Strategic Plan: Council hears of needs, fee idea for Botanic Garden

Botanic Garden

Is an admission price in the future for the Fort Worth Botanic Garden? That question could be answered by the Fort Worth City Council in the near future.

In its pre-council meeting on Sept. 20, the council heard a presentation from Richard Zavala, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, along with Rick Daley of St. Louis-based EMD Consulting Group. The focus was a strategic plan centered on repair and improvements needed for the garden and the possibility of an admission fee.

Currently, the garden is free except for the Japanese Garden and the Conservatory. Those two exhibits charge $9 for adults, and the Conservatory is closed for repairs.

Daley said the garden needs $15 million for infrastructure, along with about $1.5 million annually for staffing.

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“Glass is falling out of the Conservatory. It’s not safe to be in there,” Daley told the council.

The council is expected to vote on the strategic plan in an coming meeting, perhaps as soon as the next council meeting, Sept. 27.

Daley said one plan for funding is to ask taxpayers. However, he said that is not his ideal solution.

“It won’t drive philanthropy and drive support,” he said. “Fort Worth can have one of the great gardens of this country, if not the world.

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“Look at what the Stock Show does. Look at what the public-private partnership has done there.”

Daley displayed a benchmark comparison of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden:

* Acres – Dallas 66, Fort Worth 110

* Budget – Dallas $16 million, Fort Worth $4.3 million

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* City contribution – Dallas $400,000, Fort Worth $2.5 million

* Estimated annual attendance – Dallas 750,000, Fort Worth 500,000 (Fort Worth’s numbers are very unofficial because of numerous entrances here.)

* Members – Dallas 40,000, Fort Worth 1,400

* Admission – Dallas $18 adults, Fort Worth free/$9 adults to Japanese Garden and Conservatory

Daley noted that the city of Fort Worth ranks highest among the major cities he listed in financial help provided to its garden, contributing 58 percent of the facility’s budget. Comparisons showed Brooklyn, Chicago and Denver at 32 percent each and New York City at 19 percent. Daley suggested reorganizing support groups and creating a friends organization focused on fundraising. Along with that, he recommended replacing the “piecemeal” admission with a general admission that covers all parts of the garden.

“It’s much better, much fairer to have an admission charge,” he said. “It is what drives membership.”

In evaluating what the garden has to offer, Daley said, “There are a lot of great things, but it could be so much better.”

Then he asked the council and visitors to “Imagine a garden that serves people all year-round.”

Daley suggested the Botanic Garden could host such activities as a tulip festival, pumpkin festival and light shows in the winter. He also recommended such additions as a children’s garden.

He also suggested the addition of a pedestrian-friendly tram.

“We want to make it more of a gardenesque environment,” Daley said.

“This jewel is far, far too important to us as a city,” District 7 council member Dennis Shingleton said.

Mayor Betsy Price recalled her days as child growing up less than a mile from the garden. She remembered taking her own children there.

“The rock garden is great. When I was 5 or 6 it used to be the best place in the world to catch tadpoles,” she said.

“It was a place I went with my small children on a regular basis,” District 9 Council Member Ann Zadeh said.

But not all council members were warm to the idea of charging an admission, or at least they wanted to look a little deeper into the idea.

“If we focus on one group and leave out another, we’re creating divisiveness,” said District 8 Council Member Kelly Allen Gray. “Everybody is not in position to do that, and I want to make sure the gardens are available to everybody.”

To which the mayor added, “As a young child, my parents wouldn’t have paid for the four of us.”

The mayor suggested a further study of who is visiting the garden before fees are assessed.

“Clearly a guiding principle is going to be accessibility to the public,” Zavala said.

District 5 Council Member Gyna Bivens suggested using Metroplex media to bring attention to the Botanic Garden, which could help bring support. She said that while work needs to be done, there are still parts of the garden that can be highlighted for such things as weather reports, for example. She said local celebrities endorsing the Dallas Arboretum helped there and could do the same for the Fort Worth garden.

“Let’s not wait until we get perfect to have this kind of outreach,” Bivens said.

Stock Show update

Brad Barnes, president and general manager of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, gave an update on facility renovations at the Sept. 20 pre-council meeting. The 2017 show is scheduled for Jan. 13-Feb. 4.

He noted the completion of Phase 1, which includes Cattle Barn 2 and the Tower Promenade. Phase 2, which is in construction, includes Cattle Barn 1 and the small animal/poultry area. Phase 3 features sheep and swine buildings, while Phases 4 and 5 include Cattle Barns 3 and 4.

Barnes noted that the 2016 Stock Show drew about 1.25 million attendees.

Arts update

Jennifer Casler Price, a member of the Fort Worth Art Commission and Martha Peters, vice president of the Arts Council of Fort Worth, presented the Fort Worth Public Art Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Work Plan to the council.

Casler Price announced the 15th Anniversary Celebration of Public Art in Fort Worth will be held Oct. 23 from 2-4 p.m. at the Fort Worth Convention Center, Water Gardens Plaza.

Public art projects in progress, Casler Price said, include Meacham Airport, Precinct Line Road, East Main Urban Village and the East Police Division on East Lancaster.

“I’m so thankful to have public art make up part of the landscape that makes up our beautiful city,” she said.

Peters reviewed the budget, highlighting several projects, including the continuation of a goal for an iconic artwork for the city. She cited Chicago’s Cloud Gate as a prime example of a piece of art helping identify a city, and said the search is on for such a piece of art and location for Fort Worth.

She said $250,000 is being added to the ongoing funding for the project, which will bring the total to $2,265,700 since 2013. This includes a 2014 bond program in the amount of $1,415,700.

Peters also reviewed projects in need of funding to finish. Topping the list is a pedestrian bridge made of wood and supported by steel cables on the Westcreek Boulevard meridian, needing about $128,000.

Other projects still in progress and approximate funding still needed to finish include:

*A pair of traffic signal boxes on East Lancaster, $4,000.

*Plaza Circle Community Identification, Phase 2, Early Settlers Plaques, $6,000.

*Interstate 30 bridge at Walsh Ranch, $8,000.

*River Heritage Park, $9,000.

*Avenue of Light, Lancaster Avenue (landscape lighting), $25,000.

*Intimate Apparel and Pearl Earrings exhibit, Fort Worth Convention Center, recommended motorized winch for raising and lowering, $45,000.

*Support work for the Flora and Fauna mural at Fire Station 34, $30,000.

Council notes

*The council approved a resolution to appoint eight members to the board of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. They are Jeff Davis, Dennis Dunkins, Nick Genua, Jeff King, Scott Mahaffey, Andre McEwing, Ken Newell and Neftali Ortiz.

*The council adopted a resolution to apply for financial assistance from the Texas Water Development Board for $17 million for sanitary sewer rehabilitation throughout the city to eliminate overflows at various locations.

*The council adopted a resolution to conduct a public hearing and designate the Parks and Recreation Department to work with the Texas Park and Wildlife Department in participating in the Local Park Grant Program. The city will apply for a $1 million grant to help develop a proposed site in north Fort Worth to be known as Alliance Park. The city has a matching share and has until Oct. 1 to make the application.