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Greenway Conservancy: “State Support Cannot Go To Zero” [Meeting Video]

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The Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy (RFKGC) presented its 5 Year Business Plan at a Tuesday night meeting, strongly countering the notion that the Greenway parks can be managed without public funding from the State. Instead, the private non-profit presented a plan to significantly grow annual revenues by $2 million to over $6.5 million while gradually reducing the State’s contribution from $2.1 million in fiscal 2013 to a maintenance level of $1.2 million in fiscal 2018.

The Greenway Conservancy plan is dependent on renewed private fundraising efforts and a voluntary tax on neighboring property and business owners as part of a Business Improvement District (BID). The prospect of “earned income” was also discussed through sponsored commercial events, corporate naming rights or new facilities such as a skating rink.

MassDOT Deputy Director of Planning, Clinton Bench, spoke at the meetingĀ  saying that MassDOT does not intend to “walk away from the Greenway” (1:11:00 in the video). However, Secretary Davey’s charge is clear “to bring funding to zero” (1:22:40 in the video). The 5-year plan does not satisfy the request of MassDOT Secretary Davey to “identify adequate resources … to maintain and program a world class park” assuming “an annual decrease in State support (to) zero State support in FY18.”

To develop its plan, the Conservancy hired three consultants to provide a fundraising assessment (Technical Development Corp.), executive salary survey (Collins Group) and solicit public input (Howard/Stein Hudson Associates). Public input came from an early Summer 2012 survey with 338 responses. The funding assessment presented at the meeting identified the following:

  • Charitable Contributions and BID Support – Reduction or removal of funding from the State is likely to trigger declines in support from charitable contributors. Potential BID participants are clear that a BID formation is contingent upon State funding.
  • Earned Income – The Conservancy can increase revenue through earned income sources (i.e., commercial events, fee-paying facilities or corporate naming rights).
  • Endowment ($14.5 million currently) – Raising its endowment is not viable now. The Conservancy would need a larger donor base, potentially as part of a campaign with capital improvements.

In conclusion, the Greenway Conservancy will submit a plan on July 31, 2012 indicating:

  • State support cannot go to zero … this will affect a downward spiral. No money = No mission.
  • MassDOT can lower its direct funding under the following conditions: More contributions AND BID funds AND more earned income.

Click to view slides from the Conservancy’s 5-Year Business Plan, Source: RFKGC (pdf).

Georgia Murray, RFKGC Chair, answered the question of what happens if the State funding goes away. “If the Conservancy cannot pull off the BID and increased philanthropy,” she said, “then we would have to turn the parks back over to the State, which has no money.”

A preliminary review of executive compensation at the Greenway Conservancy was also presented, as requested by MassDOT. The RFKGC contracted the Collins Center which found that the non-profit’s compensation is “right in the middle” of comparable organizations.

In other business, the RFKGC approved its fiscal 2013 budget that is relatively level with last year at $4.5 million. The Work Inc. maintenance contract was also renewed for approximately $520,000.

The Friends of the North End Parks also announced the formation of a non-profit group to advocate on behalf of Greenway Parcels 8 and 10 (1:33:00 in the video).

There was no mention at the meeting of pending State legislation that recently passed the House reforming the governance of the Greenway Conservancy. Such legislation would increase transparency and neighborhood representation on the RFKGC Board of Directors.

View the full presentation and discussion on these issues in the attached video which is indexed in this post so you can jump to relevant sections.

Video Index
Greenway Conservancy Meeeting
July 24, 2012, 185 Kneeland St., Boston

00:00 Welcome and Review of Agenda by RFKGC Chair Georgia Murray

01:50 FY2012 Review, RFKGC Dir. of Business Operations, Jesse Brackenbury

09:45 FY2013 Goals and Budget, RFKGC Dir. of Business Operations, Jesse Brackenbury

13:50 Work Inc. Contract Renewal (~$520,000) , RFKGC Dir. of Operations, Steve Anderson

20:50 5-Year Business Plan – RFKGC Chair Georgia Murray and Exec. Dir. Nancy Brennan

38:00 Funding Assessment and Conclusions (Charitable Contributions, BID Support, Earned Income)

43:30 Revenue Plan FY14-FY18

49:00 Expense Plan FY14-FY18

52:30 Conditions for non-governmental revenue (More contributions and more net earned income)

55:00 Executive Compensation Review

56:40 Beneficiaries of the Greenway Parks

1:02:30 Board Discussion of the 5-Year Business Plan

1:07:00 Discussion of how comparable parks are funded

1:11:00 and 1:22:40 MassDOT Deputy Director of Planning, Clinton Bench comments on the RFKGC plan

1:19:00 Tom Powers, Boston Harbor Islands Alliance comments

1:27:00 Vivien Li, Executive Director of The Boston Harbor Association comments

1:33:00 Nathan Swain, President of Friends of the North End Parks – Announcement of New Group for Greenway Parcels 8 and 10

1:38:00 Bud Ris, New England Aquarium comments

1:40:00 Further Discussion and Comments on the 5-Year Business Plan

1:48:00 Executive Director’s Report – Nancy Brennan

  • Public Art Update – Mural on Dewey Air Intake Structure
  • Pilot Recycling Program
  • Collaboration with North Bennett St. School on Birdhouses
  • Upcoming Programs: FIGMENT, Summer on the Waterfront, Circle the City
  • Update: Parcel 15 improvements, in collaboration with Patrick Cullina

Slides from the meeting can be accessed through the RFKGC website.

 

 

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Leave a comment on this post:

So..that's the threat? If the state doesn't promise to fork over $10.1 million in the next six years, and $1.2 million every year after that, we're going to hand this park over to the state, which has no money. Get it?

Remember, the Conservancy and the politicians supporting it got us into this by saying the government is too broke to take care of the park — but it was not too broke to give the Conservancy $17.5 million for its "gearing-up" period (spent mainly lobbying for public funds) and its first four years of work, this piled on top of millions of private donations. All this money to maintain a 12-acre park — the size of a dozen suburban house lots! New York's Central Park operates (also with a Conservancy) on $50,000 an acre, and that's one of the most visited, world-class, fabulous parks in the world. Even at that per/acre rate, we'd only need a half-million a year, but I expect it would actually be quite a bit less.

Why did our politicians let the Conservancy hire its own consultants to "prove" they need state money? And that their bureaucrats are getting just the right salaries? What did we expect they'd conclude? Why didn't we use their (our) money and do a genuine independent study if we wanted credible information?

And most obvious: Why, why doesn't the state get independent bids from private contractors and see how much it really costs to do the work they want done (which a genuine "business plan" by a genuine consultant would have started with)? This is gross negligence by the governor and MassDOT. They don't even demand to see all the bids, which the Conservancy says it got, for the maintenance contract given to Work, Inc. No state official is doing due diligence here, nor ever has. The first thing they should have done when the Conservancy changed its "business model" to ripping off the taxpayers was to issue an Request for Proposals for bids. The Conservancy couldn't even win the contract to take care of the Armenian park parcel; they were too costly, even with all their admin and personnel in place.

This must be the very next step. Get the RFP the Conservancy says they issued, and all the bids they say they got. See why they instead hired Work, Inc. (which has some integrity issues of its own, per the newspapers). Initiate an independent state bidding process. Once we see how little this really costs shorn of the ridiculous salaries of the Executive Director and her bureaucracy and their as yet undisclosed non-essential expenditures, we will all see that the private Conservancy is an unnecessary burden and it's perfectly affordable — much cheaper, in fact — to just take care of the park ourselves, either by contract or by the DCR workers. Otherwise, the Conservancy will either continue to trick our politicians into paying their ransom, or turn the Greenway into Bryant Park, a commercialized entertainment and retail space where the management gets rich on public property and the public pays to use its own land.

We don't need the Conservancy to be independent of the state. We need the state to be independent of the Conservancy. Shut the cash spigot now, dismiss them when the lease runs out, take back their remaining money (about $15 million) as the law allows and put it in a DCR fund earmarked for the Greeenway, let the Friends groups sprout, and get our public open space back. This was a mistake; let's learn from it and move on.

PS Notice, Rep. Michlewitz and Sec. Davey, that they are totally ignoring your requests for transparency and disclosure. They won't disclose that expenditure (and big-donor) information, because — evidently — it would discredit them (or worse), or they wouldn't be fighting so hard to hide it.

Dave Seeley says:

Thanks again Matt!… this is a generous service that you provide.

Sorry I wasn’t able to attend the meeting. As a former member of the GLC, and the Mayor’s Central Artery Completion Task Force before that (since 2000), I am lucky enough to have a long perspective on the issues discussed at the meeting.

First – The reason that the Mayor’s Task Force was in favor of creating a 501c3 Conservancy, was to protect the funding of a great park during periods of challenging economic times. We have all seen our public parks deteriorate during these cycles over the years, and it was the intent of the Task Force to protect the Greenway from neglect during down cycles. We are currently seeing the pressure to cut funding that was anticipated. The fact that the Conservancy is under fire now, is the result of that pressure, but there is a level of insulation provided by the current governance. If our Greenway were currently run by a public agency, it would have already had to make the hard decisions to cut funding, as agencies have across all of the lands charged to them. It is extremely difficult to know how the Greenway would have fared at this point in that scenario, because its funding is a very visible political issue, and there is a dynamic where garnering funds from an embattled legislature is influenced by public outcries… The current Greenway Conservancy insulates the Greenway parks from that dynamic. From my perspective, I am heartened that the Greenway is still looking GREAT after four very tough economic years. While insulated, it is not impervious, as several initiatives to topple it have demonstrated.

Second – Transparency is key to demonstrating to the public that the Conservancy has value. As with public agencies, we need to know that hard-won public funding is well spent. Money is fungible, so we need ALL the info. We need to know that the Conservancy is raising enough private money to justify the resources to raise it. I am in total support of the Greenway Conservancy being subject to open meeting, and full disclosure/public records laws. Any exclusions need to be carefully considered, which leads me to:

Third – I am very concerned by the BID formation, and particularly by their influence on decision making in governance. This is the first time I have heard Georgia talk about the functioning of the “Bid Board”… and their interaction with the Conservancy Board. The public involvement in the Greenway governance needs to increase in order to be substantive, and transparency is key. The formation of the BID brings a new formalized entity to the table, and their involvement must be entirely transparent to the public. This is, justifiably, not the culture of potential BID members, where they answer to stockholders, not the public. As in the past, in the future, there will be competing interests between the stewards of our park, the Conservancy, and the private property abutters, the BID. Public discussions need complete information, and it is especially critical to know who is donating money to the Conservancy when the public is reviewing development proposals along the Greenway. If we must have a BID, it is critical that the governance structure is thought through accordingly.

Lastly – I also believe that the City should be responsible for significant funding for the Greenway beyond providing police and fire fighters. Abutters pay property tax based on value, which is significantly enhanced by the Greenway. BID participants have a valid argument that they are already paying a tax for their proximity to the Greenway. We should expect the City to be a significant part of the financial puzzle.

Thanks again!

Dave Seeley

I was unable to attend the Wednesday night meeting and am grateful, as always, for your excellent unbiased coverage. The newly formed Friends Group for Parcels 8 & 9 couldn't have emerged at a better time. They are fortunate, to have access to the design talent capable of revitalizing the North End Parcels. Even more important, the friends will provide the local residents, with an opportunity to.
indulge their Gardening passions. This will serve two purposes residents can garden and feel more connected to the area.Since, new residents don't always have an opportunity to meet their neighbors. Christopher Columbus Park is a perfect example, of what can happen when residents have a shared interest. This is a true win win for the locals and tourists fortunate enough to visit this amazing City.

Thanks Matt,
Michele Brogan

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