Futures of public parks may need private dollars

By Jennifer Hiller

When New York City entered a period of economic and social upheaval in the 1970s and Central Park suffered years of neglect, San Antonio native Elizabeth Barlow Rogers came to the rescue.

Born Elizabeth Browning, the daughter of an Alamo Heights construction company owner, Rogers became the park's first administrator, in 1979. And when it became obvious that city funding alone couldn't revive the landscape architecture jewel, she started the Central Park Conservancy, bringing CEOs,8 philanthropists and millions of private dollars to the park.

That conservancy model Rogers created later would be adopted by two more San Antonio natives turned New Yorkers, Warrie Price and Robert Hammond, to revamp or create major New York parks.

But while the parks conservancy model was invented by a San Antonian and copied across the country, it hasn't become widespread in San Antonio.

The city has just a handful of parks with foundations raising specifically targeted dollars. But with a difficult economy and limited government budgets, the public-private model is being seen as a way to bring amenities or programs to parks — everything from public art to bird-watching or farmers markets.

"A successful park is going to require substantial programming," said Andres Andújar, CEO of the HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corp. "The city does not have money for that."

When Price created the Battery Conservancy in 1995, the 25 acres at the tip of Manhattan, previously known as Battery Park, had some trees, picnic tables, benches, memorial statutes and little else. Now it has an urban farm and the largest public perennial gardens in the United States.

"We had different lives, but we had the sense and the will to improve cities through new public spaces or revitalize our old wonderful public spaces," Price said.

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Friday, 05 August 2011