Greenway board seeks new funding sources
State officials have warned they may cut out money dedicated to city park system by 2017
Facing the possible end of state funding, the nonprofit group that manages the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is seeking more contributions from private sources as well as soliciting the public’s suggested improvements to the 15-acre park system.
Directors of the Greenway outlined plans Tuesday to eventually increase its annual budget to $6 million, a 36 percent increase from its current $4.4 million. But how they will fund that increase remains a work in progress, with directors hoping much of it will come from a voluntary tax on commercial landowners along the downtown parks.
The officials have begun pursuing the creation of a business improvement district, similar to one now in place in Downtown Crossing, where property owners around the Greenway would willingly pay an additional tax for the upkeep of the parks.
And Greenway directors are also trying to reinvigorate a broader discussion with the public and private businesses about the parks: Should there be more festivals and outdoor concerts? What kind of public art should be installed? And could the park system raise money for maintenance by creating amenities such as an ice rink, and renting out skates?
“All of this is up for discussion,’’ said Georgia Murray, chairwoman of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy’s board. “We know how much it will cost to run the Greenway. The creative part is where those funds come from.’’
The pressure to raise more money intensified in January when the Massachusetts Department of Transportation warned the Greenway conservancy that the state may eliminate public funding by 2017, at the end of its lease with the state. The parties are negotiating a renewal. The state government is currently responsible for paying half of the conservancy’s budget through 2012 - about $2.1 million this year.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation said Tuesday that the state’s appropriation for next fiscal year has not yet been determined. But Mayor Thomas M. Menino has continued to pressure the department to help fund the Greenway, which sits on state-owned property between Chinatown and North Station.
The Greenway directors have said state funding is necessary to pay for upkeep and other expenses during the next five years, but they are crafting a plan to be self-supporting after that point. A big part of the plan relies on the creation of the business improvement district. Its establishment, which must be approved by a majority of commercial landowners in the area, would allow Boston officials to levy a tax on those landowners to pay for upkeep and other services.
Conservancy directors said they are waiting to learn the level of state funding next year before seeking approval for the tax from landowners.
The debate over funding has occurred against a backdrop of intense scrutiny of the conservancy, which has faced criticism over salaries for its top administrators. The Greenway’s executive director, Nancy Brennan, is paid $185,000 a year.
At a public meeting Tuesday night, the conservancy sought to defend that salary, indicating in a PowerPoint presentation that it is below the pay of executives at other major local nonprofits. The directors said the focus on salaries distracts from the broader discussion about funding and programming matters important to the public.
The Greenway’s next major event is Saturday, a festival of food trucks that will feature 20 vendors, a cook off, and bands.
“This is not a political game,’’ said Murray, the chairwoman. “It’s an effort to create a public space that supports Boston’s neighborhoods and its economic development. We all have to keep talking to get it there.’’
Casey Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.