New funding agreement for Greenway Conservancy

New funding agreement for Greenway Conservancy

State keeps money flowing; abutters, city to chip in

A NEW FUNDING AGREEMENT for the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy was unveiled on Monday that requires a smaller amount of taxpayer money from the state along with new contributions from park abutters and the city of Boston.

State officials had said they wanted to zero out their $2.3 million annual payment for Conservancy operations, but they ended up agreeing to pay $1,050,000 annually — $750,000 in cash along with $300,000 in in-kind contributions.

The owners of about half the properties along the Greenway agreed to try to form a Business Improvement District that would contribute $1.5 million a year to the park — $1 million for operations and $500,000 for BID-directed enhancements to the park. And the city of Boston agreed to pony up $5 million it expects to receive from Millennium Partners in connection with the development of the Winthrop Square Garage site. The $5 million is expected to generate $250,000 a year in interest, which will go for Conservancy operations.

Baker administration officials applauded the agreement at a meeting of the board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, with Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack calling the agreement “a series of excellent outcomes.”

But in May Pollack had bristled at suggestions by the Conservancy that state funding of the park continue for another 10 years. At the time, Pollack said the Baker administration wanted to end all contributions to the Conservancy for operating expenses. In the negotiations that ended at noon on Monday, Pollack agreed to keep state money flowing, albeit at a slower pace. The state also agreed to a 10-year lease for the Conservancy, with options to extend the lease for two additional 10-year terms.

Joseph Sullivan, the mayor of Braintree and a member of the MassDOT board, characterized the deal as a broadening of the Greenway’s support. “The Commonwealth is not really stepping back,” he said. “We’ve created a much stronger foundation.”

The state currently provides $2 million in operating and $300,000 in in-kind funding to the Greenway. Under the new deal, the amount will remain the same, but the state’s share of the total will fall to 46 percent, the abutters’ share will be 43 percent, and the city’s share will be 11 percent.

The state will also provide up to $360,000 in capital funds for the Greenway. The Greenway, which is essentially a series of small parks that cover the Central Artery, is owned by the state.

The group A Better City, whose membership ranks include about 20 of the Greenway’s roughly 40 abutters, agreed to push for the creation of a Business Improvement District that will pay additional taxes to support the park. To take effect, the BID will need the approval of the Boston City Council and the support of 60 percent of the property owners. It’s expected the BID will take a year to form, so the state will provide bridge funding for the coming year.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Major property owners along the Greenway include Donald Chiofaro, the owner of One Financial Place and the Boston Harbor Garage; Tishman Speyer, the owner of 125 High Street; Boston Properties, the owner of Atlantic Wharf; Rowes Wharf; and the  Federal Reserve Bank.

Officials said the Conservancy currently raises about $3.2 million a year through fundraising and revenue initiatives. The new 10-year lease, which replaces a series of one-year leases, is expected to enable the Conservancy to boost its money-raising efforts.

  • shirley_kressel

    On July 12, 2004, the state, seeking to save a few pennies in the financial bloodbath that was the Central Artery project, signed a Memorandum of Agreement empowering a new non-profit, the “Greenway Conservancy,” to take over the care and custody of the newly created Artery-long open space, essentially a glorified median strip that had been touted as the great community reward for all the project-related pain and suffering. The Conservancy was a creature of the Artery Business Committee, a consortium of powerful and politically connected local real-estate interests poised to reap huge benefits in soaring property values.

    While the state officials were trying to get something for nothing, the Conservancy leaders were carrying out their long-standing plan to take control over the open space adjoining their properties and manage it so as to benefit their business interests — and to do so without spending their own money. Knowing how politicians work, the Conservancy dangled the prospect of a totally free lunch, with glowing promises of a meticulously manicured park, “clean, green, and excellent,” and, above all, free of undesirables (i.e., homeless people), the holy grail of urban parks in gentrifying cities – all to be paid for by private donors. Free! The politicians leaped at it.

    And so the “Stone Soup” fable unfolded. The well-connected Conservancy leaders got the state to prime their free-money machine with a hefty public funding infusion – only as a jump-start, of course. The MoA said plainly, “It is the intent of the Parties that the Conservancy undertake its obligations under this Agreement and the Bylaws without relying on any federal, state or local funding (other than the specific funds committed in this Agreement).“ But that was soon to go by the wayside. The Conservancy operators discovered, upon sharpening their pencils, that, alas, they couldn’t possible make this the best, most clean, green and excellent park just on private donations, and they would need tens of millions of public dollars more to keep the Greenway from becoming a wind-swept wasteland of tumbleweeds (and, by implication – gasp — homeless people). And ever since, the state has been pouring money into this ballooning enterprise, with a show of hand-wringing, while the Conservancy interests worked on perpetuating their hold on public assets.

    Now, the Conservancy interests have wangled a long-term commitment for funding and land lease, which will certainly become permanent. And now, dangling a few City dollars as a carrot, Mayor Marty Walsh is getting in on the game, strategically making the state a powerful ally in legalizing the Winthrop Square project, as he files his home rule petition asking the legislators to let the project violate the shadow laws.

    But this is a manufactured crisis. There’s no real funding problem here — only incompetence and corrupt politics as usual, at taxpayers’ expense.

    With all its hand-wringing, the one thing the state has never been willing to do is to get competitive bids for this maintenance work. (Of course, the Conservancy wouldn’t conduct a genuine bidding process, because that would expose, among other things, the inflated budget they’ve used to justify public funding. )

    Nor has the state done an independent audit of the Conservancy, whose publicized budget has ranged, over the years, between $5 and $7 million.

    How much does it really take to maintain these few acres?

    Here are some rounded numbers from the Conservancy’s IRS Form 990 (most recent available is 2015, at http://bit.ly/2rSzXlj):

    They have an annual contract with a sheltered work company that does most of the actual maintenance work for $600,000. They refuse to disclose, or get the company to disclose, how much those workers get paid; it appears that low-pay disabled workers are being used to replace public employees who would get prevailing wages and benefits. They also save money by recruiting 5,000 hours (625 work days) of volunteer work annually.

    They reaped a half million dollars from commercial uses of the park, and another half million in income from a $15 million investment fund.

    In 2015, the Conservancy’s Executive Director made $250,000; the fundraising director, $150,000; the park operations director, $150,000. (Boston’s mayor made $175,000, city councilors, $88,000, the Boston parks commissioner, $115,000; the governor, $150,000, the state parks commissioner, $130,000.)

    Conservancy employee pay and benefits totaled almost $1.3 million, half of the “functional expenses” of $2.5 million. The other half went to “Contracted Services” and “Direct Program Expenses.” That looks like a $2.5 million budget, with only half going into the park.

    So it appears that if the state dispensed with the Conservancy and simply paid for the contracted services and direct program expenses, it would cost substantially less than the $2 million the state has been giving them annually.

    The Conservancy created itself and was chartered by the state wholly on the promise to fund its work ENTIRELY with private donations (a promise that was broken as soon as the ink was dry on the Memo of Agreement). Over the years, the state has poured into its coffers tens of millions of dollars – when the whole purpose of empowering a Conservancy was to have all the work done with private money (a goal that was then, and still is, naïve and irresponsible). And now, with the new extendable land-lease deal, the state will effectively give them the land.

    Why hasn’t the state ever exercised due diligence in auditing and managing this private organization, engaged in doing public work at taxpayers’ expense, before giving away our land and money? Years ago, I used to go and ask this question of state officials and legislators; I was told that this boondoggle, for some reason, has ironclad political protection – probably the Kennedy connections — and no logic could sway them. That seems to be true to this day. I’m very disappointed in Stephanie Pollack, whom I had trusted, from CLF days, to see through, and stand firm against, such boondoggles; this shows the power of the political sausage machine.

    The Conservancy’s involvement should be terminated, eliminating this artificial financial burden.

    This is a public park, and the state should simply have incorporated it into its parks portfolio. But if the Greenway is going to get a dedicated stream of money (and I don’t know why it should), that should be state money, and a prudent and transparent budget should be publicly reviewed and approved for it every year. And if the work is not going to be done by the state parks work force but by outside contracts, they should be competitively bid, a basic good-government, good-business practice, with a requirement for prevailing-wage labor standards.