Big bucks from the Winthrop Square garage are coming to the Emerald Necklace, including the Boston Common, but of course, with the caveat of a shadow.
The City Council Committee on Ways and Means, chaired by Councilor Mark Ciommo, held a hearing on Oct. 15 regarding an appropriation of $105 million for funding for open spaces and completion of the Emerald Necklace, as well as redevelopment of Old Colony in South Boston and Orient Heights in East Boston.
This matter is sponsored by Mayor Walsh.
The money comes from the sale of Winthrop Square garage, with $102 million going to the City as part of the closing deal, with more to come based on condo sales in the new residential luxury tower that is going up at the garage site. Drew Smith, city treasurer, said that three trusts would be established for open space as a part of this appropriation—for the Boston Common, Franklin Park, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. He said these trusts would be set up similarly to the more than 200 trusts that the City currently oversees.
Some $23 million in capital funds would go to the Boston Common and Franklin Park, along with $5 million for the maintenance trust. Another $11 million would go towards the completion of the Emerald Necklace.
Justin Sterritt, City Budget Director, called this an “elegant solution” to producing a source of income for the parks. Chris Cook, chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space for the City of Boston, said that the trustees themselves will determine the budget on an annual basis.
Cook added that the Boston Common is America’s first park, and it “has to perform at a higher level now than it ever has before.”
He also said that the funds will allow the Parks Department to take better care of the Common.
“We are very, very excited about this opportunity in our cabinet,” Cook said.
Councilor Ed Flynn expressed his support for the proposal, and said it is an “honor” to represent the Boston Common and the Public Garden along with Councilor Josh Zakim. He did add, however, that he would like to make sure that appropriate care is taken to the Chinatown portion of the Greenway, as he said his constituents bring it up as an issue almost every time he goes into Chinatown.
Flynn also raised the question of whether these funds would be used to enhance accessibility in the parks. Cook said that the “enhanced maintenance” that these funds would be used for comes down to pathway maintenance and tree work, which helps to keep pathways clear. He said that any time the ability to enhance presents itself, gains in accessibility are made. He said that putting accessibility at the forefront when making new investments is important to think about.
Councilor Josh Zakim said that this proposal has been years in the making, and that the Friends of the Public Garden “did a great job hammering out some things.”
“I’m really proud that we got to this place,” Zakim said.
Several people got up to testify, including Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden, and Sam Tyler of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.
Vizza expressed her support for the appropriation of the funds, saying that the Friends of the Public Garden has worked for over 48 years in conjunction with the City, and said that this is “an important investment in our most heavily used park.”
She agreed with Zakim that this was a long time coming.
She also said she is happy to see that the Parks Department has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP), and is looking forward to receiving public feedback about where the Boston Common money needs to be invested.
“It’s critical that this funding not supplant budget funding,” Vizza said.
She said that the Friends of the Public Garden has an annual budget of more than $2 million, but is happy to support the City in doing even more to support this heavily used park.
“We hope that we will be proud and excited about the outcome of the master plan,” she said.
Sam Tyler, on the other hand, expressed some concerns he had with the proposal. He said that for several years, the City has used these surplus funds to support the Leading the Way Home program, which helps families who live in homeless shelters.
“The bottom line,” he said, “is that the proceeds from the sale of a City-owned capital asset should be used for capital purpose. That’s why we are concerned about using proceeds for operational expenses.”
Tyler believes that “the City can achieve its objectives on the maintenance front in other ways.”
He also said that they question whether the City actually has the authority to create the trust and use its own municipal funds, and urged that this be examined before proceeding.
Since this was just a hearing, no vote was made on the appropriation of these funds, but voting will take place at a later date.