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Mount Vernon Place privatization approved by city

As expected, the Board of Estimates signed off yesterday on an agreement to place management of Mount Vernon Place and the Washington Monument into private hands.

The five-year-agreement allows Mount Vernon Place Conservancy Inc. to proceed with a $12 million plan to refurbish one of the city’s most iconic parks in time for the 200-year anniversary of the laying of the Washington Monument cornerstone in 2015.

With 20 supporters in attendance at yesterday’s meeting and no opponents in sight, the panel unanimously approved the agreement. (Previously reported in The Brew here and here.)

A Milestone or Bad Precedent?

Andrew B. Frank, the conservancy’s spokesman and an official at Johns Hopkins University, said the lack of discord was a sign that significant progress has been made to build a consensus for the restoration.

“We still have a lot of work do to,” he said yesterday, “but I think we managed to build some trust. This agreement does not resolve the tree and perimeter sidewalk issues, but it is a milestone, 10 years in the making.”

He added, “We worked overtime after the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association meeting to spend time with every group. We amended the agreement after receiving concerns about transparency and governance.”

But the privatization agreement – in particular a proposal by the group’s architect to cut down many of the park’s existing trees – remains the subject of intense criticism in some quarters.

“It was a done deal at the Board [of Estimates],” Mount Vernon Place resident Arthur Kutcher told The Brew, explaining why he thinks most critics skipped the meeting.

Another opponent of the Conservancy’s plan, Hugh C. Ronalds, said residents should oppose the city’s agreement not just because of the tree-cutting but because the public-private partnership sets “a bad precedent.”

“There is no oversight – this private group has a free hand to do whatever they want,” said Ronalds who, together with Kutcher, has sent an op-ed on the subject to The Brew.

Under today’s agreement, the city would allocate $1 million in bond funds for park restoration, pay the conservancy $35,000 a year, and maintain “basic services” such as grass mowing, bench repair, graffiti removal, tree pruning and park lighting.

- Fern Shen contributed to this story

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  • http://twitter.com/benkutil Ben Kutil

    This is different than the selling of historic properties by the city, right? 

    While it sounds like the plan has some flaws (in terms of cutting trees), I hope the best comes from it. I live next to the Roland Park Water Tower, http://bit.ly/savethetower, has been trying to put together to funding to do its own renovations of the area, since the city seems totally un-interested in even the most basic of upkeep, and really hope that when the time comes, they’ll be able to execute on their plan.

  • Edward Cole

    Could someone explain to me what Mount Vernon Place Conservancy Inc stands to gain, financially, from this deal? I mean, in the long run. I don’t pretend to know a lot about this, but how does this deal differ from hiring a company or companies (architect, landscape architect, etc.) to do what Mount Vernon Place Conservancy is being paid to do? My gut reaction is to be outraged. I no longer live in Baltimore, but I spent most of life there, and I’ve spent many happy hours in Mount Vernon with a book or chatting with friends. Will this deal ultimately rob people of use of the park?

    • MV Observer

      The Conservancy stands to gain nothing financially. It’s a purely philanthropic undertaking to properly restore and maintain a National Landmark to the highest standards.

    • Afrank

      I think the difference here is that the Conservancy is required to raise private funds to maintain the park at the higher level.  It is likely, as you point out, that the Conservancy would contract out services, but the goal is to provide services that the city no longer provides.  There’s the basic maintenance of lawn cutting, lawn care, mulching, etc., but we have over the last two years raised funds from the surrounding institutions and businesses to hang flower baskets, buy movable tables and chairs, plant the containers and new gardens, and fix the benches.   The status quo, because of shrinking city resources, would be a baseline level of care by the city and no plan to restore and reopen the Washington Monument.  Nobody can be robbed of using the park.  It remains a public park.  Conservancy has no right to or interest in changing that.   City retains the permitting rights.   Bring your book back this spring and check out the new plantings.  

  • Ktrueheart

    While this agreement could be a model for helping BMore revitalize, our Mayor could have considered this same approach for PRIVATIZING our recreation centers.  The lack of creative problem solving only appears when it involves city services for residents.  Hopkins and the developers WIN again … God save the peeps!

  • Surfstuff55

    So the City is going to pay the Conservancy $35,000 a year for the privilege of using more taxpayer money to mow the grass, take care of the benches, take care of the trees and light the parkWTF is the Conservancy going to do for that money they receive. This STINKS!

  • Afrank

    Just wanted to address some comments.   The Agreement with the city will allow scarce parks funds to be spent elsewhere — in neighborhood parks or recreation centers.   The Conservancy is committed to raising funds privately to maintain the park after the restoration.   Bryant Park is nice example our good outcomes; however, the model here is not to levy an additional tax on the surrounding property owners.  

    The $35,000, approved two years ago in a different agreement, ends in three years.  After that, virtually no taxpayer funds  will be spent in Mount Vernon Place.   That’s not ideal, but it’s reality.   Nobody on the Conservancy stands to gain financially.  It’s an all volunteer board, much like the boards that are in place to take care of Mount Clare Museum, USS Constellation, and the Shot Tower.   

    In effort to raise private and foundation funds, 100 percent of the board members are asked to contribute to the capital campaign.   The board itself has pledged more than $500,000.   Board members are not permitted to gain personally from any activities within the park.  The park is not being privatized.  The city controls the issuing of permits and the Conservancy has no rights to restrict to anyone.  It’s a public park and will remain a public park.   The Conservancy’s goal, which we think is shared by everyone, is to help create a safer, more attractive, well programmed park experience.  

    We recognize the difference points of view on the master plan.  CHAP is the arbiter of those differences; however, we hope to find common ground where we can. 

    I remember climbing the steps of the Washington Monument as a kid.   We hope to make that possible again by 2014.   We have promised to make our restoration committee and maintenance committee minutes available on a website if you’re interested in tracking the progress. 

    • Ktrueheart

      I hope Mr. Andy Frank and the conservancy truly support similar partnerships occurring throughout my home town.  Similar agreements should and must be undertaken by our cash-strapped municipal government to sustain access to a host of other neglected City-owned gems like recreation centers, pools and parks.  The blatant inequities inherent in this Conservancy agreement lead me to stand in protest of it purely because it is so NOT aligned with recent agreements the City has pursued for partnerships with neglected recreation centers …  a real double standard.  BMore Politricks and its Elitist class WINS again!

      • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

        Ktrue — Why don’t you and likeminded compatriots start your own conservancy in support of the public space of your choice instead of b****ing about “Politricks” and some “Elitist class” that’s largely a figment of your imagination? When has clever wordplay and name-calling ever solved anything?

        • Ktrueheart

          James Hunt you have NO clue what I do and your assumptions are way off base … If you care to know me and my advocacy let’s talk.  Your narrow minded accusations show who YOU really are sir!

        • Ktrueheart

          Mr. James Hunt I look forward to receiving a FAT donation check from you to support my efforts with my “like-minded compatriots” to operate/manage the Liberty Recreation Center.  I could use your help purchasing cases for the i-Pads we’ll be loaning to the children in our summer technology camp.  Please make your check payable to:  Howard Park Civic Association, Inc.,  PO Box 26593,  Gwynn Oak, Maryland 21207.  Your donation is tax deductible as we are a non-profit 501(c)(3).

  • Chris

    How will the renovations impact WTMD’s First Thursdays concerts in the park?

    • http://profiles.google.com/j.eric.lowe Eric Lowe

       It will improve all programming by having a plan to deal with all events rather than current policy of ‘winging it’.

  • Rodeoclown

    The conservancy is a great idea and one destined to make Mount Vernon Place a better place for everyone. And I think Baltimore Brew’s use of the term “privatization” speaks to the site’s editorial incompetence. There’s no there there, kids.

  • Commodity, Firmness, & Delight

    The headline is pretty funny, but sadly typical for this website.  First of all ‘privatization’ is an incorrect classification at best and hysteria-baiting lie at worst. Are the four squares of MVP all of sudden for private use only? No, of course not.

     Second, if you’re going to write about one of the great Beaux-Arts spaces in the US, at least learn the correct name.  Mt. Vernon Square is in Washington. Mt. Vernon Place is in Baltimore.

    The city has proven that it is incapable of properly maintaining this and many other public resources around town.  This is bad for Baltimore like the Central Park Conservancy and the Bryant Park Conservancy were bad for New York.

    • Anonymous

      From B Brew: Thanks for pointing out the error in the headline, which we have fixed. You might have pointed out that the lead sentence and the rest of the article all used Mount Vernon “Place” correctly.

    • Gerald Neily

      CF&D: Where has The Brew said that “privatization” means “for private use only”? And where has The Brew said this is a categorically bad idea? Now if the trees were chopped down in Bryant and Central Parks, maybe your parallel would make a real point.

    • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

      Alrighty then, CFD, let’s follow the ever-so-civil example of yer man Vitruvius and lighten up a bit on our peeps at the Brew, shall we? “Hysteria-baiting lie” is a tad over the top. At any rate, we can all agree that the current ragged assembly of flea-bitten zelkovas, dog-marked lawns, empty fountains, and unrepaired iron fences reflects poorly on the neighborhood and the city. The Conservancy can’t get started a moment too soon. Huzzah for Andy Frank and all the folks putting their money and time on the line!

  • Marc

    I guess I don’t really understand the furor over the proposed replacement of MVP’s trees. Yes, the replacement trees will take a long time to mature before they can offer an alluring, shady, leafy canopy again, but IMO the existing trees could use replacement: Some are healthy and mature, others look half-dead and battered. Some are a lot older/younger than others, and overall the canopy effect is tattered, uneven, and incomplete, quite contrary to the original “City Beautiful” vision for even, geometrically-formal planting. So I think a unified, uniform tree replacement would be a huge plus – maybe not for current residents, but for future generations.

    This is where I think private management of MVP could be a huge plus. As municipalities across the US have demonstrated, planting trees is the easy part. Taking care of them so they don’t die right after the initial planting is the hard part. A cash-strapped, distracted municipality might not be able to manage this, but a private organization with a deep, focused interest in MVP sure might. Apropos to the recent article on Sherwood Gardens (which is desirable because it’s so well maintained by private neighborhood groups), maybe a private MVP organization will be able to keep the place gleaming and beautiful.

    The modern municipality is mostly a healthcare/employment agency/consulting sop interested solely in self-preservation. It offers some feeble, mediocre services on the side (almost as if they’re an accident), but as long as most of a municipality’s income and attention continue to be diverted to benefits and perks for its employees and consultants, then I don’t see the maintenance of parks, rec centers, and other public spaces becoming a municipal priority in my lifetime. So IMO it’s better to hand over their upkeep to reputable private parties/groups who have a real interest in keeping those public spaces beautiful and functional.

    • Marc

      BTW I forgot to add that the replacement trees would likely benefit current residents too: The proposed replacements are supposed to be 25-30′ high with 8″ trunks. They’d offer shade right away even though it would still take some time for them to reach the majestic dimensions of some of the existing trees. But the replacements definitely wouldn’t be the skinny little saplings that cities typically use.

      • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

        Good points, Marc. An important aspect of the proposed new trees is that they complement rather than obscure the architecture of buildings facing the parks of Mt. Vernon Place.

  • Anonymous

    From B Brew: Regarding the choice of our word “privatization,” not only will the physical restoration of the park grounds and Washington Monument be under the control of the Conservancy, but day-to-day management — including park events such as the annual Flower Mart and Baltimore Book Festival — will be under its purview.

    Article 6.2 of the agreement says:

    “The City hereby authorizes the Conservancy to arrange Concessions, and Conservancy events, in Mount Vernon Place and charge a fee for such arrangements, all subject to the Conservancy applying for the required Parks Department Special Event Permits, and Vending Permits, and other City permits and other governmental requirements.”

    In addition:
    “The Conservancy may enter into a contract with one or more vendors of merchandise or food to operate such Concessions other than during events taking place in Mount Vernon Place.”

  • Ktrueheart

    The “BLATANT double standard” for PRIVATIZING BMore’s neglected gems is well documented for those who care to see the truth!  Our municipal government has released 2 requests for proposals to manage/operate recreation centers, which onerous exclusionary requirements, yet this ELITIST Conservancy was handed the keys to MVP without any such burdens!!!! 

    Mr. James Hunt take off those rose colored glasses – open your eyes!

  • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

    Sorry, K-heart:, today’s young’ns spend far too much time staring at electronic things as it is.

    Take it away, Emily Dickinson:

    There is no frigate like a book/ To take us lands away,/ Nor any coursers like a page/ Of prancing poetry./ This traverse may the poorest take/ Without oppress of toll;/ How frugal is the chariot/ That bears a human soul! 

  • Ktrueheart

    Yup, Yup Mr. James Hunt … as I’ve said, you’re showing who YOU really are sir!  Please don’t be sorry …

    • freddie

      Another one that doesn’t know how to pick her  battles. It isn’t  always about you and your centric perspective.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jamiehunt344 James Hunt

    I’ve showed Im a fan of Emily Dickinson. Is that so wrong? BTW: Frank Costanza called. He says the Festivus celebration is over. The time for the “airing of the grievances” has passed. Back to work!

  • Blackpinket02

    The money could be better spent

  • http://profiles.google.com/j.eric.lowe Eric Lowe

    Elitist?  If we want elitism, let’s really restore the parks… back to the Mills Plan! Only property owners facing the park get keys to the gates!
    ;)

  • Anonymous

    Hey, they’re coming and will be worth the wait. –BB

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