Neighborhood residents had plenty of questions for the Greenway Conservancy in its first comprehensive update to the neighborhood since taking over control of the parks. Representing the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Conservancy was Executive Director, Nancy Brennan. The North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) provided the forum during its October 8th meeting as well as a list of issues, covering a wide range of topics. The room was packed with residents wanting to understand the priorities and focus of the Conservancy, a private, non-profit organization tasked with managing the State parks. Last July, Ms. Brennan and Ann Thornburg of the Greenway Leadership Council briefly introduced themselves at the July neighborhood council meeting.
The Conservancy has been operating the Greenway parks for 7 months. Prior to that, the organization was tasked with raising money since 2005 with an endowment goal of $20 million. The endowment currently stands at $12 million.
The North End parks have encountered some maintenance problems over the past year with the greenery and the fountains. There was a water problem harming the boxwood hedges that is hopefully resolved. The Conservancy will be composting again this year.
The fountains have been hampered by damage in an underground vault that filled with water last winter. Ms. Brennan indicated that the Conservancy is working out a solution for repair with its insurance carrier. Currently, the fountains are partially working while new parts remain on order for next year.
The Conservancy is planning on installing seasonal shade structures because the trees and vines on the pergolas are not growing. It was also noted that more signage is needed, but plans were cut back due to funding constraints. Residents suggested the parks could use more drinking fountains and less skateboarders.
Much of the discussion at the meeting related to some controversial recent events including the Zipcar-sponsored movie night and the Chiofaro party to promote the Harbor Garage Redevelopment. Ms. Brennan emphasized that most of the events to date have been of a small scale, including talks, walking tours, storytelling hours, family games and treasure hunts.
The Conservancy apologized for the resident disruption caused by the Zipcar movie event that went late into the night resulting in complaints from nearby residents. There was a mechanical problem that delayed the start of the movie. Despite speculation that the movie night could be a weekly event, Ms. Brennan indicated that was not currently planned although future movie nights are possible. The Conservancy will be purchasing a sound meter to comply with existing city ordinances regarding noise. In an answer to a question, it was noted that fees are charged for companies to use a parcel, up to $5,000 with a discount for non-profits.
Several residents questioned the need for events at all, especially when the focus is on advertising and marketing. One long time resident read aloud Senator Kennedy’s famous quote in 2004 retelling one of the memories his mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, had of her North End childhood: “I always remember my mother and my grandfather talking about growing up in the North End as they were children: There was never any grass for the children to go out and play. There was never any grass — well, there’s going to be grass. There’s going to be grass right behind me and all the way down this greenway.” The resident asked whether renting out the parks for events was consistent with the spirit of that quote.
An attendee warned of a broader issue – the parks are at risk of becoming an “outdoor convention center.” Ms. Brennan quickly replied, “over my dead body.” It was unclear the expected frequency and scale of future events. Ms. Brennan said she will have a schedule in February 2010.
The Chiofaro concert in July 2009 was brought up as an example. Is it appropriate for a developer to have a concert (Shirley & the Rondells) for 800 people to promote a new tower project at the Aquarium Garage site? Ms. Brennan indicated that Chiofaro paid $1,200 to the Conservancy for the event. Attendees suggested the Conservancy survey the neighborhoods to find out what types of events are desirable, if at all. Since transparency is important, those results should be made public so the Conservancy can show it is executing in the public’s interest.
On development, the Conservancy is working with other groups toward the following:
Armenian Heritage Park – breaking ground next spring with an opening in late 2010
Harbor Islands Pavilion (Parcel 14) – will be breaking ground this fall or next spring for an 8 month construction period
Urban Nursery – potted young trees will be grown on Parcel 12
On the financial front, a Prince Street resident asked why only 1% of last year’s spending was on maintenance and horticulture. Ms. Brennan said the Conservancy spent $900,000 on park operations last year and will spend $2.6 million in the current fiscal year, representing 54% of its budget. Unfortunately, educational programs will be cut with only $790,000 budgeted versus over $1 million last year. Development and administration will be flat at approximately $600,000.
A newcomer to the neighborhood spoke favorably about the Greenway indicating that the parks encouraged her move to the neighborhood. Another resident compared it to Millennium Park, noting that what makes the famous Chicago park work is that it is next to Grant Park. In the audience were two members of the Conservancy’s governing body, the Greenway Leadership Council (GLC), Francine Gannon and Dan Nuzzo who are also North End/Waterfront residents. As a member of the GLC, Francine Gannon said she was aware of resident concerns and is working with the Conservancy to address them. In her concluding remarks, Ms. Brennan said she appreciated the feedback from the neighborhood. NEWRA President Mark Paul thanked the Conservancy for addressing the North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association.
My view: It was terrific to see so much interest from dozens of North End/Waterfront residents at the meeting with such relevant questions. I thought the attendees were very clear in expressing their concerns, while appreciating the potential the Greenway brings to the neighborhood. Communication and public process is so important. The Conservancy can go a long way by increasing its communication and transparency efforts toward the neighborhood. As I’ve written in the past (see below), there are questionable monetary issues that remain at large. In the meantime, it is important that the Conservancy understand the expectations of the neighborhood.
Greenway Article: What About Neighborhood Parks?
Fun Facts From Greenway Conservancy’s Annual Report – Following the Money
Greenway Conservancy Improves Development Protocols
State Environmental Secretary Opposes Chiofaro’s Harbor Garage Redevelopment
What is the Quid Pro Quo Between Developer Chiofaro & the Greenway Conservancy?
Debating Development & Conflict Issues at the Greenway Conservancy Meeting
Greenway Conservancy Revises Park Guidelines; Little Improvement for Public
**MEETING NOTICE: The Greenway Leadership Council is having a meeting on October 14, 2009 at 3:00pm at 185 Kneeland Street. The public is invited to attend. The agenda will include a financial audit review, urban nursery design and conflict of interest issues. See the Calendar for all events and meetings.