Central Park Conservancy

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Central Park Conservancy
Motto Central to the Park
Founded 1980 (1980)
Founder Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
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Area served
Central Park
Key people
Douglas Blonsky (President & CEO)
US$352 million
Expenses US$58.3 million
Endowment US$690 million
Website centralparknyc.org
Formerly called
Central Park Task Force, Central Park Community Fund
An aerial view of Central Park

The Central Park Conservancy is a private, nonprofit organization that manages Central Park under a contract with the City of New York and NYC Parks. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of dedicated civic and philanthropic leaders, the Conservancy has invested more than $600 million toward the restoration and enhancement of Central Park and is considered a model for urban park management worldwide. With contributions from Park-area residents, corporations and foundations, the Conservancy provides 85 percent of the Park’s $42.4 million annual Parkwide expense budget and is responsible for all basic care of the 843-acre park.


The Great Lawn, before renovations as a barren dustbowl in the late 1970s...
... and after renovations, vibrant and filled with visitors

The Conservancy was born out of community concern during the Park’s rapid decline in the 1970s. New York City’s financial and social crisis left America’s first major urban public space virtually abandoned – a dustbowl that residents came to view as a dangerous, crime-ridden space. The Park had deteriorated so badly that some advocated handing it over to the National Park Service. Many advocacy groups had been working separately to improve conditions in Central Park. Two of them – the Central Park Task Force and the Central Park Community Fund – were trying to address management concerns and improve physical conditions in the Park. The Central Park Task Force was led by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, an urban planner, writer and civic activist; the Central Park Community Fund was founded by Richard Gilder and George Soros.

The Fund commissioned a management study, led by Columbia University Professor E.S. Savas, which concluded that in order for the Park to be better managed it needed a single and unpaid individual employed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to oversee its daily operations. It also recommended the establishment of a private, citizen-based board that would advise the overseeing individual. The suggestions of the Savas report were supported by Mayor Edward I. Koch's Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis, and in 1979 the city established the Office of Central Park Administrator and appointed Elizabeth "Betsy" Barlow Rogers as the first Central Park Administrator. Rogers maintained that Central Park was a cultural institution, no different than the city's renowned museums and performance venues. Backed by the suggestions made in the Savas report, she proposed following in the footsteps of those institutions by establishing a private board to help support the Park.

In 1980, the Central Park Task Force and the Central Park Community Fund joined together to form the not-for-profit Central Park Conservancy, a public-private partnership created to bring private resources to the public Park, as a result of a need for"something permanent and nonpolitical, not subject to changes when a commissioner or mayor leaves office; but also something that was accountable to the public and that worked in partnership with the city."[1]

In the Conservancy's first year, the Dairy (which was originally designed as a refreshment stand and rest spot) was transformed into the Park's first visitors center, with the Conservancy using it to revitalize public interest in the Park through exhibits, music series and children’s programs. The Conservancy quickly restored many landscapes. It founded its Women’s Committee in 1983 after the success of the first Frederick Law Olmsted (FLO) Awards Luncheon at Tavern on the Green, which raised $172,000 for the organization. By the following year, the Chess & Checkers House and Frisbee Hill had been restored; thousands of shrubs and flowers asserted the Park as a horticultural showpiece. To tend to those plants, more than 1,900 volunteers contributed more than 4,000 hours of work in the Park. The Conservancy launched its first fundraising campaign in 1986, mapping out a 15-year restoration plan that sought to remain true to the original design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Over the next several years, Campaign for the Central Park Conservancy restored landmarks in the southern part of the Park – Bethesda Terrace, Grand Army Plaza, Shakespeare Garden and Cedar Hill. By 1988, Conservancy volunteers logged more than 13,000 hours in the Park, with the organization’s volunteer program winning a citation for excellence from the White House.

In the early 1990s, the Conservancy announced a $50 million Capital Campaign to focus on improvements to the northern end of the Park, culminating on its single most ambitious landscape restoration in 1996; renovations continued through the early 2000s.

Fall foliage in southern Central Park

Though they operated under a memorandum of understanding as a public-private partnership for 18 years, the Conservancy and the City of New York did not formalize its management agreement until 1998 under the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The city would retain control over major policy decisions about the Park as well as the enforcement of rules and laws within it, with the Conservancy responsible for day-to-day maintenance and operations.[2] The Conservancy’s original contract with the City was renewed in 2006.[3] Under the eight-year agreement, the Conservancy receives an annual fee for services, an amount determined by a formula that requires the Conservancy to raise and spend a specified minimum amount of private funds in the Park on an annual basis. The minimum Conservancy annual expenditure – which can include maintenance, programming, and landscape improvements – is $5 million. The annual fee from the City depends on the Conservancy’s expenditures in the Park and the revenues generated by concessions in Central Park. The current contract maintains the city’s baseline allocation for the maintenance of the Park, but it lifts the cap on the amount of funding the Conservancy receives based on concession revenues generated in the Park. Under the previous contract, the Conservancy received an amount equal to 50 percent of concession revenues beyond the first $6 million generated in the Park, not to exceed $2 million.

On October 23, 2012, hedge fund manager John A. Paulson announced a $100 million gift to the Central Park Conservancy, the largest ever monetary donation to New York City’s park system.[4]

Park maintenance and visitor programs

Today, Conservancy crews care for 250 acres of lawns, 21,500 trees, 150 acres of lakes and streams, and 130 acres of woodlands. The Conservancy’s staff installs hundreds of thousands of plantings annually, including bulbs, shrubs, flowers, and trees. They maintain 9,000 benches, 26 ballfields, and 21 playgrounds and are responsible for the preservation of 55 sculptures and monuments, and 36 bridges. Conservancy crews remove graffiti within 24 hours and collect more than 2,000 tons of trash a year.

The Conservancy encourages the public to take advantage of Central Park’s educational opportunities, viewing it as the city’s largest outdoor classroom. Each year, the Conservancy provides education, recreation and volunteer programs for visitors of all ages. There are also six centers in the Park that provide visitor services: Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, North Meadow Recreation Center, Belvedere Castle, Dairy Visitor Center & Gift Shop and Chess & Checkers House.


The Conservancy has been led by four presidents over its history. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, who helped found the Conservancy, was its first and longest-serving. She stepped down in 1996 after 16 years. Karen H. Putnam, who worked as the Conservancy’s development director, took over the post that same year. She resigned in 2000, after completing the projects slated under the Wonder of New York capital campaign. The following year, Regina S. Peruggi took on the role, leaving her position as president of Marymount Manhattan College. Peruggi stepped down three years later. Since then, Central Park Administrator Douglas Blonsky has held the post, the first to serve the dual role of Administrator and Conservancy President. The presidency was not Blonsky's first role in the Conservancy; he had originally been hired as construction supervisor for the Park in 1985 by Barlow.[5]

Much of the Conservancy's success is credited to its revolutionary zone-management system, which divides the Park into territories managed by individual supervisors who are held accountable for their zone's condition. Today, the Park has 49 zones managed by “zone gardeners” who work with volunteers and specialty crews to maintain their designated landscapes; in this system "if somebody is slacking off, it is apparent and apparent quickly", according to Blonsky.[6] The Conservancy has also received many honors for its success. Along with three other organizations, it was honored in 2001 with the Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections by The American Institute for Conservation and Artistic Works and Heritage Preservation. In 2008, the American Planning Association named Central Park one of the 2008 Great Public Spaces in America. The association described the Park as “arguably the most emulated park in the country” and cited it as “an exemplary public space that successfully maintains a large naturalistic landscape in the midst of one of the densest cities in the country.”[7]


  1. Private Money Is Keeping Central Park Healthy. Andrew L. Yarrow, The New York Times, October 29, 1990 (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CEFDE1038F93AA15753C1A966958260)
  2. City Offers Private Group Contract to Maintain Central Park.Douglas Martin, The New York Times September 6, 1997 (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D07E1D61030F935A3575AC0A961958260)
  3. James Barron, "Sweeter Deal for Managing Central Park". The New York Times, April 30, 2006. Retrieved June 10, 2014
  4. Lisa W. Foderaro (2012-10-23). "A $100 Million Thank-You for a Lifetime's Central Park Memories". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-10-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Nurturing the People Who Help Central Park.Joseph Berger, The New York Times, November 11, 2004(http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/11/nyregion/11profile.html?scp=1&sq=Nurturing%20the%20People%20who%20help%20central%20park&st=cse)
  6. Nurturing the People Who Help Central Park. Joseph Berger, The New York Times, November 11, 2004 (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/11/nyregion/11profile.html?scp=1&sq=Nurturing%20the%20People%20who%20help%20central%20park&st=cse
  7. Great Places in America: Public Spaces. The American Planning Association (http://www.planning.org/greatplaces/spaces/2008/centralpark.htm)
  • Cedar Miller, Sara and Roux, Jean-Paul. Central Park, An American Masterpiece:A Comprehensive History of the Nation's First Urban Park. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8109-3946-2.

External links