FAQ – New Admissions Policy Begins on April 29
On April 29, the Jacksonville Arboretum & Botanical Gardens (JA&BG) will begin charging guests for admission. For the last two years, JA&BG has encouraged visitors to donate $3 a person per visit. The JA&BG Board of Directors recently voted unanimously to formalize that request into an admissions policy to be put into place by mid-2022.
The JA&BG board’s overriding purpose of establishing this policy is to create a reliable revenue source to ensure the economic viability of the JA&BG, incentivize frequent guests to purchase memberships and effectively maximize the full potential of the JA&BG.
Regular Admission: $3 per person
Children 3 years and under: Free
Since the JA&BG opened to the public, annual memberships have been offered, but the numbers have been low. We estimate about 100,000 people now visit the venue each year, yet we have only averaged from 100 to 200 memberships per year since our inception in 2010.
Under this new policy, guests who purchase a membership can visit the venue anytime at no additional cost (with the exception of special events/sponsored events that charge an event admission fee).
Individual and dual memberships will include unlimited visits to the venue, discounts at participating garden retailers, a monthly newsletter and early notice and special pricing for planned events and more. Family memberships include these benefits plus reciprocal privileges at other arboretums and botanical gardens throughout the country.
Membership Levels (as of July 2021)
Individual (one named adult): $40 a year
Dual: (2 adults) $55 a year
Family (2 named adults and all children): $70 a year
Friend (anyone who would like to contribute at little higher level of support) $100 a year
We anticipate that frequent visitors will purchase a membership rather than pay for each visit. For example, an individual member will recoup the cost of their annual membership after 14 visits. Likewise, if a family of four visits once per month, they will recoup the membership costs after only six visits.
Questions & Answers
Why is the JA&BG charging for admission now?
Since the nonprofit agency was opened to the public in 2010, JA&BG has relied on only the donations from residents and event sponsorships (for one or two events per year) to sustain the 120-acre facility and, up until 2019, relied only on volunteers and donated in-kind services to keep the gardens maintained.
The JA&BG is not part of the City of Jacksonville Parks Department. The land is leased to the JA&BG, a 501(c)3 nonprofit agency, under a 20-year lease from the city. The agency also does not receive any reoccurring annual city, state or federal funding to sustain it.
In 2019, the JA&BG Board hired a full-time executive director to conduct fundraising (grants and donors/capital campaigns/event sponsorships) and oversee and manage programming, membership programs, operations and event management. The same year, the JA&BG hired a part-time horticulturist to maintain the existing gardens (managing the site and volunteers) and provide oversite for volunteers maintaining the three-mile trail system.
These funded positions were needed so JA&BG could operate and maintain the property at the level required to serve a rise in attendance, including more maintenance (garden/trail/parking lot), trash collection, etc. We have also experienced a rash of vandalism in the last year, which requires us to increase security.
Adding staff was also necessary to:
• Improve and grow the venue from its arboretum/trails status to a first-class botanical garden;
• Monitor and sustain existing sponsored educational programming relying only on volunteers;
• Capture earned-income opportunities (i.e.- weddings, private/public special events, etc.); and
• Create and sustain effective overall fundraising efforts.
While there has been a donation box on site for many years, there previously had been no call-to-action for a specific donation amount.
In late 2019 JA&BG began to actively encourage a $3 donation per person along with a communications campaign to encourage the purchase of memberships to positively impact revenue. While donations at the site rose slightly and some additional memberships were purchased, the increase was well below the finances the venue needs to sustain itself over time.
Also, customer/guest surveys taken over the last two years indicate that visitors would like to see the addition of more amenities to enhance their visitor experience at the JA&BG. These amenities included:
• Fully equipped restrooms
• A designated children’s area
• Garden expansion
• More enhancements on the trails
• Additional educational enhancements for all visitors (more environmental/garden/trail information and wayfinding, etc.
By formalizing the current voluntary $3 donation system, the JA&BG Board expects to be able to increase memberships and create a more stable revenue stream though on-site donations – both providing better annual financial projections to further ensure the economic sustainability of the venue.
What will the JA&BG do with the additional revenue?
All admission revenue will be “unrestricted,” which means the revenues will be directed to cover the expenses of operating and maintaining the JA&BG trails and gardens, including utilities (like water and electric), materials and services necessary to keep the grounds maintained and safe, employee salaries and expansion of site security to discourage vandalism, which has been increasing.
Any remaining funds will be used to leverage the costs of constructing new restroom facilities, new infrastructure requirements (expansion of water/sewer/electric services) and the future implementation of a master plan for the venue.
What is the status of the JA&BG’s Master Plan?
Thanks to generous grants from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund and the River Branch Foundation, the process of developing a master plan to design and install botanical gardens on the property started in March of this year.
JA&BG has engaged 3. Fromme Designs and HDLA — two design firms with deep experience in this arena — to develop the master plan design. These designers have collaborated on several high-profile public and institutional projects, including the Tulsa Botanical Garden in Oklahoma, Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida and Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden in China.
The addition of botanical gardens is the latest in a continuous plan to propel the Arboretum into a best-in-class destination in the southeast.
The process will take into account the Arboretum’s unique qualities, Florida’s seasons and Jacksonville’s ecosystems and native horticulture. The ultimate goal is to strengthen the Arboretum as a focus of community life in connection with nature and the outdoors.
In addition to the grant for the master plan design, the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund also awarded the Arboretum a $70,000 challenge grant for the first phase of the implementation.