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PARD is seeking to expand its public-private partnerships

Thursday, March 29, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Following the examples of San Francisco and New York City, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department is working to establish partnerships with independent entities to help fund the upkeep of city parks. It is looking at partnerships with nonprofits, neighborhood and community groups, and businesses. Although the department is enthusiastic about this venture, at the March 27 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board, Kimberly McNeeley, the PARD acting director, said that the department is approaching these relationships cautiously. “In Austin right now we have a lot of opinions along the spectrum about how folks feel about public-private partnerships,” she said. She explained that the department is going to have to work to earn the confidence of citizens who are wary of for-profit partnerships with Austin’s public parks. According to McNeeley, “We need to have partners to help us run our parks because the General Fund is not going to be available to us in ways that it has in the past.” McNeeley explained that although the department is eager to bring on partners, it is carefully weighing the long-term value that applicants will bring “rather than just jumping at ideas that come to us.” The No. 1 priority is to engage with business partners who will create community and be good stewards of the land. Board Member Randy Mann agreed that this was the right lens to view these partnerships through. He said that there is one question that should be asked every time the city enters a contract: “How does this positively impact our grandchildren?”

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