Facing a $150,000 shortfall, the Mobile Botanical Gardens (MBG) could close their gates to the public next month without additional funding.
Steve Clements, an attorney and MBG board member, said the gardens have faced a similar shortfall for years, but have always been bailed out at the last minute by donors or individual board members.
“It’s not a sustainable system we’re under,” he said. “In this day and age it’s about a sustaining method. This is not a brand new problem, but it has reached a point where the wells are running dry.”
The gardens, which take up over 100 acres of city property, rely on a $500,000 budget, Clements said. Of that budget, the city itself contributes only $5,000 and has maintained that level of support for about 20 years, Clements said. Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed budget includes the same level of funding. Discussions about the city’s budget will begin this week.
“In order to keep it open, we’ve got to come up with some other source of funding,” Clements said. “We’d love to see the city get more involved.”
Councilwoman Gina Gregory has for a number of years kicked in capital improvement program funding for the gardens in her district, but those funds are primarily for infrastructure and can’t be used for day-to-day operations, Clements said.
If a solution can’t be found, Clements said the gardens will be forced to go to a “skeleton crew” to maintain the grounds and would close to the public.
The city and the MBG board negotiated to allow the gardens staff to rehabilitate old city greenhouses, Clements said. The greenhouses will allow MBG to grow and sell plants for future fundraisers.
Gregory said there are two issues at play. First, MBG needs an infusion of cash by the end of this fiscal year and a sustainable funding source needs to be established for the future. As for city involvement, Gregory admitted the $5,000 performance contract is probably not enough.
“That’s not much, especially when you look at all of our performance contracts,” she said. “The city and board need to come together to figure out what the plan is.”
While Clements mentioned a $150,000 shortfall, Gregory said the gardens needed only about $50,000 in order to remain open.
The District 7 councilwoman has discussed the issue with council colleagues and plans to meet with the mayor’s office during budget negotiations.
“The botanical gardens is not just a District 7 issue, it’s a citywide issue,” Gregory said. “The city owns the property.”
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