Central Park Conservancy
|Tax ID No.||13-3022855|
|Founder(s)||Elizabeth Barlow Rogers|
|Key people||Douglas Blonsky (President & CEO)|
|Area served||Central Park|
|Motto||Central to the Park|
|Formerly called||Central Park Task Force, Central Park Community Fund|
The Central Park Conservancy is a private, nonprofit organization that manages Central Park under a contract with the City of New York. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of dedicated civic and philanthropic leaders, the Conservancy has invested more than $600 million toward the restoration and enhancement of Central Park and is considered a model for urban park management worldwide. With contributions from Park-area residents, corporations and foundations, the Conservancy provides 85 percent of the Park’s $42.4 million annual Parkwide expense budget and is responsible for all basic care of the 843-acre park.
The Conservancy was born out of community concern during the Park’s rapid decline in the 1970s. New York City’s financial and social crisis left America’s first major urban public space virtually abandoned – a dustbowl that residents came to view as a dangerous, crime-ridden space. The Park had deteriorated so badly that some advocated handing it over to the National Park Service.
Many advocacy groups had been working separately to improve conditions in Central Park. Two of them - the Central Park Task Force and the Central Park Community Fund - were trying to address management concerns and improve physical conditions in the Park. The Central Park Task Force was led by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, an urban planner, writer and civic activist; the Central Park Community Fund was founded by Richard Gilder and George Soros.
The Central Park Community Fund commissioned a management study, led by Columbia University Professor E.S. Savas, which concluded that in order for the Park to be better managed it needed a single and unpaid individual employed by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to oversee its daily operations. It also recommended the establishment of a private, citizen-based board that would advise the overseeing individual. The suggestions of the Savas report were supported by Mayor Edward I. Koch's and Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis, and in 1979 the city established the Office of Central Park Administrator and appointed Elizabeth "Betsy" Barlow Rogers as the first Central Park Administrator.
Rogers maintained that Central Park was a cultural institution, no different than the city's renowned museums and performance venues. Backed by the suggestions made in the Savas report, she proposed following in the footsteps of those institutions by establishing a private board to help support the Park.
In 1980, the Central Park Task Force and the Central Park Community Fund joined together to form the not-for-profit Central Park Conservancy, a public-private partnership created to bring private resources to the public Park.
“We wanted something permanent and nonpolitical, not subject to changes when a commissioner or mayor leaves office; but also something that was accountable to the public and that worked in partnership with the city,” Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis said at the time.
Rebuilding Central Park
In the Conservancy's first year, the Dairy (which was originally designed as a refreshment stand and rest spot) was transformed into the Park's first visitors center, with the Conservancy using it to revitalize public interest in the Park through exhibits, music series and children’s programs. The first landscape to be restored was the Sheep Meadow, primarily with funds provided by New York State. The next few years would see the restoration of Bethesda Fountain, Belvedere Castle, the East Green and Cherry Hill plaza.
The Conservancy founded its Women’s Committee in 1983 after the success of the first Frederick Law Olmsted (FLO) Awards Luncheon at Tavern on the Green, which raised $172,000 for the organization. By the following year, the Chess & Checkers House and Frisbee Hill had been restored; thousands of shrubs and flowers asserted the Park as a horticultural showpiece. To tend to those plants, more than 1,900 volunteers contributed more than 4,000 hours of work in the Park.
The Conservancy launched its first fundraising campaign in 1986, mapping out a 15-year restoration plan that sought to remain true to the original design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Over the next several years, Campaign for the Central Park Conservancy restored landmarks in the southern part of the Park – Bethesda Terrace, Grand Army Plaza, Shakespeare Garden and Cedar Hill.
By 1988, Conservancy volunteers logged more than 13,000 hours in the Park, with the organization’s volunteer program winning a citation for excellence from the White House.
In the early 1990s, the Conservancy announced a $50 million Capital Campaign to focus on improvements to the northern end of the Park. Efforts culminated in the restoration of the Mall and Concert Ground, Harlem Meer, and the Ravine in the North Woods. The Conservancy’s work on the Meer and the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center was subsequently honored with three awards: the 1994 New York City Landmarks Preservation Award, the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Design Merit Award and the Victorian Society’s Citation of Merit.
In 1996, the Conservancy embarked on its single most ambitious landscape restoration – the overhaul of the 55 acres including and surrounding the Great Lawn and Turtle Pond. The project was the centerpiece of the Conservancy's three-year Wonder of New York Campaign, which raised $71.5 million and also helped restore southern and westside landscapes, as well as the North Meadow. The Great Lawn project was completed in 1997, featuring project was completed a year later, featuring new amenities to encourage both passive and active recreation and nature appreciation.
Though they operated under a memorandum of understanding as a public-private partnership for 18 years, the Conservancy and the City of New York did not formalize its management agreement until 1998 under the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The city would retain control over major policy decisions about the Park as well as the enforcement of rules and laws within it, with the Conservancy responsible for day-to-day maintenance and operations.
Renovations continued through the early 2000s. The Conservatory Water opened after a six-month restoration effort, with a $4 million project beginning on the 59th Street Pond, one of the Park’s most visible and heavily used landscapes. A new Reservoir fence was installed in 2003 under a $2 million capital project that replaced the old chain-link fence with a replica of the 8,000-foot steel and cast-iron one that had enclosed the Reservoir in 1926. The new fence, along with removal of invasive trees and shrubs, restored the panoramic views of the Park and Manhattan skyline.
Another ambitious restoration effort began in 2004, when Conservancy staff and contractors worked together to refurbish the 15,876 Minton tiles that hang on the ceiling of the Bethesda Arcade.
Originally designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, the ceiling of the Arcade is lined by 15,876 elaborately patterned encaustic tiles. Made by Minton and Company, a leading 19th Century ceramic manufacturer in England, the ceiling tiles are divided into 49 panels, each containing 324 tiles. Salt and water infiltration from the roadway above had badly damaged the tiles, leaving their backing plates so corroded they had to be removed in the 1980s. The tiles sat in storage for more than 20 years until the Conservancy received a generous private donation for their restoration.
The Conservancy embarked on a $7 million restoration effort to return the Minton tiles to their original luster in 2004. A team of seven conservation technicians cleaned and repaired more than 14,000 original tiles by hand. Only three panels of replica tiles were needed to replace those that had been damaged beyond repair. For those recreations, the Conservancy decided to commission Maw and Company, Minton’s successor in Stokes-on-Trent, England. The completed Bethesda Terrace Arcade was unveiled to much fanfare in March 2007. In 2006, the Conservancy completed a nine-month renovation of the Mall in a project that returned the landscape to its original character and ensured the protection of its great American Elms.
The Conservancy celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2005, the same year it launched its third campaign, Campaign for Central Park. The $100 million initiative is funding the restoration of eastside landscapes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Harlem Meer and the shoreline of the 22-acre Lake, as well as long-term operating support.
Relationship with the City of New York
The Conservancy’s original contract with the City was renewed in 2006. Under the eight-year agreement, the Conservancy receives an annual fee for services, an amount determined by a formula that requires the Conservancy to raise and spend a specified minimum amount of private funds in the Park on an annual basis. The minimum Conservancy annual expenditure – which can include maintenance, programming, and landscape improvements – is $5 million. The annual fee from the City depends on the Conservancy’s expenditures in the Park and the revenues generated by concessions in Central Park.
The current contract maintains the city’s baseline allocation for the maintenance of the Park, but it lifts the cap on the amount of funding the Conservancy receives based on concession revenues generated in the Park. Under the previous contract, the Conservancy received an amount equal to 50 percent of concession revenues beyond the first $6 million generated in the Park, not to exceed $2 million.
Park maintenance and visitor programs
Today, Conservancy crews care for 250 acres of lawns, 21,500 trees, 150 acres of lakes and streams, and 130 acres of woodlands. The Conservancy’s staff installs hundreds of thousands of plantings annually, including bulbs, shrubs, flowers, and trees. They maintain 9,000 benches, 26 ballfields, and 21 playgrounds and are responsible for the preservation of 55 sculptures and monuments, and 36 bridges. Conservancy crews remove graffiti within 24 hours and collect more than 2,000 tons of trash a year.
The Conservancy encourages the public to take advantage of Central Park’s educational opportunities, viewing it as the city’s largest outdoor classroom. Each year, the Conservancy provides education, recreation and volunteer programs for visitors of all ages. There are also six centers in the Park that provide visitor services: Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, North Meadow Recreation Center, Belvedere Castle, Dairy Visitor Center & Gift Shop and Chess & Checkers House.
The Conservancy has been led by four presidents over its history. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, who helped found the Conservancy, was its first and longest-serving. She stepped down in 1996 after 16 years. Karen H. Putnam, who worked as the Conservancy’s development director, took over the post that same year. She resigned in 2000, after completing the projects slated under the Wonder of New York capital campaign. The following year, Regina S. Peruggi took on the role, leaving her position as president of Marymount Manhattan College. Peruggi stepped down three years later. Since then, Central Park Administrator Douglas Blonsky has held the post, the first to serve the dual role of Administrator and Conservancy President. The presidency was not Blonsky's first role in the Conservancy; he had originally been hired as construction supervisor for the Park in 1985 by Barlow.
Award-winning zone system
Much of the Conservancy's success is credited to its revolutionary zone-management system, which divides the Park into territories managed by individual supervisors who are held accountable for their zone's condition. Today, the Park has 49 zones managed by “zone gardeners” who work with volunteers and specialty crews to maintain their designated landscapes.
“If somebody is slacking off, it is apparent and apparent quickly,” Blonsky said of the system’s advantage.
The Conservancy has received many honors for its success. Along with three other organizations, it was honored in 2001 with the Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections by The American Institute for Conservation and Artistic Works and Heritage Preservation. In 2008, the American Planning Association named Central Park one of the 2008 Great Public Spaces in America. The association described the Park as “arguably the most emulated park in the country” and cited it as “an exemplary public space that successfully maintains a large naturalistic landscape in the midst of one of the densest cities in the country.”
- Cedar Miller, Sara and Roux, Jean-Paul. Central Park, An American Masterpiece:A Comprehensive History of the Nation's First Urban Park. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8109-3946-2.
- Private Money Is Keeping Central Park Healthy. Andrew L. Yarrow, The New York Times, October 29, 1990 (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CEFDE1038F93AA15753C1A966958260)
- Lisa W. Foderaro (2012-10-23). "A $100 Million Thank-You for a Lifetime’s Central Park Memories". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
- City Offers Private Group Contract to Maintain Central Park.Douglas Martin, The New York Times September 6, 1997 (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D07E1D61030F935A3575AC0A961958260)
- Sweeter Deal for Managing Central Park. James Barron, The New York Times, April 30, 2006 (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/30/nyregion/30park.html?scp=1&sq=sweeter%20deal%20for%20managing%20central%20park&st=cse
- Nurturing the People Who Help Central Park.Joseph Berger, The New York Times, November 11, 2004(http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/11/nyregion/11profile.html?scp=1&sq=Nurturing%20the%20People%20who%20help%20central%20park&st=cse)
- Nurturing the People Who Help Central Park. Joseph Berger, The New York Times, November 11, 2004 (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/11/nyregion/11profile.html?scp=1&sq=Nurturing%20the%20People%20who%20help%20central%20park&st=cse
- Great Places in America: Public Spaces. The American Planning Association (http://www.planning.org/greatplaces/spaces/2008/centralpark.htm)
- Official website
- Central Park Conservancy on Twitter
- NYC Department of Parks & Recreation
- Central Park Paws
- Central Park Women's Committee
- Elizabeth Barlow Rogers: The Central Park Story. Management and Restoration for a New Era of Public Use