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Q and A with Chris Perri

by Mark Peres

November 6,2007

Tell us about Partners for Parks?

Partners for Parks is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group that promotes and enhances parks, greenways, open spaces and recreation in neighborhoods throughout Mecklenburg County and the surrounding region. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for citizens within the region. We fulfill our mission by advocating for green spaces and by channeling private sector support from individuals, foundations and corporations who have a passion to improve our quality of life. We mirror a foundation in that we hold and manage funds that we disperse to support different targeted projects that enhance our park system. We work closely with other like-minded groups, such as Catawba Land Conservancy and the Carolina Thread Trail initiative to support an overall private-public partnership in support of green and open spaces.

What are examples of projects that Partners for Parks has helped fund?

We’re engaged in a variety of projects that touch nearly every aspect of our park system. Examples of targeted projects include restricted funds for the Liz Hair Nature Walk, part of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, funded by the Friends of Liz Hair; the Ray’s Splash Planet Scholarship Fund that pays for admission and summer camps for local children and adults; the Memorial Tree Fund that allows citizens to gift a tree in honor of a friend or family member; the Build with a Brick Campaign that invites citizens to buy engraved bricks that help pay for greenways. We are currently managing 36 different restricted funds that target protection and enhancement of our parks and recreation.

How did Partners for Parks get started? Who’s involved with it now?

Partners for Parks was founded 10 years ago in response to a need for greater funding to support our park system. In 1996, Doug Youngblood, Brad Davis, Joe Cogdell and other former members of The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Commission launched Partners for Parks after studying other park foundation models from across the United States. The idea was to augment public monies with private donations to support our park system. Since its inception, Partners for Parks has been a 100% volunteer-run organization. We do not have paid staff or an executive director. Instead, we have a working board of directors that is representative of our community. However, we are beginning the process of raising our profile, taking on bigger projects and searching for an executive director.

What’s accounting for the new direction? What’s changed?

On March 1st of this year, on the night of our 10th year anniversary, Novare Carolinas Development, a division of Novare Group, pledged $1 million toward the proposed new park in Charlotte’s Third Ward. Novare is building condominiums beside the park. The pledge will be fulfilled once the current land-swap proposal being considered by Mecklenburg County is adopted. Partners for Parks will administer the funds. $750,000 will go to capital improvement of the park, $150,000 will go to support programs and special events at the park, and $100,000 will go to our general fund, enabling us to grow our endowment and to hire staff. The pledge, along with our own fundraising efforts, is allowing us to grow and plan new initiatives.

What are some of those plans?

One of our new initiatives is Project Hearts and Hands. Working with Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation along with support from the motor sports racing community, we plan on building a new 2-acre, custom-designed, fully handicapped-accessible, playground in Nevin Community Park off of Sunset and Statesville roads. We’re planning a “community build” from May 12-16, 2008, not unlike a Habitat for Humanity house-raising blitz, where citizens gather and construct the playground. It’s a great volunteer opportunity for people to help with food and building of the playground. We invite all those interested in participating to contact us. Our website is www.partnersforparks.org.

Many think Charlotte does not have nearly the amount of open green space that it should have. What are your thoughts?

We have a phenomenal quality of life in Charlotte. However, when we benchmark Charlotte against other comparably-sized cities, we don’t have the same number of recreation centers and dog parks and we currently lack a large central park. We have an opportunity to protect and enhance what we have by voting for the land bond in the November election. The monies will allow us to protect the Mountain Island Lake Watershed, purchase land along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway and expand nature preserves. It’s critical that we work together to create the healthy and invigorating environment we want.

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