Wichita City Council approves new events center for Botanica

Wichita City Council members unanimously signed off on the second phase of Botanica’s expansion, an addition to the public gardens’ administration building that should create new revenue streams for the growing attraction.

The 7,000-square-foot events center at 701 Amidon, with a $1.15 million price tag, is part of the city’s capital improvements plan, with work targeted for 2012 and 2013. The events center would host additional activities — including children’s education programs, weddings and additional rentals — expected to generate between $150,000 and $200,000 annually for the facility. The expansion would include restrooms, a catering kitchen, staff offices and storage.

The events center would replace a portable building donated by the Wichita school district that has housed staff for 25 years.

Tuesday’s council vote was a vote of confidence in Botanica, said Linda Kizzire, a board member.

“It’s critical for the future of Botanica because there are many more events that could be held there than they have space for,” said Kizzire, the Sedgwick County treasurer. “With this new venue, it will provide us with the space we do need to serve more people in the city of Wichita.”

The venue, she said, now has more demand than it can handle and has to turn people away.

One immediate use of the additional space, city officials said, will be for children’s education programs, in growing demand since the opening in July of the Downing Children’s Garden. The city earlier contributed $1.56 million to the $4.76 million children’s garden project, with the remainder — about $3.2 million — from private donors. Botanica also provides in-kind rentals to garden clubs and other groups.

Parks director Doug Kupper said the expansion is essential to serve Botanica’s growing clientele. Officials estimate attendance is up fivefold in the first quarter of 2012.

“Our visitation level is up because of the children’s area,” Kupper said. “Memberships are going up and we’re turning away more special events, office meetings and weddings. It has had an impact on our core ability to offer educational sessions with the current configuration we’ve got for educational space. Once the addition is constructed and open, it should … take the facility toward the next level to become self-sustaining. We think it’s an important addition.”

So did newly appointed Vice Mayor Janet Miller.

“What I want to make doubly clear is that this is an investment that has a return income,” Miller said. “This expansion has been envisioned over two parts, one being the expansion of the garden itself that brought in new visitors, increased attendance and provided new opportunities for education. However, everyone here probably knows that every children’s garden, botanical garden, museum or cultural institution, it’s very difficult to raise enough revenue on your educational programs to support your education and mission.

“This second part of the expansion is designed to bring in $150,000 to $200,000 to the venue in rental of the space, along with the added benefit of bringing additional people to Botanica.”

The children’s garden reflects Kansas landscapes, with themed areas like a farm with raised beds and a working water pump, a giant tree and tree house, an enchanted glen for storytelling, puppet shows and chalk drawing, a musical maze, giant trees and a pond.

Other possible Botanica expansions include the addition of gardens representing Wichita’s Sister Cities, the mayor said last week: Orleans, France; Tlalnepantla, Mexico; Cancun, Mexico; and Kaifeng, China.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle