Botanic Garden Fee? It Could Happen

A task force recommends implementing a fee to tackle budget issues.

Will you please return the map when you’re done? We have a very limited budget, and we’re running low.”

This was the request we heard at the front desk on a recent visit to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. It seemed reasonable but also a little sad. A new task force, created to help the Botanic Garden fix budgeting issues, proposes that a general admission fee could help relieve some of the burden. All other major botanic gardens in the nation have general admission fees or parking fees. Currently Fort Worth has neither (only the Japanese Gardens requires an entry fee).

But that might change soon. The task force is recommending a $12 admission fee for adults, $8 for children and seniors, with no parking fee. This could result in $3.7 million annually.

Even that only does a small part in fixing the problem. The Garden currently has $1.5 million in yearly unmet operational needs and is at least $15 million behind in capital repairs.

With a budget of $4.4 million, 58 percent of the garden’s budget is provided by the city, 39 percent is through support groups and 3 percent is donated.

By comparison, the Dallas Arboretum had a 2017 operating budget of more than $24 million with more than 41,000 memberships. The Dallas Arboretum also charges $15 per person for entry and $15 per car. The Fort Worth Botanic Garden doesn’t have a membership program, but even the Japanese Garden, which does offer society membership, only touts less than 1,000 members.

Members of the public voiced their concerns at a meeting May 14. “There were a lot of folks that were concerned about an admission fee and the impact that might have on some of our demographic,” said Fort Worth Botanic Garden director Bob Byers. “There was another large segment of the group that was very concerned about some of the information we’ve been trying to get people to understand about the long-term funding problem.”

The task force is expected to make a recommendation to the city council for a vote before October.