End of the road for Volunteer Park Conservatory?
Seattle's Volunteer Park Conservatory is in danger of closing next year unless the city finds a new way to fund it.
Seattle Times staff reporter
For 100 years, Volunteer Park Conservatory has offered Seattle residents a peaceful oasis of rare plants in the middle of the rush of urban life.
But the Victorian-style greenhouse may not live to see 101 — at least not in its current form, Seattle parks officials said Friday.
The city has hired a consultant to explore how to reduce costs or raise revenues, officials said. If he cannot come up with a way to make the conservatory economically sustainable, it could be closed as early as January 2013.
The greenhouse costs about $450,000 a year to operate and brings in about $25,000 in revenue, Seattle Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Dewey Potter said. It also needs about $3.5 million in repairs, she added.
"It has been on the list (of potential budget cuts) for a couple of years just because it's so expensive to maintain and it doesn't bring in much revenue," Potter said. "But we would hate that because it's a gem of a building, and it's a beautiful, beautiful place."
The fate of that place rests partially on the city's budget picture. The city is projecting a shortfall of $40 million for 2013, Seattle Budget Director Beth Goldberg said. The parks department has seen $12 million sliced out of its budget over the past two years, Potter said.
The fate also rests on the shoulders of Rick Daley, an Arizona-based expert in botanical gardens, whom the city has hired for $35,000. Daley is charged with coming up with a new business model for the conservatory. Currently, entry to the conservatory is free, but donations are suggested.
Among the options under consideration for keeping the greenhouse open are partnering with a nonprofit and charging visitors to enter the conservatory, Potter said.
It's a critical moment for the conservatory, said David Helgeson, senior gardener there for 23 years.
More than 90,000 people visit it every year to take in its large and rare orchid collection along with cactuses, plants such as a Venus fly trap that have adapted to attract and consume insects, and the one-of-a-kind Amorphophallus titanium, aka "corpse flower," which Helgeson affectionately referred to as a "big stinky plant." In all, it's one of the largest publicly held collections of plants on the West Coast, he said.
If a more sustainable model cannot be found, those plants could be shipped out, and the greenhouse could be mothballed, Potter said.
Helgeson doesn't want to think about what that would be like.
"If we were to lose it — it's irreplaceable," he said. "It would be an unfathomable loss if that were to happen."
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or email@example.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.