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Report: Parks net big returns

It says they are worth $1.9 billion to the city. The Park Commission's future is on the Council table.

Philadelphia's parks are worth nearly $1.9 billion annually in services, income and taxes to the city, Mayor Nutter and advocates said yesterday on the eve of a crucial City Council hearing on the future of Fairmount Park.

The Philadelphia Parks Alliance yesterday released a report by a national expert that quantifies parks' value in terms of pollution control, property values, health and tourism. It also puts a price on all the services the parks provide that residents would otherwise pay for.

"I would submit that a well-run, properly funded and focused park system . . . is priceless," Nutter said in a news conference.

Putting a price tag on the parks - from Independence National Historical Park to neighborhood gardens - sets up today's hearing on a bill by City Council members Darrell Clarke and Blondell Reynolds Brown to combine Fairmount Park with the city's Recreation Department.

Such an arrangement, which would have to be approved by voters in November, would put Fairmount Park's 9,200 acres under the mayor's control for the first time. Similar proposals have failed on a number of occasions, most recently in 2005, and were opposed by the Parks Alliance.

This time around, Nutter, an advocate of park funding as a City Councilman and who as mayor has proposed a five-year plan that includes a 46 percent increase in park funding, is backing the bill. The alliance appears ready to support it, though negotiations were ongoing yesterday on amendments to the bill.

"I am optimistic at this point," Clarke said.

The study released yesterday was the kind of exercise Nutter embraces. Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land, is the author of the study and the kind of policy wonk whom Nutter adores.

Nutter is looking for more public-private partnerships to invest in both parks and recreation. The $1.9 billion value "gets you into more of a business kind of conversation," Nutter said.

"This document backs up what many of us have talked about for a long period of time, but then puts it in black and white," Nutter added.

Harnik said the document also provides a baseline that can be revisited in future years to see if investment in the parks reaps dividends.

Harnik divided the benefits into these four categories:

Citizen cost savings (free recreation and services, increased health): $1.1 billion.

Increased citizen wealth (property values, tourist business): $729.1 million.

Tax revenue (from tourism and increased property values): $23.3 million.

Government cost savings (stormwater management, air pollution control, time and money donated by volunteers): $16.1 million.

"We think this is a huge, major enterprise," Harnik said. "We hope that these numbers and similar numbers that we generate for other cities around the country will help continue to revive, build and strengthen the city parks movement throughout the whole country."