By Ann McCreary
Four years after its inception, TwispWorks now houses 25 campus “partners” that include artists, small businesses and education and research entities, representing almost 10 percent of Twisp’s licensed businesses.
Executive Director Amy Stork says TwispWorks aspires to continue growing and contributing to the local economy, but is hindered by its status as a Public Development Authority (PDA).
Appearing before the Twisp Council last week, TwispWorks representatives sought the town’s support to transfer ownership of TwispWorks to a nonprofit foundation. As a nonprofit, TwispWorks would have more flexibility to achieve its long-term goals.
“Our ambition is to double our impact, but we want to make changes,” said Stork.
“The rules of a PDA are designed to make sure public money is handled responsibly,” said Casey Bouchard, TwispWorks board president. “There are a lot of checks and balances.”
TwispWorks “could be more efficient” if it were able to operate as a private, nonprofit organization without the constraints of a PDA, Bouchard said.
The PDA was created by the Twisp Council in 2008 with the primary purpose of acquiring and developing the former U.S. Forest Service property in downtown Twisp, now known as TwispWorks.
At the time, Stork said, it was believed that a PDA was the best entity to purchase the former ranger station, which was going to be put up for public sale. The PDA was chartered with the goal of developing the property as a center of business, recreation and residential uses to benefit the community.
The property was acquired through a $1 million commitment from a private, anonymous donor, administered through the Seattle Foundation.
In the years since, TwispWorks has remodeled and leased 26,000 square feet of formerly vacant buildings, developed programs to help small businesses and bolster the local economy, and provided space for a variety of tenants such as the Valley Teen Center, artist studios and small start-up businesses and manufacturing companies.
Nearly all of the funding for TwispWorks, including the initial purchase of the property, has come from private sources, Stork said.
“No money comes to TwispWorks from the Town of Twisp. Moreover, no public funds help with operation of the site; the federal funds we have received have been devoted to capital improvements,” said a memorandum presented to the Twisp Council.
“We are working almost exclusively with private money. But because we’re a public agency, the minute the money is in a bank account, it’s treated as public money,” Stork said in an interview.
That means that TwispWorks can’t negotiate agreements that would make development faster and less expensive, Stork said.
“For example, if we were to have a lease agreement with a tenant that is common in the commercial world, a negotiation can be made with the tenant who is going to occupy the space to reduce the rent in recognition of improvements made by the tenant to the space,” Stork said.
But because TwispWorks is a PDA, “tenants would have to follow public bidding rules to get that work done. It would have to be treated as a public works project, with rules applying to wages that have to be paid and the public bidding process.”
Similarly, TwispWorks isn’t allowed to accept the work of a skilled volunteer who might offer to work at no cost on renovation of a building, Stork said.
TwispWorks was informed by the state auditor’s office that it can’t even legally give T-shirts as a gift of appreciation to volunteers who work on the property, Stork said.
“It’s a small example of the reality that we are essentially functioning as a nonprofit, but not allowed to do what nonprofits can do,” she said.
“Our status as a public entity, while conferring the advantages of credibility and community commitment during our start-up phase, has become a limiting factor,” said the TwispWorks memorandum. “What we have achieved comes at a price. Studies show that public sector development as a whole costs 20-25 percent more than equivalent private development.”
A nonprofit organization called TwispWorks Foundation was formed last year to raise funds to support continued development of TwispWorks. Stork said the organization has been “minimally active.”
The TwispWorks board envisions transferring ownership of TwispWorks to the foundation and retaining the same mission as the PDA.
“Our charter is pretty clear that the PDA has the right to buy and sell real estate. The PDA has authority to sell to a nonprofit organization,” Stork said.
Exactly what steps are necessary for that sale to take place aren’t clear, Stork said. The TwispWorks administration and board first wanted to make sure that they had the endorsement of the Twisp Town Council, which appoints members to the TwispWorks board of directors, before moving ahead.
Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said the town would consult its attorney regarding the proposal.
Plans for TwispWorks’ future include renovating and leasing the remaining 16,000 square feet of covered space on the campus. Stork said private donors have committed to supporting TwispWorks through the end of 2018. At that point, the campus is expected to be self-sufficient, with rental income covering the costs of operating the buildings and grounds.
Stork said long-term plans call for programs operated on campus by TwispWorks to be supported in part through community donations and grants.