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Botanica expansion will add wedding space, Chinese garden

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, April 24, 2013, at 8:57 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, April 25, 2013, at 12:08 a.m.

The face of Botanica is getting ready to change again, expanding the original vision of the gardens to include dedicated space for weddings and other rentals, and offering coffee, other beverages and snacks for the first time.

The Wichita City Council earlier this week approved a bid from National Builders to construct an events center at Botanica for $1.35 million. The money will come from the parks section of the city’s capital-improvement program for the expansion of Botanica.

At the same time, Botanica has decided to build its Chinese garden outside the events center. Unlike the Downing Children’s Garden – which pushed Botanica’s boundary to the west when it opened two years ago – the events center and Chinese garden will stay within the original property lines.

The events center will be built to the north of Botanica’s current building and west of the parking lot. It reflects the importance to Botanica of revenue from weddings and other events. Botanica plays host to more than 200 weddings a year.

“People are already wanting to rent that space – prospective brides,” Botanica director Marty Miller said of the new events center.

The center also will provide new library space where refreshments will be sold, and opens up new space for Botanica’s offices. They had been housed in a creaky annex that was supposed to be temporary at the time Botanica opened in 1987.

A glass dome resembling a Tiffany lamp that used to be on display at the old Looking Glass restaurant downtown also will have a home in the events center’s ceiling, as the Vliet Stainglass Dome.

The entrance to Botanica off Amidon will stay in the same spot, but the look of the entrance will change with the new additions. Miller roughly estimates that the events center will open next April and the Chinese Garden in the fall of 2014.

He said he was hoping to have the events center open for Christmas this year, but initial bids came in too high, and the project had to be rebid, setting it back.

A donation of $1 million from an anonymous donor will build the Chinese garden, though more money will be needed for the garden’s artwork, Miller said.

At one time, the garden was slated to go in next to the children’s garden, in the meadow across from Botanica’s original acreage. But as the events center took shape, planners realized that they did not want to replicate the terrace that is outside Botanica’s current building, desiring a new look outside the new center.

“A light bulb went off” that the Chinese garden could go there, Miller said. People who rent the events center will also be able to rent the adjacent garden. Being able to tie the garden into the center’s utilities will save a lot of money, too, Miller said.

To get ready for the events center, Botanica’s library has been packed up temporarily. The annex will be torn down, and the offices that were in it already have been moved to the old library space.

The new library will be entered through a set of glass doors north of the fountain in Botanica’s current building and will be more of a research/periodicals library, Miller said. People will be able to buy coffee and other drinks and snacks there, Miller said, answering the demand for refreshments at Botanica, but “without going to a full-blown restaurant.”

Miller said that the events center will free up Botanica’s original building for its original purpose: garden-related events such as flower shows. Some garden clubs’ events had been displaced over the years by Botanica’s increasing priority of party rentals in order to bring in more income.

“There was a lot of give and take” with garden entities, Miller said. “But rentals have become so vital to our survival we had to do something.”

The addition of the children’s garden and an expanded holiday Illuminations event have made a big difference in income, too, he said, even while water bills because of the drought “hurt us pretty bad” last year, Miller said.

“The cost of water is unbelievable,” he said.

The addition of the children’s garden “has completely changed us,” Miller said.

“We see more families than ever before here,” he said. “You consider the membership was about 2,800 before it opened, and now we’re hitting 4,200 right now. A lot of those are younger families with children, and we’re seeing more school groups. It’s added a whole new dimension in visitation.”

Chinese garden

The new Chinese garden will be a traditional scholar garden of less than half an acre. The donor asked that Wichita’s Chinese community be involved in the planning, Miller said, so he is consulting with some locals, including two people originally from Wichita’s sister city of Kaifeng.

Miller also brought his own ideas for the garden back from Kaifeng after going there last year with Wichita city officials on a business-development trip.

“What separates a Chinese gardens from other Oriental gardens is detail on the structures,” he said, pointing to one particular intricate illustration – of the emperor’s river festival – on a garden wall he saw in Kaifeng.

Botanica’s Chinese garden “will be really unique, and we’re trying to keep it as culturally correct as possible.”

That means that the garden will be in two parts – a formal garden that is considered earthly, and the heavenly or universal garden, “closest to the gods,” Miller said.

Work on the garden will not start until the exterior of the events center is finished, he said. Botanica is trying to preserve as many trees as possible in the construction area. Some have been moved to other city or Botanica property, Miller said. A huge hackberry is staying put, and the events center will be built leading right up to it.

Botanica is still hoping to build an education center for the children’s garden and other sister-cities gardens – a French one and a Mexican one. There is a conceptual design for the Mexican garden, but no money for any of those projects.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

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