Heinz Endowments approves $500K grant for Pittsburgh parks


The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has secured a $500,000 grant toward a goal of raising $10 million annually in private donations to match a tax increase approved Tuesday by city voters for park improvements.

The Heinz Endowments approved the grant before the vote, according to spokesman John Ellis.

Ellis said the $500,000 Heinz Endowment grant will go to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy once city council approves a plan for the way the money should be used.

City residents during Tuesday’s general election approved a ballot referendum calling for 0.5-mill property tax increase that would be used exclusively to fund park improvements.

The tax increase would cost property owners $50 for every $100,000 of assessed value. It is expected to raise about $10 million annually that would be administered through a city trust fund. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, which spearheaded the initiative, has promised to raise matching funds through private donations, according to Jayne Miller, the conservancy’s president and CEO.

In an interview Wednesday, Miller declined to say whether the conservancy has any other charitable commitments. She said the organization has consistently raised private money for park funding and donations have increased in recent years.

“The history of our organization is that we’ve raised $126 million over 20 years and on average over the last 10 years we’ve raised $7.8 million,” she said. “That’s almost $8 million. My goal is that we will work to achieve a $10 million total. I think given our history, we will be able to continue to raise matching dollars.”

Mayor Bill Peduto, who supported the initiative, has promised a park within a 10-minute walk of every home in the city. He said the parks face a $400 million funding gap in deferred maintenance and improvements and an annual $13 million shortfall in maintenance funds. The city, he said, cannot afford to make necessary improvements alone.

Peduto said better parks would make the city a desirable place to live, improve conditions in poor neighborhoods that have been neglected for years and beef up quality of life.

The city has 165 parks, including the Emerald, Frick, Highland, Riverview and Schenley regional parks, that receive annual funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District. RAD funding comes from one-half of the proceeds from the 1% sales tax in Allegheny County, collected in addition to the 6% state sales tax.

Under the plan, the parks would remain city property and Pittsburgh would share management responsibilities through an agreement with the conservancy. Council would have oversight of all money expended from the trust fund.

All parks would be eligible for funding, but those with the most needs will receive the first attention

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter