Supplement Feature - April 2015
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Flourish Through Funding

Strategies to Support Park Creation and Maintenance

By Chris Gelbach

Corporate Opportunities

Another way to bring in volunteer labor is to partner with local corporations for things like clean-up days. According to Catherine Nagel, executive director of the City Parks Alliance, one advantage of these relationships is that many corporations that regularly take part in these projects have someone in house to lead these efforts. "The parks department has to figure out what the project is, but they don't have to recruit all of the individuals," Nagel said. "You just have to deal with their recruiting staff internally, and that can be an ongoing relationship."

Local corporate partners are also becoming an increasingly important source of funding. The key is finding opportunities that align the company's brand with park needs. For example, health systems both have deep pockets and are a natural fit for activities that support a healthy lifestyle.

An example of one such partnership can be seen with the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a multiuse greenway in Greenville, S.C. In 2007, Greenville Hospital System (now the Greenville Health System) announced a commitment to sponsor the trail by providing $100,000 each year for a decade to the Greenville County Recreation Department to assist with its development and marketing efforts. In return, the system got naming rights to what is now known as the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail.

Pack notes that some trails are also finding resources for ongoing maintenance through partnerships with utility companies that allow the companies to lease the trail corridor for fiber optic or power line right-of-ways.

Events, be they festivals or races that provide branding opportunities, are another way to draw in more corporate sponsors. "It's easier to get corporate sponsorship if there's an event that's going to provide some exposure to those sponsors," Nagel said. She noted that ongoing programs focused on environmental education can also provide good opportunities for support from both corporate and foundation donations.

Maximizing Revenues

Park funding can also come from maximizing the revenue potential of existing parks without compromising their primary role as a public good. "I think that the key is to be as entrepreneurial as possible," Nagel said. "Are there opportunities for restaurants or filming rights or using spaces for weddings or meetings? How can you use your existing facilities to generate some more funding in a way that benefits the entire community?"

In some cases, costs can be reduced and revenue increased through the strategic use of private partners. "Anything that really runs as a business—marinas, cafes, golf courses, tennis pros, things like that—can all be concessioned out and you can get better services at lower costs, reduce operating expenses and gain revenue," Benepe said.

When using such an approach, Benepe recommends that park districts protect themselves by having concessionaires audited carefully by an outside auditor. He also recommends that the park district retain control of the fees, use a license or contract rather than a lease for greater security should the operator not work out, and include a termination-at-will clause in the contract.