamburg Police will respond to problems at the beach.

Recreation Director Martin Denecke said the cabin at Taylor Road, which is rented about 200 times a year, brings in about $28,000 annually. The snack bar at the golf course brings in about $14,000 a year, he said.

The Town Board recently approved a fee schedule renting the banquet room in the main Woodlawn building. The fees vary depending on the time of year and on how much of the hall is rented.

"We're going to start booking right away; we expect revenues right away," Walters said, adding that nearly a dozen people have contacted the town about reserving the room.

Use of Woodlawn State Park has declined in recent years as the state budget crisis left potential visitors uncertain about whether it was open.

"Just promoting that the park is open, I think, is going to have an influx," Walters said.