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New law lets D.C. better manage federally controlled parks via cooperative partnerships

Plans are in the works to renovate downtown’s Franklin Square Park, and others could eventually follow

Franklin Square Park in downtown D.C.
TJ Brown/Shutterstock

With the president’s signature on a sweeping congressional lands bill on Tuesday, D.C. can enter cooperative management agreements with the National Park Service (NPS) to update, operate, and maintain federally controlled parks in the city. This means long-neglected D.C. parks—such as Franklin Square Park in downtown Washington—may see big improvements.

NPS currently owns most neighborhood parks in the District. This includes Franklin Square Park, which local officials have sought to rehabilitate for years. That can now take place with full legal clarity, per D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. “Congress never adequately funds the nation’s many federal parks,” she says in a statement. “Considering that our neighborhood parks, though most are NPS controlled, are central to neighborhood life and enjoyment, this bill will allow the city to tap [both] local and private funds to help renew our precious parks.”

The DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID) will serve as the private operations and maintenance partner for Franklin Square Park. In a statement on Tuesday, the group’s president, Neil Albert, hailed the news as a “major milestone for the District of Columbia.”

Originally, Norton proposed a stand-alone piece of legislation on cooperative management agreements between D.C. and NPS. It passed in the House but did not make it to the Senate floor last Congress. That changed this year, in the new Congress, when both the Senate and the House passed the federal lands package containing Norton’s earlier bill, drawing praise from District leaders. Franklin Square Park is about five acres large and in a central location.

This post has been updated with comment from the DowntownDC BID.