Combining the 3,600-acre Holden Arboretum with the Cleveland Botanical Garden not only would create one of this country's largest public gardens, the collaboration will benefit all of Northeast Ohio, say officials from both entities.
The integration of an urban botanical garden with a suburban arboretum is unprecedented.
"It will give us the best of both worlds," said Clement W. Hamilton president and CEO of the Arboretum, which spans boundaries of Lake and Geauga counties. "We still have details to work out, but we're treating it as a done deal."
Arboretum spokeswoman Vicki McDonald said both institutions expected a large overlap in membership but were surprised to discover when they crunched the numbers that the Arboretum's 6,500 members and the Botanical Garden's 8,000 members are largely separate populations.
"Our membership base is largely Lake and Geauga county, while their's is Cleveland, Shaker and Cleveland Heights."
Natalie Ronayne, president of the Cleveland Botanical Garden, said pooling each organization's strengths and resources will better serve all of Northeast Ohio.
"By leveraging each other's strengths, we can create the scale necessary to become a regional and national leader in environmental stewardship and sustainable practices," she said.
The Arboretum, for instance, hopes to increase its appeal to younger people with its $1.3 million canopy walk, which will give visitors access to the forest canopy 60 and 120 feet above the forest floor. It's targeted for completion in spring.
The Cleveland Botanical Garden aims to serve children and young people with its Hershey Children's Garden and its urban gardening programs for inner city youth.
The Arboretum recently hired a community forester with the idea of facilitating the greening of cities with gardens and trees and using trees for controlling stormwater. Those kinds or projects would be well positioned from a base in University Circle, where the Cleveland Botanical Garden sits on 10 acres.
The Arboretum's vast acreage likewise would give the Botanical Garden the space it needs to grow plants for special shows. The Botanical Garden needs to rent that land.
The Arboretum draws interest for its miles of hiking trails and cross-country skiing in winter, its large wildflower garden and classes for those interested in horticulture tips.
It hosts a wine tasting among its rhododendron, small concerts in its gardens and nature programming such as owl walks.
The Botanical Garden uses its facilities for parties, cooking classes, garden shows and organic food events.
"We believe deeply that one plus one equals three," said Hamilton.
Both institutions have similarly sized staffs and operating budgets, and both devote themselves to education and research. Neither nonprofit would discuss the financial terms of affiliating or if staff reductions would result.
The collaboration has clear benefits.
It would serve to wipe out the Botanical Garden's $11.1 million debt remaining from its expansion in the early 1990s when two glass conservatories were built. One replicated the cloud-forest environment of Costa Rica, while the other duplicated the desert of Madagascar.
That expansion didn't boost memberships and attendance as much as Garden officials had hoped, but it was the economic downturn of 2008 that led to its current financial crises. That's when it lost much of its savings. And, to stay current with its debt, the Botanical Garden had to withdraw interest income from its endowments.
Kenneth Sinchak, the Garden's vice president of finance, said the decrease in its endowment from $30 million to $10 million represented a loss of $1 million in cash each year.
In contrast, the Holden Arboretum has a healthy $120 million endowment.
A bigger garden would have more clout in neighborhood revitalization, would be better positioned to attract top employees and likely would have a broader donor base.
One of the challenges that needs to be met is the perception that the two entities are quite distant from one another, Hamilton said. The two are less than 30 miles apart.
Still needed is the ironing out of many areas, possibly including a new name, but Hamilton believes the two will become one by autumn.
Meanwhile, staff at both gardens are familiarizing themselves with the other and offering input for how to best serve their audiences.
"We need to make sure there are no hidden land mines to trip us up," said Hamilton. "But this is a win-win scenario for everyone."
9550 Sperry Road
Holden Arboretum is one of the largest arboretums in the United States, with more than 3,600 acres, 600 acres of which are devoted to collections and gardens.
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Cleveland Botanical Garden
11030 East Blvd., Cleveland
The Cleveland Botanical Garden, in the University Circle neighborhood of Cleveland, was founded in 1930 and was the first such organization in an American city
By Janet Podolak - The News-Herald, Willoughby, Ohio (MCT)
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