Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sell Storybook Gardens

As if anything should need to in the first place, annual operating deficits in excess of 10 per cent of revenue at London's Storybook Gardens illustrate the profound absurdity of entertainment being managed by politicians and bureaucrats. Five years and $7 million after City Council recreated Storybook Gardens in its own bloated self-important image as a triumphalist "tourist destination," the once-steady local summer spot has seen attendance drop each year since its politically-designed reinvention in 2003, and lose over $1 million in the process. On gross expenditures of $1.272 million, taxpayers will be spending $258,000 to subsidize the attraction in 2008 after revenues of only $1.014 million, after subsidizing it by $113,000 the year prior (PDF).

So this is how the Storybook ends, not with Council's bang, but the whimper of taxpayers. We are grateful that — at least in this case — both politicians and the Parks and Recreations Department acknowledge that the result of overwheening ambitions has been a bust, but we have admittedly low expectations of a solution from what is principally the same cast of characters that appeared in the 2003 production. Coun. David Winninger, who approved the budget providing for Storybook's makeover that year, wonders "Do you have any idea how our assumptions were so off-base?" Let's try some new assumptions then from the same politicians "resolved to change," at least for the next five years.

City staff's response is to spend $500,000 over the next two years on upgrades and improvements to restore in part some semblance of Storybook's former appeal to storybook characters. The London Free Press reports correctly that the funds would not "strain the city's budget" this year since they would come from a capital reserve fund for Storybook Gardens instead, but the information that the attraction adds to the fund itself each year is misleading — taxpayers themselves contribute to the reserve fund through an annual contribution, which will amount to $110,000 in 2008 (PDF) and likely more in future years to restore it from current drawdowns.

Ironically, the City's Creative Cities Task Force presents Storybook Gardens as an illustration of the Creative Cities concept at work in the building and management of cultural investment and excellence in London (PDF). This sort of accomplishment suggests abandoning the political premises of the concept, of course, but along with the struggle of Storybook Gardens to compete with privately run attractions, as cited by the Free Press article, it also points a way out for the City that should have been evident long ago — get out of the business altogether. A sale of Storybook Gardens and its assets to private business may not recoup all of taxpayers' investments in the property, but it would certainly cost taxpayers nothing more than further political mismanagement could possibly do, and would actually create revenue in the form of property taxes. There is clearly no tangible benefit to Londoners from public ownership of entertainment resources like Storybook Gardens except for the decidedly weak value of probably rarely held sentiments. On the other hand, exposing Londoners to the financial risk of political investment decisions is entirely real. Storybook Gardens is currently a liability to Londoners — a sale would not only remove that liability, but would likely make Storybook Gardens an attraction to Londoners again in the hands of people whose genuine interest would be in creating demand.


Anonymous said...

What's wrong with government sponsoring a little entertainment and diversion?

Government Crack Pipe Recipients

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong if they can pull it off.

City council couldn't run a kool-aid stand and break even.

Throwing more money at Story book gardens is ridiculous.

Where do you draw the line on how much money is being wasted on it? If 7 million was already spent to improve attendance, and it didn't, that should be telling you something.

Anonymous said...

Get out of the zoo business.
Remove animal enclosures.
Take down the fences.
Retain the splash pad, playground, merry-go-round and train and run the rink for free like the other two downtown.
Retain the useful buildings: washrooms, chapel, barn etc.
Partner with private funds to convert the castle into a nice licensed restaurant.
Retain the pathways and nice green grass and flowers and tress and shrubs.
Use what is left as a better location for the rec. dept’s summer day camps for kids
And call just another part of Springbank Park, the Storybook area.

Anonymous said...

Selling a public facility in the middle of a public park would be insane.

Leasing it to a private operator, however, is not.

MapMaster writes like a robot. Cut to the chase, baby and cut the longwinded drivel.

Anonymous said...

Why would it be insane?

Storybook gardens is just another waste of taxpayer money. The city has proven they can't run it, and throwing more money at it, is insane. 7 million would go along way in filling in the potholes in the city.

Do you know of anything the city runs that makes money or breaks even? I don't.

Let an outsider come in and purchase it, and do something with it. It doesn't make sense to waste more money on it.

It was boring 20 years ago, and it is still boring after they wasted 7 million on it.

Anonymous said...

I think it' be a fine place to build some condos. Arrange a 99 year lease from the city and away we go!

Anonymous said...

The day a municipality starts selling off its parkland for development is the day you know you have a corrupt, right-wing government devoid of ethics or vision, an asleep at the switch local media and a brain-dead electorate.

I would put the above two commentators in the last category.

Anonymous said...

The day you have a city council wasting 7 million dollars, and counting, to prop up a park no one is interested in frequenting, is the day you realize you have left wing nutjobs running the show.

Just be nice to have a council who realized it is taxpayer's money they are wasting.

Get an outsider to come in and do something with it. London just doesn't have a track record for making anything work. Why waste anymore money on it?

Anonymous said...

I think it' be a fine place to build some condos.

Condos? Never use 'em.

Government Crack Pipe Recipients

Anonymous said...

Condos are a great place to light up.

By the way, I don't vote Butch.

Anonymous said...

City spent 7 mil taking the "story" out of storybook.
A few trips to free parks and splashpads around the city will give you everything that you can find at storybook. That being said I still take the kids a few times a year.

Kipling said...

"MapMaster writes like a robot. Cut to the chase, baby and cut the longwinded drivel."

Larry Finkbeiner, sometimes it's not the destination, it's the journey.

Anonymous said...

Kipling, if I want to take a tedious, slow-boat to Nowheresville, I'll let you and MapMaster know, OK.

It happens to me about every five million years so don't hold your breath.

Last time it happened, I was marooned on a remote, deserted island with nothing to read but blatant propaganda and drivel by a German lunatic named Adolf.

I couldn't get enough of it at the time. By then, however, even the coconuts were starting to resemble full-course meals.

Anonymous said...

You didn't climb the coconut trees, did you? I heard Keith Richards hurt his head doing that.

Anonymous said...

Since they renovated it, tha management sucks, the business hours are jusst ridiculeous, we triet to visit severel times, it was always closed. Somebody took the BIG money for renovations and the result was worse than before. Nobody is accountable???
Maybe our Mayour should sell the place for dumping more garbage from Toronto...