The Greenway standoff continues
Report from Conservancy insists that public support for parkland is crucial
The state Department of Transportation didn’t take the knees out from under the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy this week. MassDOT may not have heard what it wanted to hear from the Conservancy, but it made conciliatory noises nonetheless. The lack of fireworks surrounding the release of the Conservancy’s new budget, however, doesn’t mean that the controversy over whether MassDOT will fund the Greenway has subsided. In fact, the situation looks more intractable now than it did six months ago, when MassDOT demanded that the Conservancy commit to operating without state cash.
CommonWealth’s summer issue detailed the standoff between MassDOT, the agency that owns the Greenway parks that sit atop the Big Dig tunnels in Boston, and the Conservancy, the nonprofit that manages the park system. The Conservancy’s lease expires next year. MassDOT Secretary Richard Davey said in January that a lease renewal would be contingent upon a commitment from the Conservancy to wean itself off state revenues; if the Conservancy couldn’t demonstrate the ability to operate the Greenway parks without state funds by 2018, he said, the group wouldn’t be in business beyond 2013.
When they spoke with CommonWealth in late May, the Conservancy’s executive director, Nancy Brennan, and board chair, Georgia Murray, repeatedly said they did not know whether they could meet Davey’s request. They deferred to a five-year business plan, which was still being crafted as CommonWealth went to press.
“State support simply cannot go to zero,” Brennan said at Tuesday’s Conservancy board meeting where the plan was presented. The Conservancy is counting on a new business improvement district (BID) to provide the Conservancy with $2 million in annual revenue. However, Brennan said that prospective BID participants “have been clear all along that a BID is contingent on state funds.”
Brennan and Murray also argued that the complete withdrawal of public funds would erode the Conservancy’s private fundraising efforts.
Instead, they rolled out a plan that would allow state support for the Greenway to drop from $2.1 million in fiscal year 2013, to $1.2 million in fiscal 2018. Over that period, the Conservancy’s overall budget would grow, from $4.5 million to $6.55 million. The bulk of the additional spending would go toward horticulture, maintenance, and a capital reserve fund, with increased revenues coming from the BID, more robust fundraising, and monetizing the park by selling corporate sponsorships and naming rights.
When the Conservancy rolled out its plan Tuesday night, MassDOT planner Clinton Bench called it a “great step forward,” saying the state was “very excited about the progress that has clearly been made.”
But the two sides are, in fact, far more dug in now than they were a week ago, before the Conservancy responded publicly to MassDOT: The state has conditioned the Conservancy’s lease renewal on a demand the Conservancy now formally says it can’t meet.“The board cannot responsibly propose a plan that brings the state down to zero [public support],” Murray said, arguing that the Conservancy’s entire budget would collapse on itself without state funds. “We would love to, it would’ve been great, but we can’t do it without the BID, we can’t do it without philanthropy, and both those groups are very clear the state needs to stay at the table. So we can think through how the state stays at the table, we can think through what that really means, but it is absolutely clear that the BID is a public-private partnership, and that requires [public] revenue.”
Bench, the MassDOT planner, may have called the Conservancy report a “great step forward,” but he pushed back hard against suggestions that the plan was a deal Davey would be happy to accept. The secretary’s insistence on moving toward no state revenues was “meant to be taken literally,” Bench said. “It was quite clear.”