How Conservancies Work

When talking about seeing a nonprofit conservancy assume the management of the Parkway, (which we do all the time) nothing makes the point better than an example of that model with a conservancy management arrangement that is working.

To give you a sense of the relationship between local government and a nonprofit conservancy at the Central Park Conservancy in New York, the main model we use for what could happen with the American River Parkway, here is some info from the Central Park Conservancy’s website:

Public/Private Partnership

In 1998, the City of New York awarded the Central Park Conservancy a management contract that ensures the continuing maintenance, public programming, and capital restoration of Central Park. This contract confirms the City’s confidence in its nearly twenty-year partnership with the Conservancy Both the Conservancy and the City of New York have invested to date nearly $300 million in Central Park operations, capital improvements, programs for visitors and volunteers, and endowment; it also has played an increasingly active role in Park management. Under this agreement, the Conservancy will receive an annual fee for services. The amount of the fee will be determined by a formula that requires the Conservancy to raise and spend a specified minimum amount of private funds in the Park on an annual basis. The minimum Conservancy annual expenditure – which can include maintenance, programming and landscape improvements – is $5 million. The annual fee from the City will depend on the Conservancy’s expenditures in the Park and on the revenues generated by concessions in Central Park.

Contract with New York City

Under this eight-year agreement, the Conservancy will provide for the Park’s day-to-day care. Specified in the contract are: landscape maintenance, replacement of dead trees and plants, mowing and reseeding/resodding, graffiti removal, cleaning playgrounds and comfort stations, clearing walkways; cleaning drains, sewers, and walkways; repairing benches, and maintaining and repairing structures and monuments.

The Conservancy’s responsibilities also include providing public programs to educate visitors about the Park’s built and natural assets. Over the term of its partnership with the City, the Conservancy has expanded its activities to include all of the above activities; the management contract ratifies those activities.

The City of New York’s Role in Central Park

The City of New York retains control and policy responsibility for Central Park. Capital improvements in the Park will continue to undergo public review at each stage of development with advice and consent from the Commissioner of Parks & Recreation. The City of New York/ Parks & Recreation has discretion over all events in the Park, and that will continue. At present, all revenues generated from concessions in the Park go into the City of New York’s general fund, and that will continue.

The Conservancy’s Qualifications

The Central Park Conservancy is uniquely qualified to manage Central Park. The Conservancy has a proven track record in restoring and managing the Park. With its partner, the City of New York, it brought the Park from its deteriorated state in the late 1970s to its present condition, with major landscapes and historic structures restored and well-maintained. The Conservancy is a model for public-private partnerships for parks throughout the country and has developed an excellent staff of park management professionals.

The Conservancy also has a track record in raising private funds to improve and preserve Central Park. Since its founding in 1980, the Conservancy has raised nearly $300 million in private dollars, which, combined with the City’s investment, turned Central Park into a living symbol of New York City’s revitalization. Further, of every $1 the Conservancy raises, more than $.80 goes toward direct spending on horticulture, operations, maintenance, education, recreation, and public programs.

The Conservancy’s Governance

The Conservancy is and will be accountable to the City of New York. The City of New York retains control and policy responsibility for Central Park.

The Commissioner and officials of the City of New York/Parks & Recreation Department are involved in all Park planning and must approve all of the Conservancy’s capital improvements in the Park. In addition, the Conservancy’s 60-member Board of Trustees includes the Parks Commissioner and the Borough President of Manhattan, both ex officio, five Trustees appointed by the Mayor of the City of New York, and private sector members representing the City’s business and philanthropic communities.

The Conservancy’s Community Outreach and Public Review Process

Central Park will always be a public park. The Conservancy will continue to involve the public in the planning of any improvements to the Park. Starting with approval by the Commissioner of Parks & Recreation, the Conservancy’s community outreach on capital projects is one of the most extensive and inclusive in the City. For any project, the Conservancy consults with Park users and surrounding communities to help develop its plans. The Conservancy then presents its plans to Community Boards, the Landmarks Preservation and Art Commissions for their review and approval. This process will continue unaltered.

Advisory boards comprised of community residents work with the Conservancy on a range of projects and issues. They include the following, and will be expanded as projects and programs create the need: The Upper Park Community Advisory Committee, the Woodlands Advisory Board, the Great Lawn Advisory Committee, the Central Park Recreation Roundtable, the North Meadow Recreation Center Advisory Committee, the Public Programs Community Advisory Committee, and the Frederick Douglass Circle Community Advisory Committee.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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