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The Lawn on D may no longer be free

The Lawn on D hosted Punkin’ Fest in 2014.John Blanding/Globe Staff/File

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority's staff wants to keep the popular Lawn on D park in South Boston open to the public for free.

But the agency's board, which is controlled by Governor Charlie Baker, may have other plans.

The board said last week that it may consider charging admission to Lawn on D events as soon as next summer, after first experimenting with soliciting donations.

After revenue from sources such as rentals and sponsorships is factored in, the park is expected to cost the agency about $1.2 million to run in its May-October season in 2016. That's roughly half of the size of the $2.3 million subsidy the park received this past year, but it's still too much for some board members.


"Our constituency are the residents of Massachusetts," John McDonnell, the Baker appointee who chairs the board, said during a board meeting on Friday. "They expect us to get as close to zero, if not profitable, as possible. . . . Everybody loves the Lawn on D, [but] we owe it to the constituents to improve the financial performance."

Johanna Storella, the agency's chief strategy officer, on Friday recommended to the board that Lawn programs — such as movie nights and musical performances — remain free even though they cost money to produce. (The Lawn has hosted ticket concerts for big-name performers, such as Passion Pit, but those represent a small part of the park's overall use.)

Storella presented a three-year plan aimed at weaning the 2.7-acre park off of subsidies by ramping up sales of sponsorships and private event rentals. The park also gets revenue from food and alcohol sales.

Storella said she hoped to cut the subsidy in half yet again for the following year.

"We're going to figure out how to sharpen our pencils as we learn more next season to try to get that number down to zero as we move forward," Storella said.


By the end of the discussion on Friday, the board members decided to try to solicit donations first to help cover the Lawn's operations. McDonnell suggested that approach could be tried in May and June and that the board could revisit the idea of charging for admission in July.

McDonnell later said he expects the authority would solicit donations through its database of park visitors, by using e-mails to reach out to them.

Since the park opened along D Street in mid-2014, in the shadow of the authority's massive Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, more than 230,000 people have visited the space, making it a popular new addition to the Seaport scene.

But the Baker administration, in its first year, has taken a hard look at the agency's operations, and put a $1 billion expansion proposed for the convention center on hold.

David Gibbons starts in January as the agency's new boss, and he wants to improve the financial performances for all three of the agency's convention centers: the South Boston complex, the Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay, and the MassMutual Center in Springfield. (Gibbons replaces Jim Rooney, who left in June to become CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.)

As far as the Lawn on D is concerned, the staff's goal is to grow the park's revenue to $2.3 million in 2018, compared to $424,000 this year. To do that, the agency is hustling to land corporate sponsors, and was recently in negotiations to bring in Citizens Bank as a top sponsor, a deal that could land the authority $250,000 in one year. The agency has charged clients $17,500 a day to use the lawn, a figure that's expected to increase in 2016. And the agency wants to build an enclosed private space that could be rented out while the rest of the lawn is open to the public. But that project could cost nearly $500,000.


"We owe it [to the taxpayers] to try to get this thing into the black," McDonnell said after Friday's meeting. "We're working toward getting there."

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.