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Botanic Garden Task Force FAQs

Posted Nov. 12, 2018 | Last updated Nov. 13, 2018

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In the past few weeks, there have been some questions about the Botanic Garden Task Force and the recommendations that they presented to the City Council. Here are some answers to some of the more frequent questions.

Who was on the Task Force?

The Task Force included community members who have an interest in the Botanic Garden. The previously appointed strategic planning committee was made up of three representatives from the Fort Worth Botanical Society and three representatives from the Fort Worth Garden Club. It also included a representative from BRIT, Texas Garden Clubs, the Park & Recreation Advisory Board, Botanic Garden staff and city staff.

Did the task force get input from the public?

Three public meetings were held in 2016 during the strategic plan, followed by a public meeting in May 2018 where the task force received input from more than 60 residents. They also developed a website and video to provide information to the public. All public documents were posted on the website and residents could provide input through email or at the public meetings. The consultant team also met with individuals to obtain additional input. All of this input was shared with the Task Force.

What is the new proposed admission fee for the Botanic Garden?

A task force has recommended a general admission fee for the Fort Worth Botanic Garden that would help improve the visitor experience at the 85-year-old garden. The task force, made up of Fort Worth residents and stakeholders, recommended charging $12 for adult admission, $6 for children 6-15 and $10 for senior citizens; children under 6 would be free. For frequent visitors, annual passes will range from $50 for individuals to $100 for families, with additional options for people who want to support further. These admission fees would replace the fee currently being charged for the Japanese Garden and the Conservatory. If approved, the fees would go into effect in the summer of 2019.

What if someone can’t afford the admission fee? Shouldn’t the Botanic Garden be open to everyone?

The task force also recommended a number of programs that would help ensure the popular amenity remains available to all:

  • Lone Star Card discounts (SNAP/WIC Card) - This card will provide a discounted annual family membership for $30, or $2.50 per month. The membership includes reciprocal admission to other gardens. The Museums4All program allows family visits for $1 admission per adult member; children under 18 enter for free.
  • MusePass - This pass allows families to get free passes through the Fort Worth Public Library branches, including the option to check them out electronically.
  • Sponsored field trips - The Botanic Garden will offer sponsored third-grade field trips for FWISD schools. Each student will receive one free family pass so that they can bring their family to the Garden on another day.
  • Blue Star Program - Active military members and their families will receive free admission Memorial Day through Labor Day.
  • Community-based free family passes - Free family admission vouchers would be distributed to locations that specialize in meeting the needs of underserved populations.

Why does the Botanic Garden need the extra income from an entrance fee?

Over the years, the Botanic Garden has continued to fall behind in routine maintenance and repairs because of a lack of funding. Many of the features at the Garden are currently closed because of safety issues and broken infrastructure. Today we have more than $15 million in capital repairs. The additional income from an entrance fee and memberships would allow the Garden to make the needed repairs and make sure that the entire facility is open to visitors. In addition, there is an annual shortfall of $1.2 million to properly care for and program the Garden, despite the city’s $3 million annual operating subsidy.

Why can’t the city pay for all the maintenance and repairs?

Today the city pays more than 53 percent of the total budget of the Botanic Garden with taxpayer money. When the task force looked at the operating budgets of other facilities that were similar to our Botanic Garden, they found that most were funded by memberships, gifts and admission fees. Most received less than 12 percent from taxpayers and local government support. The task force determined that a broad-based funding approach utilizing city funding, enhanced generated revenues and bond funding should be used to address current deferred maintenance needs and assure adequate operational funding to prevent future maintenance and programmatic shortfall.

Why can’t we just hold more events to raise the funding or market the Garden more?

Events cost money and are generally considered a success if they break even or turn a slight profit. Rather, events are intended to generate attendance, provide community traditions and increase awareness that leads to memberships and gifts. Further, marketing of a facility without a general admission actually results in greater operating costs without necessary resources to care for and staff the facility.

Why can’t we ask for more philanthropic support?

Philanthropic support will be a critical component of future improvements to the Garden. However, donors are reluctant to fund ongoing operational costs and capital maintenance since it implies an unsustainable business model.

Why can’t we just include the Garden in the next bond program?

Debt service is supported by the taxpayers of the city, so it is not a free solution. Inclusion in future bond programs is also one of the multi-pronged solutions recommended by the task force to address the capital needs of the Garden.

The Botanic Garden is just for Fort Worth residents, so why should we have to pay to visit?

During the research done by the task force, they actually found that two-thirds of the visitors to the Botanic Garden are not residents of Fort Worth, which is good for the city’s economic health. The admission fee would allow the visitors from Fort Worth and out of town to help with the maintenance and improvement of the Garden. In addition, it will encourage Fort Worth residents to become members who provide sustaining support of the Garden.

If you have an admission fee you will be making it more difficult for low-income residents, many of whom are minorities.

The statistics show that 65 percent of the current visitors to the Botanic Garden identify as white and Caucasian and only 20 percent of visitors have household incomes of less than $50,000. This shows that we aren’t proportionally reaching the lower-income and minority populations with our current practice of not charging an entrance fee. The Botanic Garden, in partnership with BRIT, is committed to increasing the outreach and programming to bring more minority families to the facility. This increased programming, along with the programs for reduced admission costs, will allow the Garden to expand and improve our visits from our minority populations.

I like the charm of the Botanic Garden the way it is now. I don’t want it to become too commercial.

The current plans for the Botanic Garden will retain all of those things that we love about the Garden, but will also allow needed improvements and maintenance. It will also allow the staff and volunteers to implement new areas and programs. Any physical changes to the Garden must be approved by the City Council. Some of the improvements that are currently being discussed include:

  • Renovating the Conservatory.
  • Improving Circulation and parking throughout the park.
  • Teaching Gardens.
  • Expanding culinary displays and a teaching kitchen.
  • Introducing a new Trail Garden.
  • Renovating the West Vista.
  • Developing a new North Texas Dry Landscape.
  • Designing and building a Children’s Garden.

Why can’t we just wait and not do anything right now?

Doing nothing is not an option. If we don’t do something to address the current maintenance issues, we risk the rest of the garden disappearing like the Fragrance Garden. We need some immediate support through memberships, admission fees and philanthropic gifts. We will then combine this with long-term funding options like bond program support and significant philanthropic giving in order to achieve the full potential.

Are we privatizing the Garden with the proposal to partner with a nonprofit for management of the Garden?

The Task Force recommended that the city explore options to engage in a management contract with a nonprofit organization. This will encourage donor support and also provide nimble, focused management. Through the contract, which will be presented to the Park Board and the City Council in the future, the city will maintain authority over the operations, fees and any other key terms. The current partner under consideration is the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, which offers an extraordinary partnership opportunity with overlapping missions. The city will ensure that appropriate diverse representation is implemented in any final Board structure.

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