Tuesday, January 18, 2022
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Council Report: Botanic Garden changes approved with controversial entrance fee beginning in 2019

🕐 4 min read

Tuesday, the Fort Worth City Council moved forward and authorized a host of recommendations made recently by the Botanic Garden Task Force. Only City Councilman Cary Moon, representing District 4, voted against the proposal.

Task Force co-chairman John Avila, CEO of Byrne Construction, said the group was seeking “to find a real balance at practicing fiscal responsibility while at the same time providing accessibility and affordability to every citizen.”

Avila said the Botanic Garden receives 52 percent of its funding from the city, while most cities with public gardens provide only 12 percent of funding.

The authorization was not, however, without some amendments following some citizens expressing concerns, particularly about the proposed new fee structure.

The amended approval includes council and staff taking a closer look at several suggested ideas, including no alterations without council approval, a possible free admission day each week to be moved around, possible time at the end of the day for free admission, and free access to Fort Worth ISD students with their student ID, all before the new charges become effective in mid-2019. The city will transfer management of the garden to a nonprofit group.

“I think we just make an amendment to not charge fees,” Moon said, suggesting the use of help from benevolent charities instead. “I’ve yet to find a single place in Fort Worth that people have a more emotional attachment than the Botanical Garden.”

District 2 Councilman Carlos Flores suggested a “more simple fee structure, so no one is overly confused.”

The strategic plan identified specific actions toward implementing the 2010 Master Plan and identified a $1.2 million annual operating shortfall. More than $15 million in capital repairs are required to maintain the status quo, and that is symptomatic of chronic underfunding, the report showed. Long-term, bond program support and significant philanthropic giving are necessary.

The recent report also showed that two-thirds of the visitors to the Garden are not residents of Fort Worth, proving the Garden is another reason folks are traveling to the city.

“We have got to do something to save this,” District 7 Councilman Dennis Shingleton said. “We have a great space over there. We have got to find a way to fund this. We have to fix this.”

Shingleton has his own special memory of Fort Worth’s Botanic Garden. It was a moment that shaped the life of him and his family several years ago.

“My wife and I went there shortly after we got here. There was some turmoil in the family, wondering if it was the right thing, me coming from active duty to Fort Worth,” he recalled. “We went there and sat and thought about it and talked. It was among the roses.”

The Task Force recommendations include:

• Establishing a general admission fee to replace the current $7 Japanese Garden and $2 Conservatory admission fees. These new fees will be $12 adults, $6 children 6-15, $10 for seniors age 65-plus, children under 5 free.

• Establishing a membership program that includes one adult for $50, $100 for a family (two adults, all children under age 18), $30 for a Lone Star (SNAP, WIC) family, $80 for dual (two adults), $200 for a contributor (family, plus one additional adult), $500 for a supporter (family plus two additional adults), and $1,000 for a sponsor (family, plus two adults, and two event tickets).

• Establishing accessibility options that will provide access for all citizens, including, along with the aforementioned memberships, Museums for All with family visits for $1 admission per adult and children under 18 free, Muse Pass, sponsored field trips, Blue Star Program, and community-based free family passes.

• Governance of the Garden being transitioned to nonprofit management group.

Infrastructure and equipment improvements will need to be completed before the admission fees and membership fees can be implemented. City staff plan to have the infrastructure and improvements completed by July 2019.

Shingleton said that while some have argued that charging the new admission fees might deter some folks from visiting, he doesn’t believe that will be the case.

“There are other, less expensive ways to visit. You’ve just got to be creative,” he said.

Following the vote, the council took a recess, during which the mayor issued this statement:

“It’s no secret that I’ve had reservations throughout this process, which is why we directed staff to revisit opportunities for free access to provide better opportunities for Fort Worth residents to access the gardens at no cost. Fort Worth residents, and certainly Fort Worth students, deserve the opportunity to visit the gardens without barriers.

“We approved a majority of the Task Force recommendations, as we must ensure the sustainability of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and effectively maximize the full potential of the Garden as a world class attraction. The reality is we need a source of revenue from the fee structure proposed by the Task Force.

“I applaud the task force for striking the difficult balance between ensuring fiscal sustainability and creating a fee structure that does not prohibit accessibility for our citizens and visitors. I am confident tonight’s decision that directs staff to look at further free entry options for Fort Worth citizens will ultimately result in innovative programming, additional educational opportunities, and superior maintenance at the gardens for generations to come.”

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