ENCINITAS — There is one thing the city of Encinitas can provide the San Diego Botanic Garden to help promote its short-term and long-term mission, and it isn’t money, officials said.
To that end, the Botanic Garden’s CEO recently approached the city with a proposal: let us buy the city’s portion of the property, or permanently earmark the land for floral and horticultural use.
“It doesn’t matter who owns the property, it matters that we can secure it for the long term,” said Julian Duval, president of the 37-acre attraction, of which the city owns 4.5 acres.
Officials with the garden have major plans on the horizon, the first being a state-of-the art indoor pavilion that would serve as the second phase of its wildly popular Hamilton Children’s Garden.
The proposed 5,900-square-foot space would provide meeting and event space for up to 400 people, quadrupling the garden’s current meeting space. It will also include multiple classrooms, a full kitchen for catering and cooking classes, an amphitheater and access to expanded parking.
The botanic garden’s officials have embarked on a $4 million fundraising campaign to complete the pavilion. Tracie Spencer, the botanic garden’s director of development, said donors are hesitant because the city owns the 4.5 acres where the children’s garden and proposed pavilion are located, and, as a result of the lease agreement, everything that is built on the property.
The lease between the city and the botanic garden expires in 2058.
With a $1 million challenge grant from the Donald and Elizabeth Dickinson Foundation set to expire in December, unless the foundation raises the other $3 million, botanic garden officials said they could use the boost from the city.
“Donors want to know that when they give up a portion of their treasure to have an impact on the community that the impact would remain in place,” Duval said. “Quite frankly, given past experience with cities, they run through cycles of feast and famine, so who knows what will happen long term.”
Duval said the organization is not asking the city for money, especially in the wake of the debate over the city’s $10 million purchase of the Pacific View Elementary site from the Encinitas Union School District.
Duval said the issue could be solved by simply deed-restricting the property for botanic and horticultural use or by allowing the foundation that operates the garden to purchase the property. A portion of the botanic garden land, which is owned by the county, has a similar provision.
“We realize that they might not be in a position to contribute,” Duval said. “But what we are saying is, ‘Hey, by the time we are done with the pavilion, we would have invested $8.5 million in property that the city owns. So quite frankly, if you believe it is going to be an asset to the community, removing the uncertainty surrounding the long-term future of the property is the best way to show that commitment.”
The City Council, whose members voiced support of the botanic garden’s mission and plans, agreed to revisit the request at a future council meeting.
Gaspar said finite city resources make proposals such as this more palatable.
“With city resources having a limit, I am sure we will be considering many public and private partnerships,” Gaspar said. “Why I am open to hearing this particular item is because it certainly does provide an amenity the public enjoys at no cost to the taxpayer.”
Duval hopes the city will consider the proposal before year’s end.
“It is one of the last urban oases left in North County,” Duval said. “In 500 years, we want future generations to see how big the dragon trees grow to be.”