Mayor Defunds Yards And Canal Parks in FY2022 Budget

DC Council Yet to Restore Funding

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Children enjoy the Yards Park water features. Courtesy: Capitol Riverfront BID

The District of Columbia contracts with The Capitol Riverfront BID for maintenance and programming at Yards Park (355 Water St. SE) and Canal Park (200 M St. SE) are about to expire, leaving responsibility for their care unclear as of this fall.

Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) did not insert this $1.2 million contract in the FY2022 budget that she submitted to the Council.

The two neighborhood parks are city-owned but have been maintained and managed by the Capitol Riverfront BID since they opened. Canal Park opened in 2012 and Yards Park in 2010.

Outdoor Movie Series at Canal Park

Neither of the DC Council Committees with oversight moved to restore the funding prior to a vote. Those include the Business and Economic Development chaired by Ward 5 Kenyan R. McDuffie (D), overseeing the city’s business improvement districts; and the Committee on Recreation, Libraries and Youth Affairs, chaired by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, Sr. overseeing the DC Dept. of Parks and Recreation (DPR). The Council held the first of several votes to approve the FY2020 budget July 20. The final vote will be held on Aug. 3.

The current contract ends on Sept. 31, 2021. At that point responsibility for operating the parks would likely revert to the city under the aegis of DPR.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) is in full support of restoration of this funding.

Many people know Yards Park for the dancing fountains, waterfall and wading pool as well as the pedestrian bridge and events such as the Friday Night Concert Series. Built over the old canal, Canal Park features fountains in the summer and an ice rink in the winter, as well as large sculpture and a rooftop garden atop the on-site restaurant.

The Capitol Riverfront BID is campaigning to restore funding for Yards Park and Canal Park in the District of Columbia’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget. The BID urges residents to contact DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and all other DC Councilmembers to ask for their support.

“We as an organization do a very good job of maintaining them, doing capital improvements and programming them so the community comes to use them,” Stevens said. He noted the contractual relationship between the BID and DPR is unusual, but added that DPR has said “we really just can’t maintain them like you do, or program them like you do.”

Evening Strolls over the Iconic Yards Park Bridge Cap Riverfront BID

If funding is not included in the budget, Stevens said, the BID Board could decide at their September meeting to turn the parks over to DPR, who would then be managing them for the first time. “These are complicated animals,” said Stevens, who speaks of the parks like his young children, who he fears will be misunderstood. “They have pump houses and underground water management, and beautiful design.”

Alternatively, if the BID decided to continue to maintain the parks, they would have to absorb the $1.4 million by cutting staff or raising the tax the BID imposes on commercial properties within its boundaries, Steven said. Even without funding from the city, BID management of the two parks would still require some sort of legal agreement, Stevens said.

“I come to the fundamental premise that, here’s a city that’s once again flush with cash, due to federal infusion of billions of dollars, and they can’t set aside $1.4 million for two world-class parks that have leveraged a whole new neighborhood in the city.”

It is not the first time that funding for maintenance of the parks has been left out of the budget. For the last two years, Stevens said, Mayor Muriel Bowser eliminated 1-year contracts over $1 million. As such, funding for the park maintenance contract was eliminated last year, but after Bowser issued an errata letter, funding was reinstated, with a $650,000 reduction –from $1.85 million to $1.2 million, attributed to the pandemic.

Stevens said getting the funds to maintain the park is a struggle –and it shouldn’t be, given the asset the parks are to the community. “The people love them, so that’s why we’re going to this email campaign.”

Stevens said that he has requested a meeting with DC Parks and Recreation (DPR) Director Delano Hunter but had not yet received a response. UPDATE: After the interview, Director Hunter and the Capitol Riverfront BID made arrangements to meet following the final DC Council vote on the budget. (The Hill Rag has reached out to DC DPR for comment but had no response at press time).

Both parks are important open space assets to the neighborhood. The work of the BID in the parks has ensured open space relief, access to water features for families and children, and seasonal programming that helps build a sense of community among residents and visitors. The need for high-quality maintenance and operations will only increase as the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood continues to grow, Stevens said.

The DC Council will hold the final votes on the $17.5 billion budget on August 3 and August 10. There is still time for voters to urge other DC Councilmembers to include $1.4 million in funding for Yards Park and Canal Park in its overall budget.

Learn more about, or participate in, the campaign to get funding in the FY2022 budget: www.capitolriverfront.org/things-to-do/parks/support-parks-funding

This story is updating. We have reached out to the office of the Mayor and Chairman Phil Mendelson for comment.