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Nonprofit Struggles to Raise Funds, and Awareness, for UWS Public Park

By Emily Frost | June 2, 2013 10:13am
 The park's endowment is dwindling, sparking a campaign to creat more awareness of its needs. 
Theodore Roosevelt Park is Running Out of Money
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Faced with a rapidly dwindling endowment, the private stewards of the Upper West Side's Theodore Roosevelt Park are struggling to make up for the lack of city funding, they said.

But that doesn't mean they haven't tried. In one night, a recent fundraiser attracted a bevy of supporters that brought in roughly $40,000 in one night, less than 20 percent of the current costs.

Part of the fundraising problem for Theodore Roosevelt Park, which surrounds the American Museum of Natural History between West 77th and 81st Streets between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West, is that it's often confused for museum property, said Peter Wright, the president and founder of Friends of Roosevelt Park Inc., a 20-year-old non-profit. 

Soliciting contributions for Central Park and Riverside Park is much easier, he said.

"It’s very tricky... [At Theodore Roosevelt Park], we’ve tried before and not succeeded," he said.

The 10-acre park currently costs $250,000 a year to maintain, with a large portion of the funding coming from the Parks Department and the rest made up of private funding, the majority coming from the Friends' endowment, which will not last, said Wright.

"We can’t subsidize the park at the rate of $100,000 a year forever," Wright said.

He reached out to Community Board 7, and Parks Committee member Mel Wymore offered to help lead a year-long visioning process and the formation of the Theodore Roosevelt Park Working Group to help energize stakeholders in formulating new fundraising schemes and ideas for the park, said Wymore.

"[The Friends] asked me to help them re-ignite the community, before it became a crisis," said Wymore. 

The 25-person strong group involved the Parks Department, the American Museum of Natural History, the Columbus Avenue BID, the Computer School, Community Board 7, the 77th Street Block Association, the 81st Street Street Block Association, the Bull Moose Dog Run, and some local businesses, said Wymore.

"We had some disagreements, we had some wild and crazy ideas," Wright reported. "We looked at commercializing this park like Bryant Park and we decided we didn’t want that."

Out of many meetings, a coherent vision of the park emerged as "a place for quiet enjoyment," said Wymore — since it is surrounded by so much residential property and seen as a crossroads for the 5 million or so visitors coming in and out of the museum and for those traveling from west to east and vice versa.

Wright is most excited by the advisory group that emerged from the process, made up of a growing number of surrounding buildings' board members and residents, who will contribute to the park financially and drum up support among the community.

"The neighborhood advisory group is not going to be a loosey-goosey anything-you-want group," he said, adding that the park has only one full-time Parks Department staffer and needs much more help.

Both Wymore and Wright were quick to defend the Parks Department.

"The Parks Department doesn’t have the money," said Wright. "When [the city] cuts funds...at the bottom of the barrel is often parks."

While fundraising plans were crucial, with a Taste of the Upper West Side soiree last Wednesday garnering $40,000 according to Wymore, working group members were also interested in programmatic changes to make the park an educational destination. 

The new streetscape on Columbus Avenue became a model for the types of eco-friendly renovations that could take place — things like solar lighting, composting and innovative drainage systems that would be marked with signage, said Wright. 

These green projects would likely amount to $500,000, said Wymore. 

Working group members also wanted to encourage park users to venture onto Columbus Avenue to help the small businesses there, a concept that's still being formulated, said Wymore. 

"We’ve jump started the engagement [with the park]," said Wymore, who said that the working group is now dissolved and transitioning into a larger, more permanent iteration that will move the plans and fundraising forward.