City launches matching fund for park improvements

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City launches matching fund for park improvements
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By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Officials with Alexandria’s department of recreation, parks and cultural activities are accepting proposals from community groups that want to upgrade their local parks — provided they can foot some of the bill.

In the fiscal 2017 budget, city council established a community matching fund, setting aside $50,000 to use as one-to-one matching funds with local fundraising efforts for park or recreation center improvements.

Dana Wedeles, a park planner with the local agency,said the measure serves two purposes: it standardizes a process for seeking matching funds in light of a number of efforts in recent years by residents to request money from city council for projects with community support; and it allows projects that might otherwise be deferred in capital budget planning to come to fruition with outside support.

“In the past couple of years — particularly since 2012 when we worked on the Miracle Field project — we’ve had a number of community groups come to us wanting to work on projects and proposing a fundraising match,” Wedeles said. “But there had been no formal process for providing those matches to community groups [outside of city council’s annual budget process.]”

Wedeles said applications, which are due September 1, must lay out the proposal itself, how a project will benefit the community, be consistent with the recently completed parks improvement plan and have a fundraising plan where the group will meet their goal by June 2017. Groups also should outline any ongoing maintenance that will be needed after the project is complete as well as show there is local need and desire for the project.

“The main takeaway is that we’re looking for a way to really cultivate the community groups, so they have a greater stake in park improvements and activating sites — getting the community involved and using the sites how they want them to be used,” Wedeles said.

At the September meeting of the city parks and recreation commission, staff will provide presentations on all applications for matching fund dollars along with recommendations, and the commission will announce its final decisions on recipients at the October meeting. If a group does not meet its fundraising goal by June 2017, the money allotted for that project will go into the pot for the fiscal 2018 matching fund, when the fund will increase to a base of $100,000.

Katharine Dixon, president of Rebuilding Together Alexandria, has worked frequently with city officials on partnership efforts, most recently in conjunction with fellow nonprofit RunningBrooke in revamping Hume Springs Community Park. She said this is a great way to get support, both popular and financial, for smaller upgrades to local parks.

“RPCA only has so much budget and can only serve so many parks each year, but if the community joins in, and meets them halfway, a neighborhood’s park could be revitalized in a much shorter time frame than if it had to wait out the city’s five or 10-year capital improvement plan,” Dixon said.

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said the new process provides some clarity to local groups interested in investing in their communities.

“One of the concerns I’ve had about requests from groups for funding, and one I’ve heard from others, is let’s have some formality and have a process,” Wilson said. “We don’t want to have every single one of these ventures be ad hoc. We wanted to make the rules of the road clear to the community, because the last thing we want is for it to seem unfair or that a group with more influence or more money gets preference.”

Kurt Moser is working with others in Arlandria on a proposal they hope to submit for the first round of matching funds to install water bottle and jug-filling stations at Simpson and Witter fields and Four Mile Run Park. He said he was excited by the city’s initiative because of the full one-to-one match it would provide.

“One of the challenges in general around fundraising is you can’t always raise all that you want to, and sometimes certain strings are tied to the funding you’re able to get,” Moser said. “The community matching fund is something you can use to cover costs that aren’t covered by what you already have, or to cover some aspect of a project that you don’t currently have the funding for. It’s a significant match and it is something that community groups will be able to use very effectively.”

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