Beyond the lush aesthetics of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ downtown Sarasota campus is an educational center for the study of botany and horticulture. Billed as a “living museum,” the gardens perched along Sarasota Bay hold the world’s best scientifically documented collections of orchids and bromeliads.
In 2018, plans began for expanding the gardens’ mission “to provide bayfront sanctuaries connecting people with air plants of the world, native nature and our regional history,” with an eye toward the environment and sustainability.
Earlier this year, Selby Gardens received final approval from the Sarasota City Commission to move forward with its plan. Groundbreaking begins on June 3.
Fundraising for the first phase of the plan has yielded more than 90 percent of the $42 million needed. Aside from $1.1 million coming from two grants from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, most funds were raised from the private sector.
“We’re on a home stretch and it’s very exciting,” said president and CEO Jennifer Rominiecki. “It’s been incredible to see how generous our community is.”
The total project will happen in three phases over several years and will total $92 million. Rominiecki said the project will create and support 3,000 jobs and will establish a workforce program to provide training for local workers in areas including HVAC, plumbing and electrical.
Phase one is the biggest phase and includes building the Living Energy Access Facility (LEAF), which will house parking, a gift shop and a restaurant that uses vegetables grown in the gardens.
“The really exciting part is the LEAF will house a 50,000-square-foot solar array that will make us the world’s first net-positive botanical garden,” said Rominiecki, which means that the project will generate more energy than it consumes.
“It’s a cutting-edge destination and it’s truly the forefront of green technology and architecture,” said Rominiecki. She said when they tasked the design team with making the project as green as possible, they discovered it could be an international leader as far as solar energy goes.
Also part of the LEAF is a storm water filtration system that will treat runoff and return clean water to Sarasota Bay.
Phase one also includes building the Plant Research Center that will house an herbarium and laboratory, as well as a research library that will preserve the collection of rare books and botanical illustrations, some dating from the 1700s.
Out of concern for rising sea levels, Rominiecki said the new structures will be positioned away from the flood zone, the collections will be raised up and the mangroves that border the gardens will be built up.
Palm Avenue will be transformed into a pedestrian-only promenade leading to the entrance, where there will be an enhanced visitors center.
The next two phases include restoration of the Payne Mansion that houses the Museum of Botany and the Arts, a hurricane-resistant glass greenhouse, a learning pavilion, more garden and water displays, unification of the garden paths and bolstered sea walls.
As Selby Gardens grows, so will its exhibition program that explores the connection between nature and the arts.
“What’s so wonderful is that the phasing was designed so we could be open and the gardens we know and love will be unchanged,” said Rominiecki.
For more information, visit selby.org.