A deal to fund the Greenway for years to come is reached
The state, the city, and a key business group have reached a deal to fund the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway for years to come.
Now they need the Greenway’s neighbors to sign on.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation outlined a six-year agreement Monday that would scale back state funding for the 17-acre downtown park from $2 million a year to $750,000 by 2020, while raising $1 million a year through a voluntary tax on the office towers and hotels that line the park.
Along with $250,000 a year from the City of Boston and funding from the Greenway Conservancy, which runs the park, it’s a four-way partnership that Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she hopes can create long-term stability for the Greenway.
“We’re absolutely committed to this agreement, and we hope this works,” she said. “We’re happy to have the partnership continue as long as we have other partners.”
The deal is the result of months of closed-door negotiations begun after the Baker administration in March said it would cut $2 million in annual funding for the park, a ribbon of state-owned land where the elevated Central Artery used to slice through downtown Boston. State and city officials, the Conservancy, and leaders of A Better City, which represents about 20 major property owners, hashed out a plan to share the load more evenly.
The plan hinges on property owners agreeing to create a Business Improvement District, or BID, which would levy a small extra tax on buildings along the park, with the goal of raising $1 million a year to help operate it — climbing to $1.5 million after 2020.
Creating a BID requires a vote of the property owners, and approval by the Boston City Council.
While BIDs are common in some cities, Boston has only one — the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, which covers 34 blocks of Downtown Crossing and the Financial District.
Past efforts to create one for the Greenway have failed.
But Rick Dimino, chief executive of A Better City, said that he’s confident the effort will succeed this time. Several major property owners have been engaged in the talks for months, he said, and the state and city’s willingness to pitch in makes it an easier sell to businesses.
“We’re getting lots of positive feedback,” he said. “Having the mayor and the governor help shape this agreement gives some additional wind in our sails.”
Dimino said a vote of property owners is likely to be held late this year or in early 2018, with a plan to have the BID established by July 1, 2018.
The city would also kick in an anticipated $250,000 a year — interest on a $5 million trust fund to be created from proceeds of the $153 million sale of the Winthrop Square Garage to Millennium Partners.
The Conservancy will continue to run day-to-day operations of the park and expects to boost its $3 million a year in funding, as well, chiefly by adding more events like the beer garden operated by Trillium Brewing Co., which is leasing space in the park this summer. They also expect the long-term funding plan will make it easier to raise money from private donors, said executive director Jesse Brackenbury.
“This answers a longstanding question about the model for funding the Greenway,” he said. “It creates stability for our organization and allows us to build on the success we’ve had over the last eight years.”
If the BID vote fails, the state would not have to keep subsidizing Greenway Conservancy programs after this year, and the park’s overall annual budget of about $5 million would probably fall sharply, instead of growing.
But that’s unlikely, Dimino said.
“I’m not even considering that,” he said. “We’re going to work hard to really make this come together.”