letter to the editor

A public/private partnership for Rockport community park

Fri, 06/09/2023 - 3:30pm

On Tuesday, the citizens of Rockport will vote on whether to accept the Lesher Family Foundation’s (LFF)gift to develop a public park at the former RES site. We’d like to offer clarification in response to some confusion surrounding certain aspects of our proposal. 

You may have seen references to our intention to create a public/private partnership with the Town of Rockport and are wondering what such a partnership entails. 

The LFF proposed this public/private partnership model after looking at successful examples of partnerships between towns and private citizens to support municipal parks throughout the country. Further, we have sought guidance by engaging with an expert in the field. 

Local governments, recognizing the importance of their public park systems, have increasingly looked for ways to support this valuable public resource without burdening their taxpayers. Competition for tax dollars can be intense and, as you know, municipal budgets are often stretched wafer thin. 

Public/private partnerships with philanthropic entities or private citizens have become a common solution. Throughout the country, public parks are being restored and renovated and new parks are being created with money from the private and non-profit sectors. 

These public/private partnerships typically rely on the establishment of a non-profit park conservancy – hundreds of which currently exist across the country providing very useful models. 

The ideal park conservancy has broad and diverse community representation, transparent operations, and works in partnership with the local government. In the case of the proposed park at the former RES site, a conservancy would be established if Tuesday’s vote affirms this plan.

Conservancy Board members would be drawn from residents living in all of Rockport’s five neighborhoods as well as from the members of existing Town Committees such as Parks & Beautification, Pathways, Conservation, etc.

We anticipate that candidates for Conservancy Board membership will emerge from among those residents who come forward to assist in the design of the project which will start immediately following the vote. We are optimistic that the initial board will be largely self-selected, based on Rockport’s strong volunteerism. Commitment and enthusiasm will be key for this leadership group. A robust Board of directors with possible subgroups overseeing park maintenance, general operations and programming is envisioned. 

A critical Conservancy responsibility will be to both supervise fundraising around establishing an endowment (which will be partially funded by the LFF) and to manage endowment funds going forward. It is this endowment mechanism that will allow the park to thrive, without taxpayer funding, for generations to come. 

The LFF recognizes that the need to raise funds (beyond our $3 million gift) for an endowment might be of concern to some. To that concern, we should point out that making cost-conscious decisions (especially around anticipated maintenance costs) in the final community-driven phase of the design process will impact how much will be needed for the endowment. Developing the park in incremental phases can have a similar effect. 

The LFF has committed to 1) making a contribution towards the endowment and 2) covering maintenance costs for the first five years after the park opens, to allow enough time for the conservancy leadership to become established and the endowment to reach its fundraising goal. 

Thank you for reading and we hope to have your support on June 13.

Dominic Pepper is executive director and Mary Jane Young is the Maine Director of the Lesher Foundation.