Officials are asking for Fort Worth residents’ input on a new master plan, which will decide what the future of the garden looks like, from what programs it offers to the infrastructure needed to make them possible.
Estrus Tucker is the president and CEO of DEI Consultants, which is helping form the master plan for the nearly 90-year-old garden.
“We’re a vibrant city, and growing, and growing in our diversity,” Tucker said. “Part of the rationale of the master plan is to keep it current, and not only current, but to help take it into the future, because we want the gardens to be here for a very long time.”
A lot of the garden’s problems today come from a lack of intense advance planning, said Bob Byers, executive vice president of the garden and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT). Pieces of the garden are good individually, he said, but they’re not always well-connected.
“When you don’t think about how you get from A to B or how this thing relates to that thing comprehensively, then you don’t ever get the best results that you could get,” Byers said.
The Fort Worth Botanic Garden was owned and operated by the city until 2020, when Fort Worth passed off management to BRIT. It was another public-private partnership for Fort Worth: a type of deal where a government teams up with a private entity to run a public amenity. The Fort Worth Zoo operates in a similar way.
The garden was chronically underfunded under city control. In 2018, it needed more than $15 million in repairs, according to a City Council presentation.
When it handed over control, the city agreed to pay BRIT a management fee, and offered $17 million over time to clear that repair backlog.
That money is already helping, Byers said. The garden is turning roads into pedestrian walkways, and has planned improvements to its water system.
“We have a full time irrigator, and almost his full job is repairing all the issues that come up in this 50- and 60-year-old irrigation system,” Byers said.
Planning for the garden’s future will also include a look at how accessible it is, Byers said. Visiting the gardens was free until 2019, when it put its first fees into place. That change drew criticism from people concerned that the admission price would block low-income residents from visiting.
The garden does offer free and reduced cost options. From April to September 2021, roughly 12% of visitors used those options, according to city documents.
BRIT will hold community forums this month and next to hear what the public wants to see in the garden’s new master plan. They’ll also be able to submit comments online.
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