City Park moves to non-profit model, hopes to tap into philanthropy for next master plan | Local policy
New Orleans City Park is moving to a new management model used in New York’s Central Park and others across the United States, a move that park officials say is aimed at leveraging philanthropic funding to infuse new life to aging structures, stagnant lagoons, and basic amenities like walking paths and restrooms.
The park’s governing body, the City Park Improvement Association, this week approved a deal that will transfer day-to-day management of the park to a recently created private non-profit organization, the City Park Conservancy.
Among the roughly 300 City Park employees who have transitioned to the nonprofit is chief executive Cara Lambright, who was hired last year and has championed the public-private arrangement.
Much of the 1,300-acre park was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, which arrived just months after park officials put the finishing touches to a master plan. With $100 million in funding from public and private sources, park management managed to restore the park and add new features like the mini-golf course, large lawn, and tennis center.
The park now receives a share of a citywide property tax mile, but the park’s revenue, which is mostly self-generated, has dropped since the COVID-19 pandemic and deferred maintenance is starting to drop. accumulate. Lambright has estimated that up to $40 million is needed to maintain everything from Tad Gormley Stadium to nine architecturally significant bridges built during the Works Progress Administration.
In an interview, Lambright discussed two overarching goals in the coming months: improving existing features and making the park more inclusive. A new master planning process is expected to start early next year, and Lambright said an additional $100 million may be needed to meet the park’s needs.
Lambright said the master plan, which is expected to be completed sometime in 2024, will be tailored to what conservation can reasonably raise in philanthropic funding. Whatever the master plan, Lambright promised it would be shaped by public input.
“I’m here to say that he will have a public contribution standard that was not made in New Orleans, and I hope that will really change the way public contribution is made in the future,” Lambright said.
A new model
The conservation model for city parks is not new and has been debated among City Park board members for decades. Central Park in New York is the most famous example, and Chicago, St. Louis and Pittsburgh are among other cities that have adopted it.
In New Orleans, the new city park arrangement most closely resembles that governing Audubon Park, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, and other public parks owned by the Audubon Commission, a public agency. The commission contracts day-to-day operations to the Audubon Nature Institute, a private, non-profit organization.
Unlike the Audubon Commission, however, the state-created City Park Improvement Association can terminate the agreement with its nonprofit leader without cause with 90 days’ notice.
City Park generates revenue from a golf course, event rentals and sports facilities, but that revenue has been cut in half since the pandemic – from $14.2 million in 2019 to 6 .9 million last year, according to the audits. City and state coffers typically inject only a fraction of overall park funding, though the $2 million in annual revenue from past mileage two years ago helps.
Either way, the park needs more money to pay for things like better drainage, Lambright said.
“The daily walker is really sick of the same mud puddle he has to walk through every day, or the bathroom that we just can’t clean three times a day,” Lambright said.
In addition to philanthropic funding, Lambright said it will also look at ways to increase self-generated revenue, although it does not anticipate new user fees that impede basic access. In fact, Lambright said it wants to find ways to reduce existing fees for tennis courts, rental ball diamonds and other areas.
“I dig into the pricing of our sports fields, which seems to be all over the place and seems to be a barrier for, in particular, some organized immigrant groups like the Hispanic football leagues, who have this incredible lineage in this park” , Lambright said.
Lambright also pointed to the $20 hourly fee for the tennis courts, which she says is more expensive than the $15 fee at New York’s Central Park.
“At $20 an hour, we’ve topped the price of the average New Orleans man,” Lambright said, adding that tennis is a “orientation sport” that can “change outcomes for our local youth, but not if they can’t afford it.”
At the same time, there could be new fees in other areas, either for new recreational offerings or related to specific facilities like Ted Gormley Stadium, which hosts Tulane University teams and high school sporting events. Canoe hire could be a possibility, for example, if silted lagoons are dredged with new connections between waterways.
The stadium likely has about $20 million in deferred maintenance needs, Lambright said, and parking fees could be one way to pay for its upkeep. Another might seek help from public schools or city hall.
“We provide clear service to the New Orleans public school community,” Lambright said. “We are operating at a loss and we cannot be a sieve forever.”