Business

Greenway’s neighbors appear open to helping pay for upkeep

Ongoing discussions center on creating a Business Improvement District to help fund the  Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe

Ongoing discussions center on creating a Business Improvement District to help fund the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

As the state prepares to pull back funding for the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, it looks like the downtown park’s neighbors will be asked to pay up.

A special taxing district covering the swank hotels and soaring office towers that line the 17-acre Greenway is emerging as a key ingredient in plans to fill a big hole in the park’s budget that would open up if the state — as promised — cuts about $2 million in funding at the end of June.

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Nothing has been finalized, but months of talks have city and state officials, the nonprofit Greenway Conservancy, and a business group representing downtown landlords close to hammering out a plan that could place an extra property tax on buildings along the park to help pay for maintenance and improvements to it. Even with an agreement, owners of the buildings would still need to vote on the plan, as would the Boston City Council — a process that could take months.

But if all of the parties involved eventually sign off, the assessments — along with more events on the Greenway, new city money, and some continued state funds — would stabilize the increasingly-popular park’s budget for years to come, Greenway supporters say.

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“The abutter community agrees that ongoing support should be a shared responsibility among the state, city, conservancy, and business community,” said Richard Dimino, chief executive of A Better City, which is representing property owners. “We are working diligently to come up with the right plan that ensures the Greenway’s continued vibrancy.”

Talks picked up speed in March after state officials said they would pull the plug on $2 million in annual funding for the Greenway, which is on state-owned land where the Central Artery once stood. The state has pumped $15 million into the park since 2009, and its $2 million annual allotment makes up about 40 percent of the Greenway Conservancy’s annual budget, dwarfing contributions from direct neighbors or the city of Boston.

One key goal of the talks has been to create a more balanced stream of funding for the park. That’s now starting to take shape.

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On Monday, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he’d use proceeds from the sale of the city-owned Winthrop Square Garage to create a $5 million Greenway trust fund, which city officials estimate will generate around $250,000 a year in interest each year. The Conservancy, too, is planning more events and other ways to raise private money, such as the $30,000 it expects to make leasing space to Trillium brewery, which has opened a summer beer garden on the Greenway.

Then there’s the neighbors. The plan being discussed would include the buildings along the Greenway in a so-called Business Improvement District, or BID. Their owners — many of whom have seen property values surge by 40 percent or more since 2007, according to city data — would vote on a small extra tax to fund maintenance, and perhaps additional services, in the Greenway.

It’s a smart idea, said Armando Carbonell, senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge. Buildings along the Greenway benefit from the public park, he said, and this is a way for them to reciprocate.

“They’re capturing value from real estate and reinvesting it in something that’s good for the public,” Carbonell said.

Many other cities routinely use BIDs to fund neighborhood improvements. New York City, for instance, has more than 70. But in Boston, there’s just one.

The Downtown Business Improvement District covers 34 blocks of Downtown Crossing and the Financial District and raised $5.7 million last year to pay for landscaping, extra street cleaning, holiday programming, and 46 “uniformed ambassadors” who patrol the neighborhood and offer assistance to visitors.

“Our original business proposition was to protect investments that had been made in what used to be known as the Combat Zone,” said Rosemarie Sansone, chief executive of the Downtown BID. “I think everybody here is proud of the work we’ve been able to do.”

Launching the Downtown BID was not easy, though. It took 2½ years to wrangle enough support from 350 property owners in the area to get a successful vote and then approval from the City Council. Communication, Sansone said, was crucial.

The Greenway district would likely be smaller: About 40 major property owners make up the bulk of it. A target budget is still being negotiated, but people involved in the talks say it won’t replace all $2 million in state money, and some state contribution will continue.

About five years ago, a proposed Greenway BID fizzled amid concerns about management and costs. Some building owners could also balk at the new plan, said Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, since the assessment would come on the heels of a new city tax surcharge to fund affordable housing, historic preservation, and parks.

“Large property owners want to give back to the community,” Vasil said. “But you have a little of this, a little of that, and when you start to add these things up it becomes a substantial number that will drive up rents.”

Several big property owners along the Greenway did not return messages seeking comment on the BID proposal. But veteran landlord Ron Druker, whose Druker Co. owns a building on the Greenway’s edge in Chinatown and for months has regularly met with A Better City to discuss the deal, said progress is being made.

“We’re further along than we’ve ever been,” he said. “The challenge will be getting it done. But I’m optimistic, quite optimistic.”

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.
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