After serving as chief operating officer and interim director, Jesse Brackenbury last week was appointed executive director of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, a nonprofit that manages a 15-acre network of parks in downtown Boston. Globe reporter Casey Ross recently spoke to Brackenbury about the job, the Greenway, and his plans. Here’s what he found out:
1Brackenbury, 38, was raised in New York City and developed an early appreciation for the importance of public parks in a crowded urban environment.
“I really have urban parks in my blood. I understand how important they are in the lives of families and visitors. I feel really lucky to have joined the Greenway four years ago and had a chance to shape an incredibly important space for Boston.”
The Greenway features seven fountains, food trucks, weekly events, and a new carousel for kids, but Brackenbury says he wants to add more attractions. One of his top priorities is public art.
“We have had one or two installations of public art at a time in the park. What we would like is for there to be many examples at once in partnership with philanthropists and [art] institutions. That will allow us to bring something of really high quality and give people a reason to make the Greenway a destination.”
Brackenbury says the Greenway needs more consistent financial support from public and private sources to become a world-class park.
“Philanthropy is the core for any nonprofit. The new carousel really proved what the Greenway can do in concrete terms. That was 95 percent fund-raised. The only public money in it was a competitively awarded grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. I’m proud it was both, because this is a public-private partnership.”
One key for the Greenway is adding new winter activities. Brackenbury is considering the creation of a winter marketplace, an annual skating rink, or both.
“We were delighted to support the Boston Harbor Hotel in their skating rink for this winter. That’s a small, terrific wintertime attraction with a great partner, and we’d like to observe and learn from that. In Bryant Park in New York, there is a major winter attraction [skating rink and winter retail market] that comes up and goes away every year, and then the park returns to being a wonderful three-season destination. Those types of ideas are being explored for the Greenway.”
Brackenbury and others spent years exploring the creation of a Business Improvement District that would levy a fee on abutting property owners to help fund the Greenway. But he said the discussion is now heading in a different direction.
“Increasing abutting properties’ contributions to the Greenway is something everyone understands the merits of. It’s why there have been active conversations for three years now. A BID itself, from what we hear, is unlikely the mechanism by which that occurs. It’s not the only way to do this. They can make philanthropic contributions; they can structure that in some manner that isn’t a BID. All of those conversations are productive.”
The food truck business is growing rapidly on the Greenway, and Brackenbury says it has become a major source of income, with vendors now selling everything from asian rice bowls to sausages to vegan sandwiches.
“It has grown from $25,000 in the first years to over $250,000 this year. The preliminary bids for next year would raise that to $350,000. I hope the food truck industry continues to thrive in Boston; we’re doing what we can to make it thrive.”
Development along the Greenway has begun to pick up. While new construction always raises concerns about traffic and shadows, Brackenbury says it can also help by adding retail and dining options.
“There are a lot of places on the Greenway where the edges are dead. Having the vibrancy of a building there with retail at the ground floor and a cafe that spills out on the sidewalk I think is a wonderful thing. We have an opportunity now to talk with each of the developers both through the city and directly about how they can contribute to the stewardship of this park.”Casey Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.