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Partnership Seeks To Put The Greenway On Firmer Financial Footing

A view of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, left, and Purchase Street, right, on April 28, 2016. (Bill Sikes/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
A view of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, left, and Purchase Street, right, on April 28, 2016. (Bill Sikes/AP)

It is the jewel atop the massive highway tunnel project known as the Big Dig, and on Monday state transportation officials came to agreement for the business community and the city of Boston to take on new financial responsibility for the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Under the plan, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's annual contributions to the nonprofit that runs the urban park would go from $2 million in fiscal 2017 down to $750,000 in fiscal 2020 and future years.

"I think we finally have a long-term sustainable solution," Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said when the plan was presented to MassDOT Board of Directors. She told reporters, "For purposes of the negotiations we made it clear that if others didn't step up I was prepared to zero it out, and I was."

MassDOT Assistant Secretary for Policy Coordination Kate Fichter said the owners of 20 commercial properties agreed to work with the nonprofit group A Better City to create a Business Improvement District, which would contribute $1 million annually to the park over the next few years. The city would establish a Greenway support fund financed with $5 million from the anticipated sale of the Winthrop Square garage site, according to Fichter, who said the city expects to generate $250,000 annually for the Central Artery park.

The Greenway opened about a decade ago on the site of the old, raised Interstate 93. Under a 2008 law, the state was required to cover half the costs of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy that was established to manage the park, according to MassDOT. That obligation ended in 2012, and in recent years MassDOT has provided the nonprofit with $2 million per year for maintenance and horticulture.

According to MassDOT, as of Monday afternoon, the agreement still needed Pollack's signature and the conservancy would need to formally approve it.

The park features fountains, artistic installations, a carousel and flowers broken up by highway access points and exits between downtown Boston neighborhoods and areas alongside the Boston Harbor.

Under the plan, A Better City, run for the past two decades by former Boston Transportation Commissioner Rick Dimino, would work to expand the Business Improvement District to include 40 or more properties and win approval from the City Council.

MassDOT has been granting the conservancy one-year leases for the park property, and under the deal the state would grant a 10-year lease to the group, Fichter said.

"We now have the stability to engage philanthropists and innovative partners in continuing to improve the Greenway over the long-term," Conservancy Executive Director Jesse Brackenbury said in a statement.

According to MassDOT, A Better City will begin determining the parameters of the Business Improvement District, including a formula for individual contributions.

The source of Boston's funding — the sale of Winthrop Square property to a high-rise developer -- would require the approval of legislation (H 3749) filed by North End Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Winthrop Sen. Joseph Boncore, allowing for the structure to cast shadows on Boston Common and the Public Garden.

"If the legislation doesn't pass they will find other ways to make it up in in-kind contributions," Pollack told reporters about the city's commitment.

Under the six-year agreement with MassDOT, the state will pay the conservancy $1.25 million in fiscal 2018, plus a $500,000 advance, and then $1 million in fiscal 2019, and $750,000 in future years. The state will provide capital maintenance funding capped at an average of $360,000 per year, under the deal.

The Business Improvement District starting in fiscal 2020 would seek an additional $500,000 annually for the Greenway, according to MassDOT.

"For the next six years we're absolutely committed to this agreement and we hope it works," Pollack said.

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