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Fort Worth Botanic Garden won't go to non-profit for now

FORT WORTH — A long-term plan for renovating the Botanic Garden, one of the oldest and most popular parks in Fort Worth, will move forward – but only after more public input – after organizers backed away from a recommendation to turn the garden over to a non-profit group.

The issue of control of the garden – along with a possible entry fee – spawned an e-mail storm two years ago when public meetings were held on the plan, and came up again when the plan went to the city parks board for approval Wednesday.

"I wrote the plan," said James Toal, an architect who has worked on several high-profile projects. "Nowhere in this document do we mention the word fee."

Toal did suggest turning over management of the garden to a non-profit group, similar to the arrangements at the Fort Worth and Dallas zoos and other civic institutions.

However, Elaine Petrus, who led the committee that came up with the plan, said it's more likely that the non-profit groups that already support the garden will work on coordinating their efforts more closely.

"I think it would be very, very hard to privatize the garden," Petrus said.

Parks board members seemed to approve most of the plan, but delayed a vote on approving it until another public meeting can be held.

The Botanic Garden was founded in 1933 and has expanded to almost 110 acres. It's adjacent to the museum district, the Will Rogers Memorial Complex, Trinity Park and a stone's throw from the Fort Worth Zoo and the Log Cabin Village.

It's the oldest botanic garden in Texas.

Parking and access to most of the garden is free, but patrons have to pay to see two features – the Japanese Garden and the Conservatory. Three non-profit groups already support the garden – the Fort Worth Garden Club, the Fort Worth Botanical Society and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.

Toal's plan calls for acquiring six to eight acres on the western edge of the existing garden and creating a new entrance and parking lot.

The natural streams and ponds in the garden would be restored, and the central meadow – which is the site of a popular concert series in the summer – would be preserved.

Vehicle traffic would be limited throughout the park, and more paths would be built to connect the garden's features.

"While we have some beautiful areas, a lot of them are not linked together very well," Toal said.

There's no timeline for carrying out the plan, and there's no funding identified, Parks Director Richard Zavala said. Once the parks board approves the plan, it must still go to the City Council for final approval.

Botanic Garden

The 109-acre garden in Fort Worth was founded in 1933. It originally covered 33 acres and was known as the Rock Springs Arboretum. Other acreage and specialty gardens have been added over the years. The original section of the garden was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

The garden gets 700,000 visitors a year, and the Japanese Garden, which is inside the Botanic Garden, gets 118,000.

Support groups

The garden gets support from three non-profit groups:

■ The Fort Worth Botanical Society raised $1 million in 2008 and spent $713,000 on the garden and related services. It had $1.7 million in cash and other assets in reserve.

■ The Fort Worth Garden Club raised $630,000 for the garden, and spent $423,000 on the garden and related services in 2008. It had $1.4 million in cash and other assets at the end of 2008.

■ The Botanical Research Institute of Texas raised $21 million last year and spent $3.7 million. Most of its spending goes to research and grants, but the institute is building a 69,000-square-foot headquarters adjacent to the garden and collaborates on events such as the upcoming Butterflies in the Garden.

The plan

The master plan was developed over the last two years by architect Gideon Toal. The plan calls for:

■ Acquiring six to eight acres at the corner of Montgomery Street and I-30 for a new entrance and parking

■ Limiting vehicle traffic inside the park

■ Restoring the streams and ponds that run through the park

■ Creating a new children's garden, gift shop and other features.

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