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The Lawn on D looks to grow funds

Citizens Bank is the title sponsor of the Lawn on D park in South Boston.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/file 2014/Globe Staff

Now that Citizens Bank will pay $250,000 to plaster its logo across the Lawn on D this year, Massachusetts Convention Center Authority executive director David Gibbons wants to attract other companies that might be willing to underwrite a particular show or an event series.

“It shows that the corporate community thinks it’s a great idea,” Gibbons said. “We have others that we’re talking to.”

The goal: to close the gap between the popular 2.7-acre park’s revenue and its expenses. Gibbons is under some pressure from his board, which is controlled by Governor Charlie Baker, to bring the convention center authority and its various ventures closer to break-even territory. Board members in December discussed charging admission to the South Boston park, with its lawn games and quirky glow-in-the-dark swings, but want to see if Gibbons and his team can make headway with other approaches first.


“The board is giving me some time to see what we can do,” Gibbons said.

So at least for the start of the season, the vast majority of Lawn events — such as movie nights and dance parties — will remain free.

The Citizens deal first became public in December, not long before Gibbons was hired. But the authority and the bank waited until now to promote it. The park, which opens for the season on May 21, will be known as “The Lawn on D Powered by Citizens Bank.” While the exact details of the signage still need to be worked out, Citizens will staff a kiosk there and provide cellphone charging stations and ATMs.

The convention center authority spent more than $2 million to run the park than it took in last year, during the Lawn’s first full year of operations. One budget under consideration last year called for $1.3 million in revenue this year, to partially offset $2.5 million in expenses.


The goal at the time was to break even within three years. But Gibbons is hopeful to get there at a faster pace.

“We’re not looking to make a profit on the Lawn but we would like to have it be under financial control going forward so it can be sustainable,” Gibbons said. “You can’t sustain the type of losses we had in the past, and I don’t think we need to.”

The agency also rents out the entire Lawn for the day, and this year will build a special tent area in a portion of the park that can be rented out for smaller functions. The agency’s board approved more than $500,000 in capital improvements for the Lawn last week, including money for the new private rental area.

And Gibbons is hopeful that a new food-and-beverage contract for the Lawn, which is currently out to bid, leads to more revenue as well.

Gibbons trimmed 11 full-time positions and 60 part-time jobs from his payroll earlier this month, including the top executive in charge of the Lawn. Gibbons said those cuts reflect a more focused, centralized way of running operations and landing clients and should have no negative impact on the park itself.

More than 230,000 people collectively visited the park last year and in a truncated first season in 2014. Those numbers likely played a role in influencing executives at Citizens, a Providence-based company that’s the second largest retail bank in Massachusetts. The sponsorship agreement is just for this year’s May-October season, but it could be renewed for future years.


“This is another example of how we try to bring the community together because this space is used by people of all ages,” said Jerry Sargent, Citizens’ Massachusetts president. “It’s used at all hours of the day. We think it’s a terrific venue and we wanted our names associated with it.”

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