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Public to weigh in on future of Gardens

(ran East, South, Beach editions)

A task force is soliciting residents' input about what should be done with Sunken Gardens.

The mayor's Sunken Gardens task force has heard from entrepreneurs and non-profit groups who have all kinds of ideas for the 4-acre garden north of downtown.

Now it's time to hear from the public.

On Monday, residents are invited to tell the task force what they envision for Sunken Gardens when it comes under city ownership next month. The task force meeting starts at 4 p.m., with the public forum beginning at 6 p.m.

The meeting and public forum will be in Room 100 in City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N.

Residents voted in March to tax themselves 50 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value. That tax will generate about $3.8-million.

The City Council has agreed to spend about $3-million to buy the gardens, the parking lot in front of the entrance and the nearby home of the matriarch of the Turner family, the current owners. The balance of the tax money will be spent on renovating the attraction.

The task force was formed shortly after the referendum passed to buy the attraction. Last month, a group of community leaders and city officials heard 15 proposals for the property, which includes the gardens, a 55,000-square-foot warehouse and a parking lot.

The proposals included a rain forest, a butterfly garden, a bonsai center, a model Seminole Indian Village, a hands-on children's museum, a laboratory for digital imaging, a puppet theatre, an auto museum, Science Center workshops, Save Our Seabirds, or a simple botanical garden run by the city.

After hearing from the public, the task force will narrow the list of possibilities and ask the council for money for a consultant who will study market feasibility. The task force hopes to present the council with a recommendation for the gardens' future in three or four months.