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Business Improvement Districts: Driving Investment in Public Parks

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Michael Stevens walks CPA board members through waterfront development plans

On a cool and rainy afternoon, the City Parks Alliance Board of Directors traveled to the DC waterfront to visit a few of the city’s newest parks and to hear how they are being managed in a creative partnership with the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID). Michael Stevens, President, Capitol Riverfront BID and Dan Melman, Vice President of Parks and the Public Realm for the BID, were our hosts for a tour of Canal and Yards parks and a discussion about the BID’s role in parks.

The Capitol Riverfront BID manages 10 acres of parks, including Yards Park and Canal Park, which are considered the “front yards” for the growing neighborhood and regularly host events attracting over 75,000 people.   

Located just south of Capitol Hill and to the east of Nationals Ballpark, Yards Park opened in 2011, and was built through a public-private partnership between the federal General Services Administration (GSA), the District of Columbia, and Forest City Washington.  The  $800,000 (approx.) budget for the park is provided through contributions from developer Forest City, CRBID assessments, and revenue from park events.

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The Yards Park

The Yards Park, LLC was created with a Waterfront Park Maintenance and Programming Agreement between the District of Columbia, Forest City Washington, and the Capitol Riverfront BID.  The LLC, which works closely with the BID, maintains, manages, and programs the park using the BID’s Clean Team crew and Hospitality Ambassadors under the leadership of Melman.  In 2013, the 5.5-acre park received the 2013 Open Space Award from the Urban Land Institute, and in 2015 was designated a Frontline Park by City Parks Alliance.

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Canal Park

Opened in 2012, the 3-acre Canal Park is operated by Canal Park Development Association Inc. (CPDA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, also working in partnership with the Capitol Riverfront BID. The $27M in funding to construct the park came from a variety of sources, including developer payments, grants, new market tax credits and a contribution from the District.

Both parks are key public investments in the growing neighborhoods they serve – new developments will add 7 million square feet of office space to the District, and nearly 5,000 people consider themselves residents of “The Yards.”

BIDS and other downtown management organizations now top 2,500 across the country, investing $400 million a year through property assessments.  In cities like New York, Philadelphia, and San Diego, there is a growing partnership network of BIDs, nonprofit park managers, and cities to develop and manage downtown public spaces.  Businesses – and in some cases, residents – who choose to participate in BIDs are increasingly seeing parks and public spaces as essential to the economic vibrancy, marketing value, and quality of life for their neighborhoods.

Our group saw how the Capitol Riverfront BID – not unlike a park conservancy – is reshaping traditional ideas of public space management with multiple partnerships and finding new ways to pay for it.

BIDblog4Just in time, as we heard. South of Yards Park, a short walk away, is the site of the future 11th Street Bridge Park, which will be built on the original pillars of the old road bridge crossing the Anacostia River. The park will connect communities on each bank, as well as to the National Park Service’s Anacostia Park.

Scott Kratz, director of the 11th Street Bridge Park project, briefed us on the project, which is likely to include an environmental education center, performance spaces, public art, play spaces, urban agriculture, and kayak & canoe launches – all of which will take an expected 150 partnerships with the private and nonprofit sector and a lot of innovation to program and manage.

KBlahaKathy Blaha writes about parks and other urban green spaces, and the role of public-private partnerships in their development and management. When she’s not writing for the blog, she consults on advancing park projects and sustainable land use solutions.

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