A new draft plan could dramatically alter aspects of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, including adding new sites, buildings and infrastructure at a $265 million price tag.
The gardens and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas’s Master Plan committee presented the final plan that detailed the next 20 years of development after gathering input from committee, staff and the general public. Tary Arterburn and Andrew Duggan, principals from Dallas landscape architecture firm Studio Outside, led the presentation.
The development plan would cost about $265 million in total over the next 20 years, said Patrick Newman, the chief executive officer of Fort Worth Botanic Garden and the institute.
The institute took over management of the gardens from the city of Fort Worth in June 2020 as part of a public-private partnership, or an agreement between a government and private group to run a public amenity. Since then, the garden has reported higher attendance numbers and lower contributions from the city to its annual budget.
Development will take place in phases addressing different parts of the gardens, beginning with priority projects such as the Family Garden, parking infrastructure, the University Drive entrance and the Herbaceous Color Garden.
“The Family Garden is a huge change, and we will see a lot more children at the Botanic Gardens because of this,” Newman said.“We have already begun the schematic design and started fundraising – we hope the project takes off quickly.”
Phase 1B will increase parking infrastructure to accommodate an expected increase in visitors. There are plans to build a compact three-level parking garage near Trail Drive that would add a total of 323 spaces, according to the master plan presentation.
The parking garage would display green rooftop designs and provide overflow parking for Dickies Arena, just down the road from the gardens, said Michael Bennett, principal and CEO of Bennett Partners.
The current parking lots will be expanded to accommodate more visitor parking. After construction, there will be a total of 942 parking spaces between the garage and expanded lots, compared with the current 322 spaces, according to the master plan presentation.
The main entrance on University Drive will be improved to create better pedestrian and vehicle access and make the gardens safer. Newman said this was a request that garden officials heard repeatedly from the public. The proposed design has the entrance road curving to the left and curving around the expanded parking lot, according to the master plan presentation.
The gardens have also installed a rideshare location for Uber, Lyft and Trinity Metro ZIPZONE within the past few months. As more rental and venue spaces are built, garden leaders will consider other locations, Newman said.
“We rideshare a lot now, so it is important that we think about the impact of ridesharing before we start building,” said Debbie Morrison, Botanical Research Institute of Texas board member and master plan committee member. “If we advertise it correctly, we can accommodate more people and it also alleviates parking stress.”
Garden officials also plan to renovate the Moncrief Center, which will become the new entrance to the gardens. Petal-like structures will be built to greet visitors and the center will be home to a restaurant, rental spaces and meeting rooms and ticket booths. The proposed design will keep a majority of the building intact, Arterburn said.
Phase 2 will focus on the Herbaceous Color Garden, the expansive green space located in the heart of the gardens. The Herbaceous Color Garden will mix native and ornamental plants along the current green space to create a colorful outline. This phase will also revamp the current stage that is used for Concerts in the Garden.
The new stage and performance area will bring in revenue to the botanic gardens and the deliveries to the stage would conveniently come directly from the University Drive entrance, Arterburn said.
After these three phases are complete, other areas of the gardens will be renovated, including the Culinary Gardens, Education Hub and Conservatory Complex and Wetlands. After holding eight formalized public meetings over the past year, fundraising will begin to support the developments.
“The next step is getting fundraising for these development projects,” Newman said. “Our fundraising comes from public and private partnerships with the city and with private donors – the fundraising for the Family Gardens will come from 100% philanthropic private donations.”
The Family Gardens is about three years away from opening, or maybe less if fundraising efforts are successful. The Moncrief Center most likely will be done in five years because the garden has to give itself about 18 months for fundraising, Arterburn said.
However, not all voices felt heard during the planning process. The Texas Gardens Club’s headquarters is located on the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens property, but several leaders said they were not properly consulted on the development.
“I feel like we haven’t been heard in the development plans,” said Gwen DeWitt, president of the Texas Garden Clubs. “The changes are wonderful and exciting, but we have been on this campus for over 60 years. We haven’t participated in (these) planning meetings.”
According to the master plan presentation and DeWitt, the proposed Conservatory Complex and Wetlands site will be constructed near the area of the campus where the club’s headquarters is located.
“The proposed location of the (conservatory) lake is a big-time habitat, and there are hiking trails that are free to the public. Once again, we are perfectly fine with the improvements. We feel we haven’t been heard,” DeWitt said.
Newman said he regretted that the group felt they were not informed.
“This initiative is so huge and we communicated it so heavily we assumed they heard about the expansion and received that information just like any stakeholder,” Newman said. “We had eight public meetings, and we couldn’t invite certain stakeholders over others and advertised broadly through the city, our website and our mailing list.”
Newman said that after speaking with DeWitt on Aug. 31, the morning of the final draft meeting, DeWitt requested to join the garden’s mailing list.
Now that the final draft of the Master Plan has been presented, the committee will submit the plan for approval to the BRIT Board on Sept. 22, to the Park & Recreation Advisory Board on Sept. 28 and Oct. 26 and finally to the Fort Worth City Council on Nov. 28. Upcoming city meetings will be open to the public.
“The Fort Worth Botanic Gardens is not the gardens it was 10, 15 years ago – this plan respects the past but embraces the future,” said Bob Byers, the executive vice president of Fort Worth Botanic Garden. “This is my third master plan, and I’ve seen many master plans from all over the county, but I have never been involved or seen a plan like this one. I am so excited.”
Izzy Acheson is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org