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Praiseworthy Effort

Erin Grajek

Buffalo News Editorial - Monday May 23, 2011
Buffalo News Editorial

The progress made at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens is nothing short of amazing, and it’s thanks to the resolve of volunteers and staff working in extremely difficult circumstances to restore a deteriorating asset.

The result is that paid attendance is up 88 percent and the number of active volunteers has more than tripled. Also, as reported, revenue from private events, including weddings, has increased fivefold. Moreover, the nonprofit Buffalo&Erie County Botanical Gardens Society expects to balance the budget this year without county funding, a first.

It is, in no short measure, a tribute to the 27 volunteer board members, including board President Mary Ann Kresse. She has served since 2002, when then-County Executive Joel Giambra asked her to chair a task force to improve the facility.

The task force looked into how to wean the gardens from Erie County funding into an independent entity and developed a strategic plan. It all got accomplished by August 2004 and the Buffalo&Erie County Botanical Gardens Society has since been running the operation for the county.

The steps toward independence were nudged along by the fact that in 2010, County Executive Chris Collins refused to authorize the $322,000 the County Legislature voted the facility. That forced the society to dip into reserve funds earmarked for future projects and completion of the master plan.

After ending 2010 in the red, the society stepped up efforts to generate revenue. There are sources of funding available to the non-profit society that the county could never have tapped, including private foundations and individuals who wouldn’t give to a county operation. Memberships have jumped along with the increase in paid ad-missions. And the facility is just better looking and better cared for now, because the society is able to hire its own staff of skilled gardeners and horticulturists. That’s something the county couldn’t do.

The facility in Olmsted’s South Park features three glass houses by premier conservatory designers Lord & Burnham and opened just before the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition.

The society’s board of directors and volunteers have devoted themselves to re-energizing the Botanical Gardens. The education program is well-developed, with a director of education, and a marketing and development director and a new president and chief executive officer, David J. Swarts.

The society is now pursuing accreditation from the American Association of Museums, and updating its master plan. Plans call for eventually expanding greenhouse capacity, restoring two original domes and adding a classroom wing, library and events center. Praise is due to all involved in the rebirth of a landmark.

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