Shortly after the nonprofit Botanical Research Institute of Texas took over management of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden from city staff, garden leaders decided to re-examine the future of their 120-acre campus.
On Feb. 14, more than two years after the 2020 transition, Fort Worth City Council members approved a 20-year master plan charting a new course for the garden.
The blueprint is the culmination of eight listening sessions with community members and countless hours of behind-the-scenes work by a 24-member committee, said Patrick Newman, CEO of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, or BRIT.
“We’re absolutely thrilled that we’re at this point, that it’s now complete in terms of planning,” Newman said. “Now we get to start the next phase, which is implementing this thing and starting to make significant changes, additions and serious preservation efforts in some of the historical parts of the garden.”
First unveiled in August, the new master plan envisions three phases of improvements over the next two decades. Overall, leaders expect a price tag of about $265 million, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage.
The first phase will include construction of a family garden, 900-plus new parking spaces and a more pedestrian- and vehicle-accessible entrance off University Drive. BRIT is wrapping up the schematic design process for the family garden and will begin developing construction contracts later this year, Newman said. Construction could begin as soon as late 2024 or early 2025.
BRIT is in a strong financial position to invest in new projects and lead fundraising campaigns that will bring in more philanthropic dollars, Newman said.
For example, officials expect the family garden to be entirely funded by private donations. The family garden will also generate a significant increase in paid memberships – additional revenue that could be used to support the next phase of the master plan, Newman said.
For Newman, his confidence in the garden’s finances stems from the success of the public-private partnership between the city of Fort Worth and the institute, which allows a private group to run an amenity owned by the government. Since BRIT staff took over management duties in October 2020, the garden has reported higher attendance numbers and less city funds going toward its budget.
“We established a national example of what a very, very effective public-private partnership looks like,” he said. “Combine that with a community that is excited. When members of our team roll this out and we talk about improving the entrance, a family garden or dedicated space for concerts and outdoor performances, we’ve been in rooms where people literally applaud.”
Future phases of the master plan will include renovations to the Moncrief Center, creating room for a restaurant, rental space, meeting rooms and ticket booths. Next up will be the construction of a Herbaceous Color Garden, mixing native and ornamental plants in the heart of the campus.
That garden will include a new stage and performance area designed to bring in new revenue. From there, officials anticipate building a culinary garden, trail system, education hub and conservatory complex and wetlands.
The garden’s previous master plan, prepared in 2010, envisioned moving public entry and primary guest services to the campus’ south end and building more facilities on the east side. While officials successfully renovated the Rose Garden and original Rock Springs Gardens, officials didn’t acquire the land necessary to achieve other significant goals, according to the master plan’s website.
The 2010 plan relied heavily on public investment and was a little light on producing private dollars to fund improvements, Newman said. Strong community support – and the garden’s efforts to diversify its membership through celebrations of Black, Hispanic and Asian heritage – should make the new master plan more successful, he added.
“As we went through the process of bringing these two organizations together, we really did have to learn to listen and that has informed how we move forward with a lot of our community engagement,” Newman said. “That will be a big part of the success of this master plan. We spent a lot of time listening to learn.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at email@example.com.
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