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Balancing the “Private” in a Public-Private Partnership: Orange County Great Park

Recently I talked with Mike Ellzey, the Chief Executive Officer of the Orange County Great Park Corporation, the nonprofit public benefit organization charged with the design, construction, and maintenance of the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. We spoke soon after the city struck a new deal with the project’s related housing developer that puts the park back on solid ground after the 2008 real estate crash and the state’s dissolution of its redevelopment agencies threatened its completion.

OCGP2The Orange County Great Park is the official name for the park portion of a reuse plan for the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, in Irvine, California. The 2002 voter approval for this very ambitious project ($1.4 billion budget) – after 3 previous initiatives failed – envisioned a team of partners to bring off the project, including a public nonprofit corporation charged with the design, construction, and maintenance of the Orange County Great Park.

Following the annexation of the property by the city of Irvine in 2003, the Navy held an online auction for the El Toro property. Miami-based Lennar Corporation purchased the entire property for $650 million and entered into a development agreement with the City of Irvine. Under the terms of the development agreement, Lennar was granted limited development rights to build the Great Park Neighborhoods in return for land and capital – $200 million – to allow the construction of the Great Park. Continue reading

Community-Led Park Partnerships: It’s Not Just the Money

The Cully neighborhood is considered the most “parks-deficient” neighborhood in Portland. Citywide, 40 percent of residents live within a quarter-mile of a park. In Cully, only 24 percent do, with almost 23 percent of neighborhood children living in poverty.

Cully 1For over twenty years, Cully residents set their sights on the conversion of a 25-acre grassy field in the neighborhood, well-located and large enough for a range of community activities – even if it happened to be the site of a former landfill.

Tony DeFalco, Coordinator for Let Us Build Cully Park! (LUBCP!) recalls, “The community wanted it badly enough to figure out a way to build it. You had 25 acres, active methane collection and multiple partners involved in managing the site. We knew we needed to raise capital to organize a working coalition.”

Verde, a non-profit dedicated to building wealth in low-income communities, has been working with residents of Cully Park but as early as 1996, residents and the Cully Association of Neighbors negotiated with the mayor for a parks master plan. In 2010, Verde spearheaded development of LUBCP!, which was formed with the help of a $150,000 grant from the Northwest Health Foundation. Their coalition included 16 other organizations to maintain the community’s presence with municipal, environmental, and public health agencies through the redevelopment process for the site. Continue reading

Casting a Broader Net for P3 Lessons

Lately I’ve been reading about the growing number of for-profit companies offering their service to local governments to manage certain agency functions. Since the 1980s, when outsourcing became popular, local governments hoping to create cost efficiencies have turned over many of their service needs to private contractors – waste collection, landscaping, IT, and public transit.

But increasingly, smaller cities are contracting to have private companies run whole departments or whole cities. Elected officials and even some voters see this as a cost cutting move and an efficient use of tax dollars. Companies offering this service can proudly show their success with improved management, lower costs, and better value for the tax dollar. There is, of course, a lot of debate about all this.
Continue reading

Breakthrough Public Private Partnerships: The Work of New Yorkers for Parks (Part 2)

This post continues from last week on the work of New Yorkers for Parks and public private partnerships, gathered through an interview with outgoing Executive Director Holly Leicht.

 In 2012, NY4P undertook a detailed analysis of the growing number of private park conservancies in New York City, closely scrutinizing the 25 legal agreements between conservancies and the Parks Department.  The result was a set of recommendations to encourage greater consistency, transparency and accountability in public private partnerships.  The report found that partnerships are indeed augmenting the public budget, but that the city needs to do a better job of tracking funds and should require more consistent financial reporting that is made public on the Parks Department’s website.

“There’s no question that these organizations are value added to the parks they’re working in,” Holly told me, “but we also found that there was value added to the whole system since other parks benefit from freed-up public money, but the Parks Department does not quantify this dollar value.  It’s evident private money is making Central Park work, for example, but we have no real data to prove the benefit at the neighborhood park level.” Continue reading

Breakthrough Public-Private Partnerships: The Work of New Yorkers for Parks (Part 1)

Executive Director Holly Leicht’s last day with New Yorkers for Parks was January 10.  She has been appointed by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan to serve as Regional Administrator of HUD Region II, which comprises New York and New Jersey. In her new role, Leicht will be instrumental in carrying out ongoing Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.

Last month I had a chance to talk with Holly about public-private partnerships in New York, the new mayor, and the work of New Yorkers for Parks.  I’m glad I did, as her new job will take her far beyond park boundaries and the work of the more than 100-year old New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P).  Founded in 1908 because there were not enough resources for children’s play in the city, it’s only been within the last two decades that research to substantiate advocacy has become an important part of what they do.

New Yorkers for Parks
Around the time that the Bloomberg administration took office in 2002, the former Parks Council took on its new name and broader mission.  “But,” says Holly, “one issue that has crossed our 100 years is that we are a watchdog on alienation issues – protecting parkland all the way back to the Moses era.  We work to maintain the ‘public’ in public parks.”

Holly arrived at NY4P in 2011 just as NY4P was solidifying its reputation for airtight research and reporting on the city’s parks, essentially creating a database that now supports the efforts of both citizen advocates and elected officials. Continue reading

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