Local support aims to keep park open

Michael Holahan/Staff
A group of leaders wants to raise money to preserve and maintain the downtown botanical gardens after the planned closure next week.

A consortium of local leaders hopes to raise $100,000 as seed money to help maintain and preserve the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Botanical Gardens after they are shut down next week.

"It would consist of 100 businesses, individuals and professionals that will pledge $1,000 each for maintenance of the gardens," businessman Brad Usry wrote in a memo Monday. "No money yet - just a pledge."

Mr. Usry, the chairman of a volunteer committee trying to rescue the deficit-ridden site, also wants portions of the massive brick wall that separates the site from the rest of downtown removed "to make it more inviting."

The gardens, which are out of money and received no state funds this year after Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed the appropriation, are set to close this weekend.

Though the Hall of Fame can operate from Executive Director Dianne King's home, the fate of the gardens is unknown.

Mr. Usry's proposal would name the recruited benefactors the Georgia Golf Gardens Greenskeepers.

"If the Hall of Fame and state figure something out before July 1, there is no need for our group," Mr. Usry wrote. "That would be the best case, but if that day comes and the gates are closed, we hope the state will see fit to give this beautiful property a new lease on life."

If local leaders can recruit financial support, the committee intends to maintain the site as long as possible using local landscapers, prisoners and volunteers.

However, even if civic-minded Augustans pledge $100,000, it might not maintain the site for long.

In recent years, the cost of operating the attraction has been about $500,000 a year, including $36,000 for the purchase of city water for irrigation and about $20,000 in electricity costs.

Robyn Jarrett, the site's marketing director, said the gardens recently acquired a federal permit to pump water from the Savannah River, which would eliminate water purchases. However, the pump system was never completed, and it requires an investment of about $50,000.

John Grantham, who spent 35 years in the golf course maintenance and design industry, told committee members last week that the site could be maintained for $50,000 to $55,000 a year, or as much as $75,000 per year if the site remained open to the public.

That estimate, he said, doesn't include water and utility costs.

Ms. Jarrett said staff members will be on site through the end of July to get remaining bills and other issues resolved, but there is no current plan to maintain the gardens themselves.

Mr. Usry wrote that efforts to find local maintenance support are just a short-term solution. The long-term plan involves incorporating the gardens into a plan to erect a new baseball stadium nearby.

"It is our group's wish and mission for this land to be locally controlled and included in the Stadium's feasibility study and, eventually, part of the complex itself," Mr. Usry wrote.

"We believe it's a natural fit for the stadium complex, which has the support of the governor and Ripken Baseball."

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

HOW TO HELP

Local leaders are trying to recruit 100 benefactors to pledge $1,000 each toward maintenance of the golf gardens site. Anyone interested in participating can e-mail Brad Usry at fatguy9090@aol.com.