Public parks and open space are important assets to any city and integral parts of the fabric of daily life for residents. The costs to construct these facilities are significant and ongoing capital and operating funds must be invested to maintain them properly. As these costs increase and public funding changes, public agencies are responding with creativity in their operational structures, investment and funding approaches to ensure longevity and programming that is responsive to the community.
Many new urban parks opened in the last few year show how public/private partnerships — but not actual private ownership — vastly improve the level of service parks provide to communities. As non-profit stewards of the park, partnerships are responsible for management and maintenance, while the park itself remains fully open and accessible to the public. Through the support of neighboring businesses and/or business improvement districts (BIDs), these collaborative efforts allow for more efficient management, higher level of services and better economic stewardship.
One of New York City’s great outdoor spaces, Bryant Park, is managed by the Bryant Park Corporation, a non-profit entity and cooperating business improvement district of neighboring property owners. Formed in 1988 to restore the historic park after years of neglect and decline, the park reopened in 1991 with a budget six times the level under prior city management. With maintenance and management still privately funded today, Bryant Park remains open to the public and the largest effort in the nation to apply private management backed by private funding to a public park.
Locally, there are two recent examples of comparable successful partnerships managing award winning parks. In both partnerships, a board comprised of community, civic, institutional and business members governs the entity, while their rules mirror those of District Managed parks. Opened in 2012, the 3-acre Canal Park at 200 M Street SE, is operated by Canal Park Development Association Inc. (CPDA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established for promoting, designing, fundraising for, building and maintaining the park. The $27M to construct the park was provided from a variety of sources, including developer contributions, grants, new market tax credits and a contribution from the District. Today, in addition to being a CPDA partner, local developer WC Smith donates resources for maintenance and management and collects rents, allowing the park to operate without the use of public funds.
The nationally recognized 6-acre Yards Park opened in 2011 on the Anacostia River near Nationals Park. Owned by the District, the park is operated by Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (CRBID), which is funded by a self-imposed tax on area property owners. Fully open and accessible to District residents and visitors, annual operational funding of approximately $800,000 is provided through voluntary contributions from developer Forest City, CRBID and revenue from park events. In addition to providing events and recreational opportunities for the community, both parks are key elements and public investments in the neighborhoods they serve.
Anyone who has been to either Yards or Canal Park is quickly aware of the spectacular appearance and high level of maintenance adding to the overall experience of visiting. We envision McMillan’s parks and open space, as key features of the neighborhood, not just in appearance, but as functional gathering places for the community providing enriching programming and recreational potential. Significant resources will go into the creation of McMillan’s new public space to create a distinctive destination unlike any in the District. As we prepare a framework for the future, what operational model do you prefer to ensure long term stewardship for the public – a collaborative private nonprofit management or city management? Share your thoughts.