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Editorial: New deal with Olmsted Conservancy keeps parks in good hands

Areas of scarcity are often described with a geographic metaphor: Food deserts, banking deserts, culture deserts. The City of Buffalo has sections that answer to each of those descriptions, but when it comes to parks and green space, we are rich in oases.

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy manages some 850 acres of the city’s 1,900 acres of parkland, including the crown jewel: Delaware Park. A new 12-year agreement between the Conservancy and the city ensures many of our municipal havens of tranquility will remain under strong stewardship. It’s an important and consequential development.

The Olmsted acreage – Cazenovia Park, Delaware Park, Front Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Riverside Park and South Park, as well as seven parkways, eight traffic circles and four pocket parks – is owned by the city and managed by the Conservancy.

Under the agreement, the Conservancy has the authority to set the user fees for the golf courses at Delaware, Cazenovia and South parks, and some other fees, such as for renting space at Marcy Casino. Under the prior agreement, the fees were locked in by the city’s charter, which meant making changes was more cumbersome.

“If needed, we could take the golf fees up or down to stay competitive,” conservancy Executive Director Stephanie Crockatt said. “This gives us more flexibility to stay market relevant.”

In the previous agreement, the Conservancy kept the fees until the year’s total hit $750,000. Any dollars above that would be split with the city, but that ceiling has never been reached. Now, the Conservancy will retain all of the fee revenue. As a nonprofit organization, the Conservancy puts every dime from the fees it collects back into maintaining the park properties, including paying maintenance people and providing them with equipment. Park staff and volunteers oversee turf care, litter pickup, trash removal, graffiti cleanup, tree, shrub and flower plantings and pruning.

The city also reformulated its financial commitment to the Olmsted Parks system, raising its base payment from $1.1 million to $1.4 million. And the city offered a $100,000 matching payment this year and a $200,000 match in 2020. The Conservancy has to raise twice those amounts to earn the matching money.

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy is the first nonprofit in the United States to manage and operate an urban park system. Boston and Louisville have conservancies that raise funds for their parks, but they do not manage their properties.

As noted here before, we’d like to see the Conservancy more aggressively pursuing the plan by civic activist Kevin Gaughan to have Jack Nicklaus redesign the golf course at Delaware Park and build a new signature course in South Buffalo that would replace the South Park course. Nicklaus is 79 and his offer to do these projects for Buffalo will at some point have an expiration date.

In the meantime, Buffalo Niagara is fortunate to have the Conservancy tending to its greenest acres.

“This is a very strong agreement,” Mayor Byron W. Brown said when the new deal was announced. “We think this positions us for national leadership when it comes to public-private partnerships for the management and maintenance of parks.”

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