Greenway Leadership Council Talks 2010 Budget, Plans & Programming

This is a first-hand report of the January 13, 2010 meeting of the Greenway Leadership Council, an advisory group to the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy that manages the Greenway parks.

American Elm tree in the North End parks, the largest tree on the Greenway, being strung with white LED string lights. The lighting is expected in the next few weeks. (Photo: Greenway Conservancy)

Executive Director Nancy Brennan gave a short update on the “Bright Lights for Winter Nights” program which held a Chinatown lighting last week and is preparing the American elm tree in the North End parks for an upcoming lighting. The Greenway blog is now active to help inform the public. (Ed: At the meeting, I asked for the comments section to be opened on the blog to encourage public discussion.)

Ann Thornburg, Chair of the Leadership Council, reminded attendees of their mission:
“The Council shall assist the Conservancy by serving as representatives of the public interest in the success of the Greenway.”
Interestingly, there was a discussion regarding how to define “success” in terms of financial, public interest, events, horticulture, etc. This is a subject that will likely continue into future meetings. The GLC will have 9 meetings in 2010 and some will be in the abutting neighborhoods and others jointly with the Conservancy Board.

In a significant move to increase transparency at the request of meeting attendees, including this editor, the GLC meeting slides were posted online. This type of disclosure should greatly help the public understand the issues discussed at these meetings. Beforehand, only a handful of folks actually present at the meetings were shown this information.

Fiscal Year 2010 Budget

Executive Director Brennan presented a $6.4 million budget for the coming fiscal year, a 30% increase from a last year’s budget of $4.9 million. The chart below shows the revenue sources (EOT is public funding from the State’s transportation department which matches half of the Conservancy’s budget up to $5.5 million. In FY10, this amount will be $3.0 million, up from $2.5 million last year. Mass. Development, a separate State-funded grant, is also contributing $1.0 million similar to last year).  According to the presentation, State funding was confirmed last November. Ms. Brennan discussed the challenges in private fundraising given the short life of the Conservancy, the need to develop donor relationships and the general economic downturn.

Source: Greenway Conservancy
Source: Greenway Conservancy

On the expenditure side, the $6.4 million budget breaks down as shown below. Of the $3.3 million identified as operating and maintenance, $2.4 million is being dedicated to maintenance and horticulture.

Source: Greenway Conservancy
Source: Greenway Conservancy

Capital plans totaling $1.2 million will be dedicated to the North End urban nursery, Chinatown park improvements, Parcel 21 design, signage and Wharf District park improvements.

Benchmarking the Greenway

The GLC has asked the Conservancy to show how its financial plan “benchmarks” against similar urban parks. The Conservancy hired a consultant and produced some summary information of the results. Six parks were selected for comparison as shown below.


The comparison shows:

$15, 000 per acre for a “regular” park
$250,000 per acre for the 13.2 acres of Greenway parks
$315,000 per acre for the six parks chosen as benchmarks

The Conservancy is expecting to take control of another 7 acres adjoining the Greenway which would decrease its per acre spend to $165,000/acre. LC members asked for more information and suggested some other comps such as Boston’s Public Garden. There was spirited discussion about the whether the selected parks were appropriate and the details of the study. But time was limited so this subject is expected to continue at future meetings.

Shading the Greenway

Linda Jonash, Director of Planning & Design, gave a short presentation continuing the discussion of shading “hot spots” along the Greenway parks.
The North End parks are expected to get more tables and umbrellas with an estimated cost of $33,000. Other focus areas are the Rowes Wharf (est. $38,000) and Chinatown plazas. The Chinatown plan is quite extensive with large canopies and even a movie screen (shown with a Jackie Chan movie in the presentation) with an estimated cost of $171,000.

Programming the Greenway

Alexandra Lee, Director of Public Programs, led a group discussion regarding programming ideas. Some ideas were suggested including more horticulture-related activities, music events, dog-related activities, lego-type displays, archery and educational activities. Story-telling and exercise activities are very popular. GLC members repeatedly criticized the Conservancy for having no First Night activities or ice sculptures.

Leadership Council Comments

A recuring pattern at these meetings has been the lack of discussion time for LC members or the public.  Several GLC members complained that they receive no information in advance to review and prepare questions/comments.

GLC member Francine Gannon made it very clear that the GLC is “not a rubber stamp” for the Conservancy and should not be treated as such. GLC members Dan Nuzzo, Donna Freni and Dave Seeley also indicated there should be more time allocated for discussion and review.

Events on the Greenway

An ongoing debate is the appropriate balance of events on the Greenway. GLC member Gannon questioned the need for more events and asked why a new Special Events manager was hired in this environment. Chris Colbert, a GLC member, indicated that more events are needed in order to encourage private donors to contribute. Chair Ann Thornburg favored “sustainable” events and activities to bring folks to the parks, such as the Botanica sculpture on the Rose Wharf plaza. She also endorsed “collateral” events that play off other activities, such as First Night. Donna Freni, a GLC member, agreed with the need to work on the basics, such as lighting, tables and chairs, rather than huge events.

Public Comments

The very short public comment period centered around transparency issues and plans for the Greenway Gardens. Regarding transparency, I suggested that all slides and information presented at these meetings be shared with the public and posted online. The Conservancy complains that misinformation is a problem and this is one way to limit rumors.

Activist Shirley Kressel mentioned a letter recently sent to the Conservancy and public officials requesting information as required by legislation. Click here to read the record disclosure request letter (pdf). (Ed: I support this type of factual disclosure efforts because an increase in transparency goes a long way in helping the public understand the issues. With the facts in hand, individuals can form their own opinions. I think it also helps the Conservancy as such disclosure helps them to be viewed as a servant of the public’s interest rather than a dictatorial entity.)

Greenway Gardens

One such subject that has received a lot of attention by horticulture groups is the fate of the Greenway Gardens on Parcels 19 and 21 (in front of the Intercontinental). Former members of MassHort were present at the meeting and asked about the fate of these parcels. Conservancy staff indicated high maintenance costs and drainage are a problem. They have contracted for a new design for “landscaped space” and the addition of a “pavillion.” Parcel 22, closer to South Station, is a spot where the Conservancy would like to put an ice rink.
More information was posted on this blog post by the Conservancy.

Request for Comments

After the meeting, the GLC issued a note to the public requesting comments on the following issues:
– What specific aspects of the Greenway should be a focus for the GLC in 2010?
– What will make the Greenway a “success” in your mind as a public park?
– What specific information would you like to see that will measure the success of the Greenway?
Comments should be sent to by January 22, 2010.

Click here to view the Budget slides from the January 13, 2010 GLC meeting.
Click here to view the Tables & Chairs slides from the January 13, 2010 GLC meeting.

One Reply to “Greenway Leadership Council Talks 2010 Budget, Plans & Programming

  1. Matt, it’s worth noting that the Conservancy’s Executive Director, Nancy Brennan, refused to post the meeting’s presentations when first asked to do so by Rick Sullivan, DCR director, who is on the Leadership Council. We owe this bit of transparency to your persistent follow-up request.

    One LC member wisely asked for a detailed breakdown of the data on the six "benchmarking" parks, to see if the comparison is valid; Ms. Brennan promised to provide that information from the consultant. I have since pointed out in a message to the LC that NY’s Central Park, one of the world’s most iconic and transformative and heavily used parks, and one also run by a private conservancy, only spends $30,000 per acre for annual upkeep. At that rate, the Greenway would only need about $400,000 a year (from which the Armenian Heritage parcel’s care, to be privately provided, should be subtracted). I have long suggested that we should simply put the operations contract out for competitive bidding, and see what the cost would be. As it stands, the Conservancy refuses to disclose its contract with Work, Inc., which provides the labor for the park’s maintenance.

    The state is required to review the submitted Conservancy budget — which Ms. Brennan refuses to disclose. We should FOIA that document from the state if the Conservancy withholds it.

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