Parks hearing studies Flushing Mdws funds

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (l.) speaks at a rally hosted by Make the Road New York and the Fairness Coalition ahead of an oversight hearing about Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Photo by Joe Anuta
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The city Parks Department revealed how much money goes into Flushing Meadows Corona Park at a hearing last week, although the answers did little to shed light on how the borough’s greenspace is treated in comparison to others in the city.

“Clearly more funding for this park is sorely needed, but how we achieve that might involve a multifaceted approach,” said City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), who ran the June 7 hearing as the chairwoman of the Committee on Parks.

Some factions want to see a new public private partnership launched or have the park receive money directly from concession and licensing agreements. Others want to see the city properly fund the park solely out of the budget.

For the first time, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski revealed that approximately $11.6 million went into the park in fiscal year 2013, although the department could not provide a nominal breakdown of how the money is spent.

Parks could also not provide TimesLedger Newspapers with similar estimates of Manhattan’s Central Park nor Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

The department said it does not keep budgets for individual parks and maintains that the $11.6 million is merely an estimate that covers maintenance, staffing and supplies as well as costs associated with the Aquatic Center, the Al Oerter Recreation Center, the World’s Fair Marina and the Queens Zoo.

Other documents could only provide clues as to funding levels.

For example, Parks paid abouty $8 million to the Wildlife Conservation Society in 2011 to operate zoos in Flushing Meadows Corona, Central and Prospect parks, according to the society’s filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Some of that total was included in the number Lewandowski gave to the committee.

Throughout the hearing, the park was often compared to Central and Prospect parks. Both of those parks have active and well-funded conservancies that maintain the greenspaces through a public-private partnership. The Central Park Conservancy’s annual operating budget is more than $40 million and the Prospect Park Alliance’s is around $14 million, according to park advocates.

As opposed to millions in donations that the conservancies receive, Flushing Meadows was given just $5,000 last year in private donations, according to briefing documents given to the committee.

The conservancies also allow a percentage of money raised from concessions like restaurants and pay-to-use facilities to be funneled back into the park.

The Randall’s Island Alliance, for example, gets to keep all revenues generated from concessions in the park, while Flushing Meadows gives all of its revenues, which totaled around $6.75 million in fiscal year 2012, back to the city’s general fund, where the cash is impossible to track.

Terrace on the Park pays the greater of $2.5 million, or 20 percent of its annual revenues, to the city. That is about the same amount the United States Tennis Association, which rakes in about $275 million per year, pays per year. The New York Mets, whose Citi Field is sited in the park, pay less than $500,000 by varying accounts.

“There is something fishy in those numbers,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) hopes to start a new conservancy to help fund the park with private dollars.

But some park advocates, like Geoffrey Croft of New York City Park Advocates, want lawmakers like Ferreras to pass a budget with adequate funding for parks, which he pegged at more than double the current expenditure amount — a fraction of a percent of the city’s operating budget.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 10:06 am, June 14, 2013
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