Evan Thies, a former aide to City Councilmember David Yassky and a candidate to succeed to Yassky’s seat in the 2009 election, announced in a column in Monday’s Daily News a plan for funding of Brooklyn Bridge Park and other parks that would not rely on revenues from condos or hotels built on park land. Since the present state of the economy has made financing unavailable for condos and a hotel proposed to be built on Brooklyn Bridge Park land to produce revenue for park maintenance, the question of park funding has become timely.
Thies’ proposal, in a nutshell, is to fund parks from the additional tax revenues the parks generate. As an example, he cites Hudson River Park, on the lower West Side of Manhattan.
According to Thies, the construction of Hudson River Park caused property values to rise, and inspired new construction, in neighborhoods adjacent to the Park. This resulted in additional tax revenue to the City, attributable to the Park, of $200 million within three years of the Park’s completion. Construction of the relevant portion of the Park cost $75 million. The Park, therefore, can be said to have paid for itself several times over, with plenty left to support maintenance.
The problem, according to Thies, is that the additional revenue attributable to the Park goes into general City funds rather than to parks. Thies’ proposal, as stated in his Daily News column, is as follows:
There is a better, fairer way to fund our parks—and it won’t cost us a dime. The City and State should automatically set aside a portion of the revenue created by parks for parks, instead of plowing it straight into the City’s coffers and leaving our open space vulnerable to budget cuts. The money could be used citywide to serve under-served communities, and to directly support the parks in neighborhoods with small tax bases, as well as areas with high property values. The City already assesses individual properties based on the value of other similar properties, so making comparisons to learn what new value a park creates and what value is simply a result of regular market shifts should not be difficult.
In the case of Brooklyn Bridge Park, it could be argued that the marginal tax revenue it is likely to generate is small in comparison to that generated by Hudson River Park, or by parks in other areas. The area adjacent to Brooklyn Bridge Park is already highly valued, and geography, along with historic district restrictions, forecloses the prospect of significant new construction in the Park’s immediate vicinity. Under Thies’ proposal, the portion of park-generated revenue earmarked for parks would not be apportioned to individual parks in proportion to their revenue contributions, so it is possible that revenue associated with other parks could be used to subsidize Brooklyn Bridge Park’s construction and maintenance, if the additional revenues it generated were not sufficient. How other neighborhoods, including those in other boroughs, would feel about such an outcome remains to be seen.
Thies is one of six announced candidates for the Council seat being vacated by Yassky, who is running for City Comptroller in this year’s election. The others are: Isaac Abraham; an activist in the Williamsburg Hasidic community; Ken Baer, former head of the New York State chapter of the Sierra Club; Ken Diamondstone, former New York Senate candidate; Stephen Levin, chief of Staff for Asemblyman Vito Lopez, and JoAnne Simon, Democratic Party District Leader.