Innovative Financing Legislation for Park Infrastructure

August 1, 2013, Department, by Stacey Pine, Leslie Mozingo

The proposed PIFIA bill may provide much-needed funds for your next park project.Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ) has reintroduced the Community Parks Revitalization Act (H.R. 2424). This year’s bill, however, is different than the one that the congressman introduced in the 112th Congress. Provisions have been added to include the Park Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (PIFIA), which would create a federal program that provides competitive loans, loan guarantees and lines of credit for construction or the capital costs of park and recreation projects.

The concept for PIFIA is based on the success of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which has been in place since 1998 and for which the lending authority was tripled under the current federal surface transportation act (MAP-21). A similar model for water infrastructure (WIFIA) has been approved as part of the Senate-passed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), with efforts underway to have it included in the House version of the WRDA bill as well. Therefore, there is both long-term and recent precedent for this type of financing, and historically it is well-received on Capitol Hill by both sides of the aisle.

The purpose of PIFIA is to:

• Promote increased development of park and recreation infrastructure by establishing additional opportunities for financing park and recreation projects;

• Attract new investment capital to infrastructure projects that are capable of generating revenue streams through user fees or other dedicated funding sources;

• Complement existing federal funding sources and address budgetary constraints on the National Park Service; and

• Leverage private investment in park and recreation infrastructure.

By having the Treasury act as the lender, borrowing costs for park projects will be reduced, when compared to bonds, to levels just slightly above long-term Treasury rates. A corporation, partnership, joint venture or trust, as well as federal, state or local governmental entity, agency or special-purpose park and recreation district, and state infrastructure financing authorities are all qualified borrowers, although a private entity must have a public sponsor. 

Eligible projects for construction or capital costs would include the following: 

• Indoor or outdoor parks, buildings, sites or other facilities that are dedicated to recreation purposes, including multiuse community centers that have recreation as a primary purpose, but excluding major sports arenas, exhibition areas and conference halls used primarily for commercial sports, spectator or display activities;

• On-road and off-road trail facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists and other nonmotorized forms of transportation, including sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, pedestrian and bicycle signals, traffic-calming techniques, lighting and other safety-related infrastructure, and transportation projects to achieve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act;

• Infrastructure-related projects and systems that will provide safe routes for nondrivers, including children, older adults and individuals with disabilities to access daily needs;

• Conversion of rails to trails;

• Construction of turnouts, overlooks and viewing areas; or

• A combination of any of these in one application.

Under PIFIA, the total project costs cannot be less than $20 million. This can be achieved through single large-scale projects, such as regional trail systems, or a combination of smaller projects, such as pool renovation or installation of playgrounds, that are packaged in a single loan application. Furthermore, the funds are flexible enough that they can be used for everything needed to complete a project — development, planning, feasibility analysis, revenue forecasting, environmental review, permitting, preliminary engineering and design work, construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, replacement, land acquisition, environmental mitigation and acquisition of equipment to name a few. 

PIFIA financing would not exceed 49 percent of the project costs, and the qualified borrower would need to have a dedicated revenue stream to repay the loan. The borrower would have up to five years after project completion to start repayment, with the maturity date on the loan not exceeding 35 years. The bill provides the authority to appropriate $50 million in each of the fiscal years 2014–2018 from the amounts made available for the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s federal purposes. That authority would generate $500 million for lending.

PIFIA would provide an opportunity to complete projects that otherwise have no realistic means of being funded in the foreseeable future. It is well-worth your time to contact your House members to request that they cosponsor H.R. 2424 and seek its passage. 

Stacey Pine is NRPA’s Vice President of Government Affairs. Leslie Mozingo is a partner with The Ferguson Group and the lead lobbyist for the firm’s advocacy team on behalf of NRPA.