The Greenway Conservancy issued its latest financial numbers, with a headline number of $8.8 million in operating expenses over the 18-month period ending December 2015. The extended reporting period is due to a one-time change in fiscal year-end reporting, from June year-end to December. For the 12 months ending December 2016, the Conservancy’s board approved a budget of $5 million which is about the same as previous calendar years.
The Conservancy’s budget reflects a public/private model that is receiving $2.1 million per year from the State with the balance coming from its own fundraising. The public contribution makes up 40% of the annual budget and is restricted for use toward maintenance and horticulture (including ~$400 thousand of in-kind services such as office space and support). The conservancy contracts daily maintenance to another non-profit, Work Inc., for a little over $600,000 as of last year. A breakout of the State money line items is reported and audited according to its lease with MassDot. The Greenway parks were created from the Big Dig, are publicly owned by the Commonwealth and regulated by the Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDot) who leases operations to the non-profit Conservancy.
After a series of extensions from its original long-term lease, the Conservancy’s shorter 2-year lease was negotiated with MassDot last year and expires in June 2017. Of note, the new lease added 1.3 acres of land to be managed by the Conservancy, a 10% increase, including periphery areas along Surface Road, Atlantic Avenue and Cross Street (such as the lawn in front of the North Street tunnel building).
State subsidies for maintenance and horticulture allow the balance of private funds to support public art, programming, marketing and Conservancy staff beyond regular park operations. At year-end 2015, the Conservancy’s endowment stood at $13.5 million. Last year’s successful Echelman aerial sculpture was privately funded as are most events on the Greenway. A matching public grant along with privately raised funds by the Conservancy was used for a $400,000 renovation of half the planting beds in the North End parks as well as to repair infrastructure and add lighting along with the popular bench swings. Additional horticulture for the remaining plant beds has yet to be funded.
The Conservancy’s board approved an increase of Executive Director Jesse Brackenbury’s compensation from $180,000 to $210,000. Brackenbury has received rave reviews, but the executive pay is creeping up toward the level that raised eyebrows when it was disclosed that the previous Executive Director, Nancy Brennan, was initially compensated $223,000. The Conservancy’s financial committee uses salary benchmarks from signature parks around the country to justify the high compensation (i.e., Millennium Park in Chicago, Discovery Green in Houston, Bryant Park and the High Line in New York.)
Public park salaries at the State and City level are significantly lower than the Conservancy’s pay. The highest official at the State’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) made $172,000 last year. DCR manages 450,000 acres whereas the Greenway covers only 15 acres. State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, the Greenway’s chief regulator, is paid only $162,000 per year. City of Boston Parks Commissioner Chris Cook, charged with the care of all of Boston’s public parks, including the high profile jewels of Boston Common, Public Garden, Franklin Park and Christopher Columbus Park, is paid about half of what the Conservancy’s top job brings in.
One funding source that continues to be noticeably absent from the financials are meaningful contributions by developers and property owners around the Greenway. Unlike the Downtown Business Improvement District where a tax-like system is in place, the current towers and burgeoning development projects going up throughout the Greenway corridor have not stepped up to support the parks in a consistent, meaningful way. These development projects represent billions in real estate value that receive enormous benefits from having the Greenway outside their doors.
Long time readers will recall that NorthEndWaterfront.com has closely followed the Greenway’s financial situation from the very beginning in 2009 when the Conservancy first took over operations of the parks. We also were the first publication to raise attention to increasing tension between the State and Conservancy management in 2010 when questions were being asked about the use and transparency of taxpayer funds. [See State Demands Greater Accountability From Greenway Conservancy.]
S**t hit the fan in 2012 when MassDot, the State regulator, threatened to cutoff funding completely. This raised the larger question of the public/private partnership and whether State parks should be managed without public funding. Would the Commonwealth reverse its commitment to support the Greenway, despite promises made during the long Big Dig construction process? In response, State legislators led by Representative Aaron Michlewitz introduced reform legislation that opened up the Conservancy’s books through the Open Meeting and Public Records laws. The legislation also gave voting board seats to the Greenway neighborhoods to better link the priorities of the surrounding communities to the Conservancy.
Local residents now have a significant influence on how the Greenway is managed. Of the 21 volunteer board members at the Greenway Conservancy, five are North End residents and several others live downtown and around the waterfront. Each neighborhood group gets one representative and others are appointed by local officials. The North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) representative is Robyn Reed and the North End / Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) representative is John Pregmon. Other appointed North End residents currently on the board include Vice Chair Kathryn Burton, Attorney Daniel Toscano and former New England Aquarium President Bud Ris.
If you are interested in attending Greenway Board meetings, they are open to the public. The next one is May 10th, 5:30 p.m. at 185 Kneeland Street, 1st Floor Conference Room. The most recent audited financial statements can be downloaded here.
In early April 2016, Executive Director Jesse Brackenbury provided an update on the Greenway’s Spring activities and answered questions at the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA), shown in the video below.