Though Camp Dearborn has closed for the season, discussion of and preparations for improvements to the camp continue–as does debate over the city’s spending on the property.
While city officials maintain that spending on the camp–which is located in Milford and has been owned by the city since opening in 1948–is necessary to bring it to profitability, residents have voiced concerns that the improvements are taking away funds from other recreation features in Dearborn, including neighborhood pools.
From Expensive to Profitable
From 2001-2005, the Dearborn Recreation Department borrowed approximately $250,000 per year from the city’s general fund to operate. However, during fiscal ears 2006-2010, the camp was break even or in the black by around $100,000 each year, explained Recreation Director Greg Orner.
As a result, around $750,000 of the $1.2 million borrowed from the city to operate the camp has been returned.
“Primarily, it’s been a revenue increase,” Orner said of the turn-around, adding that camp revenue has gone from around $1.3 million per year to $2 million at its highest point in the latter part of the last decade.
But increased revenues haven’t come without first investing in costly upgrades, such as RV sites that were added in recent years.
“I believe a significant part of that has been our RV site development that has allowed us to have revenues over expenditures,” Orner said.
While the RV sites are paid off, two more developments have been approved in recent months for the camp: On Aug. 8, City Council from one of the camp’s lakes at a cost of $71,330.65. Then, on Sept. 20, council approved a $314,712 subsidy at Camp Dearborn along with new playground equipment.
The new cabins will include self-contained campsites where campers can have their own lavatory as well as a shower all in their own facility. There will be eight of them built.
Like the RV sites, the Recreation Department is expected to repay the cost of the cabins and playground equipment over the next 5.6 years.
And the plans were not made without one goal in mind: to make Camp Dearborn profitable for the city.
Goals for the Future
Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly has that he would gladly sell Camp Dearborn–if he wouldn’t receive “pennies on the dollar” for the property.
The city of Milford refuses to rezone the property, meaning that it could only be sold to a developer looking to use it for recreational purposes. Because of that, O’Reilly said, prospective buyers are zilch.
As such, the only other way to make money off of the property is to make it one that people–including residents and non-Dearborners–want to visit.
“If we can’t sell it,” O’Reilly said at the Oct. 3 City Council meeting, “it should become a revenue generator for the city.”
“Our job is to find things that will attract people to Camp Dearborn,” added Councilman Dave Bazzy. “(The resort-style cabins) look like they may be something that brings life into Camp Dearborn, and that’s the goal.
“It must be maintained as an asset or it will become a liability.”
The idea is to test the resort cabins, said Orner, to see if the demand is as high for them as the city hopes.
“It’s really attracting a different market to the camp and we think that, years in the future, this may be a direction that the camp wants to aggressively pursue,” Orner said. “But we really won’t know until we get out there and try it out.”
The hope, Orner added, is that once the funds for the cabins are paid off, Camp Dearborn could sustain its own future capital improvements–and eventually, possibly even subsidize other city services.
“It’s going to continue to put that property in the black and remain in the black and eventually, we hope, subsidize more recreation programs,” he said.
Future developments could include water park-like attractions, more biking trails, and possibly more cabins, depending on user demand.
And beyond making Camp Dearborn profitable, Councilwoman Nancy Hubbard–whose father Orville Hubbard first founded the camp during his time as mayor–said that improvements were also about keeping the premiere recreation spot open and vibrant for residents.
“A lot of people can’t afford to go any further than Camp Dearborn and it’s their own private camp,” she said. “They love it there … it’s their vacation time. It’s for the people. It always has been.”
The resort-style cabins are expected to be completed in time for the kickoff of the 2012 camping season, Orner said.