Events like Fleur de Flea draw visitors to Waterfront Park. | Courtesy of Fleur de Flea

With the clock ticking down, members of the Waterfront Development Corp.’s board of directors are searching for a way to permanently plug a budget gap left after state funding was eliminated.

One thing is for certain, however, according to the board chair Susan Moss — the WDC will not institute paid parking at Waterfront Park, the 85-acre downtown park it oversees.

“We need to make sure we keep the park open, accessible and free to the community,” Moss said, noting that the park has roughly two million visitors each year.

“Obviously,” she added, “resources are strained; the city has a lot of needs, the state has a lot of needs. We need to think about how do we allow everyone in the community to participate in helping the park.”

The WDC has faced an annual budget deficit of more than $200,000 after a yearly allocation from the state was cut from the budget. Leaders with WDC lobbied the state legislators and the governor’s office to reinstate the funding, but those pleas have been unsuccessful, leaving the organization to seek new funding.

During fiscal year 2017, the city stepped up to fill the budget hole. The park leadership then sought out new, more permanent revenue streams, and last year, the board voted to implement a $3 parking fee at all the park’s lots. The vote caused an uproar among residents and city officials, which later led a group of wealthy citizens to donate money to cover the deficit for two years and stave off parking fees.

The city also increased its annual allocation to Waterfront Park by $50,000 to just more than $1 million. However, roughly this time next year, the WDC will still face a budget deficit for fiscal year 2020.

The WDC board has created a subcommittee to look at a range of permanent funding solution, Moss said. An admission fee and paid parking are off the table, though.

“We know that the park is fulfilling a need for the community and it’s our responsibility as the board to figure out how can we continue that” while keeping the park open to everyone, she said.

One possible solution is an expanded membership or contribution program, Moss said.

The nonprofit Friends of the Waterfront raises money throughout the year for Waterfront Park improvements and maintenance, with three main online donation options for individuals: $50, $100 or $200. It also hosts an annual fundraiser, with tickets starting at $75 a person.

According to Friends of the Waterfront’s 2017 report, the nonprofit raised $37,663 last year.

While the nonprofit doesn’t turn down donations, Moss said the subcommittee is looking at the possibility of adding donor levels at the $10 and $25 for people who want to give but have limited disposable income, or even have a way to encourage people to give a couple of dollars.

The subcommittee also is looking at other parks, including the High Line in New York City. The Friends of the High Line allows people to donate any amount online or buy merchandise, and, for those who can’t or don’t want to give money, there is an option to help with upkeep.

Moss also encouraged people to send their own ideas to WDC.

“We are open to any ideas if anybody from the community has ideas. I mean we are not the owner of all great concepts and we are open to anything,” she said. “We just want to make sure we maintain the park accessibility for everyone and really look at the future.”