And at Randall’s Island—perhaps the most clear-cut example of private sector involvement—park advocates won a legal battle in January in which they alleged the city needed to gain approval from the City Council for an expansion plan. The city had agreed to expand the amount of ball fields on Randall’s Island from 36 to 63, taking $52 million from private schools to do so. In exchange, the city would have agreed to set aside two-thirds of the fields for the private schools three hours every weekday.
There was no lawsuit over the fate of Pier 40 in Hudson River Park; however, West Village residents have successfully fought off a proposal by the Related Companies for an entertainment complex, in large part because Assemblywoman Glick vowed to block it in the State Legislature. The West Side park, controlled jointly by the city and the state, is supposed to gain crucial operating revenue from some sort of commercial operation at Pier 40.
Opponents of the Related plan fought it because they said its scope was out of character with the neighborhood. But if another viable alternative is not found, at some point the park will need additional operating funds to come from some other source.
Whatever the tactics, opponents of individual projects have delayed or halted them at a time when construction costs are rising and the clock on the Bloomberg administration’s tenure is ticking down, frustrating those in the city.
How could the opponents be appeased?
More consultation and more public money for parks, they say, as it would free the city from a reliance on private funding.
“Parks are not a priority,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Parks Advocates, which was a plaintiff in the lawsuit at Union Square Park. “The government doesn’t want to be in the business anymore of building and maintaining parks.”
The Bloomberg administration vigorously contests such a viewpoint, and Mr. Benepe frequently hails the city’s investment in parks as a new golden age for the system. He has also stood strongly by the department’s private partnerships, which amount to about $87 million that private groups contribute annually to the system, along with the $48 million the city takes in from concessions each year, according to the Citizen Budget Commission report, though the concession money goes to the city’s general operating fund.
The amount of funds derived from the
private sector are poised to rise in coming years.
A Regional Plan Association study last year estimated that the approximately 700 acres of new waterfront parkland would cost an average of $135,000 an acre to maintain annually, which, at around $100 million a year, seems like it will be difficult to fund.
“You have this explosion in new park space, which is great, and something we’ve all fought for, and it’s going to help close the gap when you think about the park needs of the city going forward,” said Rob Pirani, an author of the report. “But it’s going to cost money to maintain it.”