The oldest public park in America may get a new caretaker if a controversial plan to privatize the Boston Common gains ground.
Boston city councilors Michael Ross (Back Bay, Fenway, Kenmore), Bill Linehan (South Boston) and Salvatore LaMattina (East Boston) have worked for almost a year to put together a report with proposals to rejuvenate and clean up Boston Common. Their plans include the incorporation of a restaurant and dog park into the Common, Ross Chief of Staff Reuben Kantor said.
Kantor said the City Council got inspiration for the restaurant from a trip to New York City to analyze the New York Parks system in August. The Shake Shack in Madison Park and the Boathouse in Central Park are successful privately run restaurants in public parks that the committee has used as templates, he said.
To put the planned changes into action, the city would need to create a private conservancy that would partner with the public to maintain, improve and raise money for the Common. A conservancy is necessary because of the economic downturn, Kantor said.
‘The city is facing a budget crunch and municipal aid is down,’ he said. ‘A conservancy will raise money for the Common necessary to fund upkeep.’
A conservancy would not take over the Common, Kantor said. Instead, it would be charged with maintaining the park.
Creating a private conservancy would destroy the Common, .Kevin McCrea, a Boston blogger and 2005 City Council candidate said in an email.
‘At best, it is a way to give away public control of public spaces,’ he said. ‘At worst, it is giving away public assets to the rich and connected.’
Henry Lee, president of Friends of the Public Garden, Inc., a private nonprofit advocacy group that preserves and improves Boston Common, the Commonwealth Mall and the Public Garden, said a conservancy is unnecessary because it would only repeat the work the Friends does.
‘We fill that role,’ Lee said. ‘There’s no point in anyone else doing it.’
Friends has remained involved in the City Council’s plans and sponsored the bus for the City Council’s trip to New York City. Lee said he met with City Councilors on Tuesday afternoon to make further recommendations on the report before the public meeting next week.’
Though proposals for a restaurant and dog park may not be practical because of lack of space and funding, Friends supports the City Council’s work, Lee said.
‘The Common is the heart and soul of the city,’ Lee said. ‘They are galvanizing people and businesses who benefit from the park to contribute who never have before.’
Boston Parks and Recreation spokesperson Mary Hines said it is too soon to tell whether the councilors’ report will work well for Boston Common. The changes to Boston Common must go through many approval avenues, including the Landmarks Commission and City Council, she said.