Parks Philosophy: Dynamic or Static?

Four years ago the previous County Executive made a public pronouncement that the County park system-comprised of 20,000 acres-would undergo a shift in thinking that looked more at private and non-profit solutions but would not involve selling off the parks. This came on the heels of a 2007 study commissioned by the County which examined revenue generating opportunities in the parks.

The reason? Primarily because maintenance had fallen behind and were neglected. A foundation akin to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy called the Allegheny County Parks Foundation was established, but there was an emphasis on establishing "public-private partnerships to operate some of the parks’ major amenities and attractions (emphasis added)". The Parks’ Department website still lists requests for proposals for operating some of those amenities and the County Parks’ Foundation is soliciting a bid for redesign of the South Park fairgrounds, but private involvement in the parks is still minimal.

Meanwhile the City of Pittsburgh Council’s new chair of parks and recreation completed a tour of parks in the City and much of the same was encounter: deferred maintenance, unused space, and an ongoing planning effort to determine what is being used and what is not.

The parks at both the City and County level are intertwined in a rather complex arrangement: proceeds from the 1% RAD sales tax go to the parks, there are the non-profits acting as recipients for donations and coordinating projects, there are formal parks departments and the public works departments handle most of the maintenance. Where exactly do outside private and non-profit interests fit into that quite crowded chart?

Officials Want to Study Use of Closed School Buildings—A Time Waster

Pittsburgh has 15 closed school buildings and is about to add seven more to the list. City Council members now want to see studies of how to utilize these buildings. The School District is spending $15 million a year in maintenance and debt service costs on these structures.

Here’s a clue. Forget studies that will drag on and on, require community involvement, endless haggling, searches for funding to convert the buildings, and lobbying for government subsidies for politically correct and acceptable non-profit organizations to occupy the structures. Instead, put the buildings up for sale and hold auctions. Let the private sector decide what the best use is and the true value of the properties.

Large non-profits might choose to bid and should be allowed to, but the District should be aware that some non-profits are exempt from paying property taxes. One of the objectives of selling the properties besides getting out from under the costs of upkeep and the deterioration of unused buildings is to return the property to the tax rolls.

More studies are not the answer. They are time wasters and will be sources of controversy the District does not need.