DCR’s lax oversight of leases causing problems

Hull carousel owner says lack of lease cost it $200,000 grant

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION’S lax oversight of Department of Conservation and Recreation property is costing the state money and wreaking havoc on one leaseholder trying to keep a carousel running in Hull.

The agency’s failure to keep leases and permits current has been a problem for years, but two instances highlight how bad the situation has gotten.

The Friends of the Paragon Carousel owns a carousel built in 1928 and the building that houses it, but the nonprofit group leases from DCR the land on which the carousel sits and the Clock Tower Building next door that houses an ice cream shop, a museum, and office space.

The lease was $1 a year until it expired in 2016. The Legislature passed a law authorizing DCR to renew the lease on the same terms, but DCR decided to use the lease renewal process as leverage to push the Friends group to make some badly needed improvements to the clock tower building.

While the lease negotiations dragged on, the Friends group applied for a $200,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund. In its review of the grant request, the Cultural Facilities Fund said the carousel is a key element of Hull’s revitalization efforts and had strong support in the community, but concluded the grant could not be awarded because the Friends group lacked a lease.

“The Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund informed us that the [Friends] group has accomplished much and has made a significant positive impact on the community and the state,” said Marie Schleiff, the president of the Friends group, in a statement.  “However, they cannot recommend funding as we do not have a long-term lease. . . . So another year lost.”

Community Boating, which offers sailing on the Charles River from prime waterfront property owned by the state near the Hatch Shell, is also operating without a lease. The nonprofit hasn’t ever paid rent, but state officials indicated they would try to extract some revenue from Community Boating when its lease expired in 2010. Nine years later, there is still no revenue and no lease.

Charles Zechel, the executive director of Community Boating, said he doesn’t know why it is taking so long. “It’s kind of an awkward feeling not having a lease in place,” he said. “But I’m hopeful that it will get done soon.”

State Auditor Suzanne Bump has released two audits criticizing DCR for failing to keep leases and permits current, but she said the inaction on the Community Boating lease is particularly troubling.

“This failure jeopardizes revenues and also limits [DCR’s] ability to ensure these properties are being used for their intended purpose,” Bump said in a statement. “For a public program like Community Boating, there may be a rationale for not charging rent, but public accountability demands that there be a lease clearly spelling out the rights and responsibilities of the parties.”

An official at DCR said the agency is continuing to work on the leases with the Friends of the Paragon Carousel and Community Boating.

DCR, reportedly the state’s largest landowner, has long been criticized for management of its leases. Some of the problems associated with DCR’s leases can be traced to poor management, but the agency is also understaffed, underfunded, and has never articulated its leasing goals. For example, there is no clear policy on whether Community Boating and the Friends of the Paragon Carousel should be paying rent commensurate with the value of the properties they are using or whether the public service the nonprofits provide justifies a lease with no rental costs.

The MBTA, which says it is the state’s second-largest landholder, has also been criticized for failing to maximize the value of its real estate assets. But the T is moving to address the problem. Its real estate staff is expanding and just this week the transit authority hired Richard Henderson, the top real estate official at MassDevelopment, to be its chief real estate officer.

Meet the Author
According to T officials, Henderson will be paid $200,000 a year and oversee a growing staff.

By contrast, Leo Roy, the top official at the Department of Conservation and Recreation, personally juggles some lease negotiations himself along with a host of other duties. Roy makes $137,150 a year.