Important Information about our Park and Riverfront 47IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT ASPINWALL RIVERFRONT PARK AND RIVERFRONT 47
To: Friends and supporters of Aspinwall Riverfront Park
From: The ARP Board of Directors
Thanks to you, Aspinwall Riverfront Park has been an extraordinary success. It took our community only two years to open part of the park and three more to create what The Post-Gazette named “one of the top five parks to see in the region.” As those of you who have been involved since the beginning can attest, we’ve set and met ambitious goals year after year.
At its core, the Park’s mission has always been to create an independent, self-sustaining community treasure and catalyst for trail expansion. That’s why the purchase of the neighboring scrapyard – 47 acres of precious riverfront land – presented an extraordinary opportunity for our Park and the surrounding communities, and it is why we support the development proposed on that site by Riverfront 47 (R47).
Among many benefits to the park, R47’s proposed development would give us a new, improved, safer and more visible entrance to the existing park, add acres of publicly accessible green space, and connect our community to miles of additional trails.
Regrettably, this plan has caused some controversy we simply did not expect. While we believe the discussion of issues is the mark of an engaged community – and we’re proud to be part of such a community - unfortunately, some the dialogue has become personal and far removed from fact. Individuals associated with the Park – our Board of Directors and Susan and Currie Crookston, who were instrumental in founding and building our Park - have been subjected to malicious comments and behavior which have no place in any debate among people of character. Personal attacks, threats and accusations are not useful or productive in achieving a fair and balanced outcome.
Given the misinformation circulating, we want to go on the record with some facts:
· Susan and Currie Crookston have never been on the Board of Directors.
· Each member of our board of directors submits a conflict of interest statement annually.
· Aspinwall Riverfront Park is audited annually.
· No member of the Board of Directors has a financial interest in Riverfront 47.
· By design, the Park’s board has always included a member of Aspinwall Council.
· The Park has no employees. In order to mitigate the Park’s risk and liability, the Crookstons formed a company to serve this function and execute board decisions.
· From 2012-2015, Aspinwall Riverfront Park paid Susan and Currie Crookston’s company Allegheny Development Partners (ADP), between $428,201 to $483,403 annually to develop the Park and operate the marina. These funds paid for the salary and benefits of 4 to 6 full-time marina employees (to operate the large, full-service marina at the Park with its repair shop, ship store, gas station, boat storage, and overnight dockage), as well as the fundraising, construction management, marketing, programming, book keeping, volunteer coordination, part-time workers, and various office and building supplies for the Park. For perspective, in the years prior to its purchase in 2011, the Aspinwall Marina alone cost over $500,000 to operate annually.
· To respond to allegations by a community member, The Post-Gazette spent several weeks investigating how and why the scrapyard was purchased as well as the Park’s finances and found no impropriety.
It is important to understand that the Crookstons began their involvement with the scrapyard next door by first unsuccessfully trying to convince them to put a trail through the property. When the scrapyard came up for sale, they spent nearly a year lobbying local nonprofits (including ARP) and foundations to purchase it and convert it wholly into a Park. This was unsuccessful because apart from the millions of dollars it would take to acquire and develop the property, it was estimated that $500,000 a year would be required just to maintain it.
Concerned that the property would be acquired for industrial use and unable to find a group willing to purchase it as a park, the Crookstons personally secured an option on the property to safeguard it. Because they did not have the money to buy the property themselves, their next step was to interview a number of commercial developers to find one that would purchase the property and commit to significantly expanding the Park and the trail system. They were introduced to award winning developers, The Mosites Company (TMC) by the Heinz Endowments. TMC was willing to make that commitment. As the controlling partner of Riverfront 47, TMC is responsible for the development of the land. The Crookstons remain involved the project as minority partners. We believe this partnership is beneficial as it ensures that someone at the table shares our values and vision for an expanded, trail-connected Park.
Having been through the process of building a park, our Board of Directors has first-hand knowledge of the challenges. We’re proud of the fact that ARP has used your contributions efficiently and effectively, developing and maintaining our Park for less cost per square foot than most parks*. Thanks to the generosity of the members of the board and foundations, we’re also planning for the future and have raised almost $1.5 million towards a $2 million endowment. But we, like other nonprofits, clearly do not have the financial wherewithal to take on this expansion, so we are pleased that a private developer is willing to work with us to achieve our vision.
We’re also proud of the support we’ve received from the Aspinwall community and Council’s openness to objectively deliberate the proposed Eastern Entrance. We want to make it clear that R47 presents the best opportunity for the rapid expansion of the regional trail system. We want additional parkland and a trail to the City which will be completed quickly.
Eastern Avenue will not be the primary access into R47. It will be a beautiful, safe entrance into the Park, that you can actually see from the road. A narrow road will run from the Park’s parking lot on the upper portion of the Park along the train tracks that will allow those who enter the park to continue towards R47 to access additional parkland and the riverfront trail that heads towards Millvale. In addition, our current 8.3 acre park will net 2.27 acres of additional green space, nearly 2 of those acres on the water. We can’t wait.
We are grateful for your ongoing support and look forward to continuing to discuss our position on any issues associated with this project. Thank you very much for your commitment to our mission.
* According to Environmental Planning and Design, ARP cost $8/square foot to develop. In comparison, Cliffside Park and Point State Park cost $16/sq.ft.; Southshore $28/sq.ft.; Mon Wharf $61/sq.ft.