From the Director’s Chair

March 1, 2016, Department, by Samantha Bartram

NRPA member agencies in urban environments today face unique challenges — climate change, funding, gentrification — these are but a few topics weighing heavily on the minds of high-level park and recreation professionals the country over. To get a better sense of how these dynamic leaders are tackling such weighty issues, Parks & Recreation is starting the discussion with this new column. This month, we caught up with Susan Trautman, CPRP, executive director, Great Rivers Greenway District; Ernest Burkeen, director, Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks; and Mike Abbaté, director, Portland Parks and Recreation to ask the following question: Tell us about a recent project that your agency has worked on that has required you to think outside the box regarding financing and who were your key partners? Below are their insights.

Susan Trautman

[Great Rivers Greenway] is one of the partners on the CityArchRiver project — the largest park renovation project in the St. Louis region and the largest public/private partnership in the history of the National Park Service. Our goal is to reenergize and revitalize our region’s front door by reconnecting downtown St. Louis, to the Arch grounds, to the riverfront. Making it a reality requires the construction of a park bridge over a federal highway, the gutting, rehabilitation and expansion of the 50-year-old underground museum and more than 18 football fields of soil for a more sustainable and accessible landscape that provides connections to a revitalized riverfront promenade. 

This $380 million project was designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates after an international design competition The funding is unique because it requires the city of St. Louis, the Missouri Department of Transportation, Great Rivers Greenway District and the CityArchRiver Foundation to work together to leverage a variety of resources. The initial funding was $69 million in state and federal transportation grants, including a $20 million TIGER grant. This was followed by the voters’ approval of Proposition P: The Safe and Accessible Arch and Public Parks Initiative, which is generating $20 million annually in funds from a special sales tax. The Prop P Campaign and the CityArchRiver Project were high priorities for the St. Louis business community, which funded the campaign and contributed significant private dollars. Prop P funds are provided through Great Rivers Greenway District, which bonded $90 million of the revenue to provide capital dollars. 

The CityArchRiver Foundation recently wrapped its capital campaign that raised a staggering $250 million in private contributions. These private dollars paid for the design of the overall project and funded the new $100 million museum, as well as portions of the park grounds projects. 

Ernest Burkeen

The Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, working together with civic organizations, launched a transformative program that brings city school kids to the banks of the Patapsco River’s Middle Branch for recreational and educational experiences. 

Through a partnership initiative of the Baltimore National Heritage Area, National Park Service, Baltimore City Public Schools and Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, 140 eighth-grade students participated in the Kids in Kayaks program. One of the unique aspects of this program involved the introduction of kayaks to the students in our indoor swimming pools, thus providing a source of comfort for the students prior to the actual river experience. Additional partners of this program included the Baltimore Zoo and the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House.

Funding came from the National Park Service through the Baltimore National Heritage Area, finally to the Department of Recreation and Parks as a grant, in addition to an in-kind contribution by the Department of Recreation.

Mike Abbaté

A proud moment for me, and one in which I cherish my team’s innovative problem solving, came in March 2014 when Portland Parks and Recreation (PPR) had a chance to take ownership of valuable land in a park-deficient part of our city. But, we could only do so with the help of partners and grants. PPR was able to acquire a total of 85 acres, including an important natural area in the Columbia Slough watershed, and what is now the Colwood Golf Center.

 The land was acquired and is managed through a partnership with the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) and Portland Parks and Recreation. This exciting undertaking means that 37 acres are now in our stewardship, protected as a natural area — 32 acres of which will be restored as forest and wetland areas. Further, the acquisition of green space took place in a traditionally underserved area of the city, in northeast Portland’s densely populated Cully neighborhood. 

This was a desired and successful endeavor. And, it was a transaction that, given fiscal constraints, was only possible via our partnership with BES, the Trust for Public Land, our Portland Public Golf program and grants. With our lasting thanks, on April 22, 2015, the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (EMSWCD) proudly announced a $1 million grant to the city to support the natural area acquisition.

The city’s cost to acquire the entire Colwood property was $5 million: $3.5 million in a combination of PPR investment of System Development Charges (SDCs: revenue from construction development in the city) and reimbursement from golf revenue over time, $1 million from the EMSWCD grant and $500,000 thanks to a partnership with BES. 


Samantha Bartram, Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine