Finding Funding For Omaha Parks

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With a tight city budget, Omaha looks to the private sector to help fund projects on a regular basis.

Today, that's being taken to a grassroots level with the announcement of a Parks Foundation.

The city will still maintain the parks, but we can have a financial say in our neighborhood parks.

Violet Abuhl takes her grandson Asher to the park whenever she visits.

"And he plays and plays and plays, he loves the park," she said.

Near the play area, a donation box asking park users to invest in new equipment.

This way, money goes directly into Metcalfe Park instead of the city's general fund.

"If money just goes into a pool you're not as thankful, that's the other thing thankfulness comes and a grateful heart comes from investing in something you're interested in and so you're grateful and thankful," Violet said.

Now the city is expanding the idea through the Parks Foundation to fill financial gaps in the city's park system.

"Will the parks be able to maintain the funds that they have now?" Omaha parks Director Melinda Pearson said. "I believe that we're able to maintain what we have but I don't see that with the way the world is today that we're going to be able to go out and make new parks without these partnerships."

Funding for the city's 250 parks over the long term is difficult, especially when budgets are tight.

The city will maintain the parks, but the foundation will help fund new equipment, picnic areas and plant trees and replace damaged ones.

But there's more...

"We have a lot of citizens that would like to directly contribute to a particular project a particular park and when that becomes a priority for the city then we'll reach out to those people and we'll seek their funding," Omaha parks Foundation Board President John Conley said.

But donating to specific parks could create an imbalance in the quality of parks across the city where in the more affluent areas where there's more money...there's probably better equipment.

"I guess I don't see it as a problem I see it as a fact of life, I mean that's just the way life is," Violet said. "Life isn't fair and some parks are going to be better equipped than others."

Violet believes the plan could work.

"If people actually invest in the park that they benefit from they're much more likely to take care of it," she said.

Other cities with parks foundations include New York, Seattle and Vancouver.

The long term goal is to create endowments and other investments making money available for new parks as the city grows, while still being able to improve the quality of inner-city parks.