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As the overhaul of the McKinley Park Rose garden nears its May completion date, a neighborhood group is preparing to take control of the garden and events in the park – along with the profit and benefits that go with it.
To date, the city has spent nearly $300,000 on refurbishing and upgrading the popular East Sacramento rose garden, including irrigation system improvements, new walkways and benches and a new entry sign.
The City Council unanimously voted in favor of a five-year license agreement Tuesday between the city of Sacramento and local nonprofit organization Friends of East Sacramento for maintenance and control of the McKinley Park Rose Garden.
The group will also assume responsibility for marketing and managing all events at the garden, such as weddings and family gatherings – and they will be entitled to all revenue from those events.
City Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy said the agreement represented a complete surrender of the city’s interest in the garden – something Sheedy said she did not think was wise.
“I think there is something wrong when we do a renovation of this magnitude and then hand it over to someone else to take care of,” Sheedy said. “We are giving away everything – the next thing is we’ll be giving away the entire Parks Department and I don’t want to see that happen.”
Jim Combs, Parks and Recreation Department director, told council members Tuesday that this is a good opportunity for the city to work with a local neighborhood association to accomplish something the city hasn’t been able to do.
“We’ve suffered a loss of over 80 percent of our maintenance program in the past few years,” Combs said, “and to be frank with you, we’re not doing a good job of maintaining that rose garden.”
Combs reassured the council that the agreement states that proceeds from events would have to be funneled back into the maintenance and operation of the garden to "maximize use" of the space.
Lisa Schmidt, a member of the Friends of East Sacramento, said Wednesday they are just a group of neighbors trying to help.
“Our point here is not to make this a profit center,” Schmidt said. “We’re trying to make it an ‘equal-equal’ – we just want to break even so the garden is maintained.”
In January, City Councilman Steve Cohn and Mayor Kevin Johnson announced that the Friends of East Sacramento had raised more than $45,000 to keep the Clunie Community Center open despite city budget constraints.
The Clunie Center is located in McKinley Park near the 85 year-old rose garden.
The length of the new lease agreement will be for an initial term of five years, with three opportunities to extend the term for additional five-year periods – up to a total of 20 years.
City Councilman Rob Fong said he felt a 20-year agreement with the nonprofit group was too lengthy.
“As it reads now, they can just give us notice if they don’t want to continue, but otherwise it’s a one-way agreement,” Fong said. “We don’t have any ability to agree to or deny any extensions. That feels like a 20-year contract, not five years.”
Cecily Hastings, co-founder of the Friends of East Sacramento, said Wednesday that reducing the term length of the agreement could be a deal-breaker for the donors the group has lined up to invest in the garden.
“They want to have (a term of) at least 10 years to protect their investment,” Hastings said. “Without that, they could walk away and we’d have nothing.”
The City Council ultimately voted to approve the original lease agreement with the exception that renewal terms are not automatic but must be mutually agreed on by the nonprofit organization and the City Council.
The garden has been a popular place for weddings over the years and was closed for eight months during reconstruction.
The rose garden is slated to reopen in early May, according to Cohn.
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.