Davey: Continue state subsidy for Greenway

Pursue new Conservancy revenues, tap abutters

THE GREENWAY CONSERVANCY, a not-for-profit entity charged with programming and maintaining the Rose Kennedy Greenway, has recently generated headlines that have called into question the appropriate level of state support for the Greenway. I had those same questions when I served as state transportation secretary.  Indeed, I expressed those concerns in these pages (Rumble in the Park, Commonwealth, Summer 2012) about the state’s financial support of the Conservancy, and called for the Conservancy’s state subsidy to be eliminated by 2018.

It’s tempting to think, given our myriad of transportation challenges, that money would be better spent on paving some roads, fixing a bridge, or helping run the MBTA.  However, in hindsight, I believe a total elimination of state funding is neither feasible nor wise.  There is a better approach which recognizes the state’s obvious interest, the Conservancy’s mission, and involves the real estate owners who have benefitted from the Greenway’s existence.

This year, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will provide approximately $2.1 million in public funds to the Conservancy to support the Greenway operations.  Rather than cutting off state funding altogether, the Conservancy and MassDOT should work together to address the long-term capital and operating needs of the Greenway in a sustainable way by adopting the following path:

Create a state-funded capital asset fund: Whether one believes that MassDOT should support the park or not, the reality is that the park is owned by MassDOT, serves as the roof of the O’Neill tunnel, and was a key promise in the development of the Central Artery/Tunnel project.  The state cannot walk away from its obligation to keep the tunnel in a state of good repair, and that includes what sits on top of the tunnel. At the same time, the Greenway edges closer and closer to its tenth anniversary and the need for preventative maintenance and replacement of critical equipment will become necessary.  However, neither MassDOT nor the Conservancy has set aside funds for these inevitable capital expenses.  In short, we run the risk of repeating the same mistakes we made in decades past when billions were spent on transportation enhancements while maintenance was deferred and existing infrastructure deteriorated. MassDOT should refocus its annual financial commitment to the Greenway from one of ongoing operational subsidies to a newly established capital asset reserve fund to keep Greenway assets in good repair.  Furthermore, MassDOT and the Conservancy should develop a 10-year capital plan to guide  disbursements from the fund.

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Fundraise and generate fee income for operations: With capital needs resting with MassDOT, the Conservancy should squarely focus on raising money to fund operations.  Currently, the Conservancy generates revenue through private donations, endowment income, and earned revenue.  In total, private revenue accounts for about 60 percent of its funds, while about 40 percent of funding is provided by MassDOT.  The Conservancy has pursued new earned income opportunities in the past several years, with rental fees from food trucks and admission fees to the Greenway Carousel.  Private philanthropy has also gained new traction, as evidenced by the Tiffany & Company Foundation’s $1.5 million contribution toward the Greenway Carousel.  However, the Conservancy should step up its efforts to generate new fee income by expanding naming rights opportunities, booking private events for a fee, and seeking discrete donations for visual art displays.

Formalize contributions from abutters: Since the Greenway’s inception, opinion leaders and elected officials have contemplated the creation of a Business Improvement District (BID) along the Greenway.  Such a BID would require annual contributions from abutters in support of Greenway operations and maintenance.  Efforts to implement a BID, however, have faltered in the past due to the recession, concerns about the Conservancy’s stewardship, and authority over BID revenues.  To be sure, a number of the abutters to the Greenway are themselves local businesses whose leaders were closely involved in the formation of the Greenway — and in some cases, they have made regular contributions directly to the Conservancy.  Yet, all of the landowners along the Greenway have clearly benefitted from the space, as have many others as the Greenway has become one of the city’s top destinations.  The Greenway District Planning Study commissioned by the Boston Redevelopment Authority confirmed that commercial property values in the Greenway District exceed those in the rest of Boston’s central business district by at least 15 percent.  While we can’t turn back the clock to create a mechanism for the Greenway to share the wealth of increased property values in its wake, we can take steps now to support the long-term fiscal viability of Greenway operations, maintenance, and programming through a BID.

Meet the Author
In less the than a decade, the Greenway has become downtown Boston’s front yard and premier gathering space thanks to public markets, a maturing landscape, adjacent private investment, free Wi-Fi, a creative public arts program, and food trucks that provide daily activities for workers, visitors, and residents alike.  Simply put, it’s already become impossible to imagine downtown Boston without it.  But in order for the Greenway to continue to maintain its grandeur, the Conservancy, the Commonwealth, and abutters should partner to create new, sustainable sources of operating and capital revenue for years to come.

Richard A. Davey is the former Massachusetts secretary of transportation.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    The Massachusetts Department of Transportation should not be giving $2,100,000 a year to a “nonprofit” whose top executive is making $210,000 or significantly more than the governor just to maintain a strip of grass. The kicker is the Greenway Conservancy contracts out the grounds maintenance to another nonprofit who does the work for about $600,000. Why can’t DOT just contract out the grounds maintenance and let the Greenway Conservancy sink or swim on donations and its $13,500,000 endowment?

  • RJSBoston

    Yeah, the below comment is example of the same tired provincial opinion that attacks everything new and positive in this state and city. Anyone watching as closely as Davey would understand that studies have already been conducted that the Conservancy provides first-class stewardship of the plantings and infrastructure *both* CHEAPER than if the state “contracted out the grounds maintenance” (which has been estimated to cost $3m-plus per year) and BETTER than if the State were left to do it themselves. The non-profit referenced for $600,000 only really does three things: cut the grass, take out the trash, plow the snow. If that’s all you want to invest in the Greenway, you’ll get a result like most of our other public parks.

    The State made the decision to build a $30m dollar park with $13m in granite finishes and a half dozen high-end fountains and other features. Those cost money to maintain. And that’s what our adjoining communities and residents statewide were promised.

    For me, I love that the $2m in state/taxpayer funds takes care of the basic needs of the park and that there’s a group in place to leverage an additional $3m to put on programs, bring public art, and turn the plantings from something ordinary to something extraordinary. The Greenway has become a well-managed, balanced-budget ‘Lawn on D’ with even more things to do and with far less commercialization. What’s not to like?

    • Mhmjjj2012

      Using your figures, the Greenway is a $30m dollar park with $13m in granite finishes and a half dozen high-end fountains and other features costing $3m-plus per year to maintain. So, how does all that add up to a $210,000 CEO along with 3 other staff members paid well over $100,000? How is it possible to justify paying someone to oversee $43m in investments far more than the Governor of Massachusetts overseeing a $40 billion budget?

      • RJSBoston

        My memory of the Herald article on salaries suggests there aren’t four people making “well over” $100k, but your analogy is a tired one regardless. Elected officials are underpaid relative to their responsibility. University presidents, non-profit leaders, and others in like industries make more than ever before and raises in one lead to raises in others. If its entirely paid out of private funds, I’m not overly concerned. I’d be more interested to know whether Brackenbury makes more, less or the same as the head of the MFA, or the Aquarium, or the ICA, not to mention the High Line in NYC, Discovery Green in Houston, Bryant Park in NYC, and other signature parks of the type covered here: http://www.cityparksalliance.org/storage/documents/HRA_-_Signature_Park_Survey_Findings_11-4-11_2.pdf

        • Mhmjjj2012

          The Greenway Conservancy’s IRS Form 990 for 2014 shows four positions making well over $100k: Executive Director, Director of Park Operations, Director of Development and Director of Planning. For the 2013 filing there were five positions paid over $100k, which were the previous four positions plus Chief Operating Officer. Looks like when Jesse Brackenbury got promoted the COO position wasn’t filled. Seriously, you’d compare the Greenway’s operations to the MFA?

          • RJSBoston

            You wouldn’t?

          • Mhmjjj2012

            Be serious. You’re using your memory of a Herald article (no date or title given) and I cited specific IRS Form 990s showing the number of Greenway Conservancy positions paying well over $100,000. It’s ridiculous for Massachusetts taxpayers to be subsidizing a nonprofit CEO’s $210,000 salary that’s THREE TIMES the state’s annual median household income. And what was the point of including a link to the “Results of a Survey of Dedicated Park Managers?” There was nothing of substance in it.