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Fort Worth Will Pass Off Botanic Garden Management To A Nonprofit

A small fountain runs along a pathway surrounded by plants.
Miranda Suarez
A fountain bubbles at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.

The city of Fort Worth will pass management of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden off to a nonprofit research organization, the latest step in a yearslong effort to improve the chronically underfunded garden.

It’s 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 city will maintain ownership of the garden’s land, but theBotanical Research Institute of Texas, which sits next door to the garden, is scheduled to take over management in October. The city will pay BRIT a management fee each year, starting at $3.35 million.

The garden has been dealing with an over $1 million annual operating shortfall and a backlog of repairs and improvements.

Current garden director Bob Byers says the change will help with fundraising.

"There's an understandable reluctance for people to give a lot of money to the city, both because they feel like they're already supporting the city with their taxes, and they're not sure how it would be managed or where it would go," he said.

The city will also provide up to $17 million to chip away at deferred maintenance projects over 12 years.

The garden was once free to enter but started charging admission last summer. BRIT will be able to raise admission fees to keep up with inflation.

Lon Burnam with the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness was one of the authors of an opinion piece in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that asked the city to require approval of any fee increases.

He said the city is passing off important decision-making power.

"Basically, the city has abdicated a lot of control and a lot of their responsibility for managing the gardens," he said.

Burnam also said the admission fees prevent people with low incomes from enjoying the gardens, and the free options available aren't enough. Per the city’s agreement, BRIT is required to provide options to make the gardens more accessible.

A BRIT spokesperson said a representative of the nonprofit could not sit down for an interview “due to plans in progress.”

In a statement following the City Council vote approving the management deal, BRIT president Ed Schneider said, “We are excited by the potential of working together with the staff, patrons and supporters of the Botanic Garden to make it an even greater resource and attraction for our city and the North Texas region.”

BRIT is scheduled to take over control of the gardens on Oct. 1.

Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.