The role of public/private partnerships in the management of public lands
A public-private partnership (PPP) is defined as a joint effort by government and the private sector for the management, operation, and funding of a venture or service. Increasingly, government has looked to the private sector for financial support and the streamlining of processes as concerns about the public debt have risen and priorities for spending have narrowed. The users and “customers” of a public good often have a stake in the way it is managed, especially in the case of parkland, which has the ability to dramatically affect the property values surrounding it, either positively or negatively. Therefore a PPP may have many purposes: as a fundraising mechanism, as an advocate for stakeholders, and as a promoter for programming for the attainment of educational and recreational goals. Ultimately, the role of the PPP is to be a liaison, knitting together the resources bestowed upon the public by the government entity with those of the less regulated private world. This study investigates both the challenges of forming a partnership that protects the public interest as well as the factors that are critical to forming a “successful” partnership. An examination of what led to the rise of public/private partnerships historically is included as well as the business models and mission statements of contemporary lead organizations at both the national and local level. In order to gain an in-depth understanding of the complexities of these partnerships, I individually interviewed professionals from both the public and private sides who have had careers in public land acquisition and management. Their viewpoints provide enriching details and reveal several common themes. Subjects were asked about the benefits of creating PPPs and how those benefits have been distributed, and what factors have contributed to successful PPPs. Furthermore, they reflected on tensions that have arisen within these partnerships. And finally they were asked about their overarching philosophies regarding government’s responsibility to its constituency versus the interests of the private sector. The report reveals that there is no set formula to be followed step by step in the creation and subsequent evolution of a public/private partnership, though certain principles emerge as essential components of a strong and effective organization. These are: having a clear understanding of the partnership’s misson and goals, being flexible and getting creative, making friends with everyone, and courting the local population who live around the parkland. Because there are several of these partnerships being formed to support parks in San Antonio, Texas at the time of this report, I placed emphasis on local statistics and anecdotes while compiling the opinions of area experts who have a long history of activism in this region. It is my intent that the findings reported herein provide some guidance for the future leadership of these local organizations in the context of local issues.