The master plan for the proposed Waterfront Botanical Gardens was unveiled in November to much excitement. While “everyone wants the gardens to be done by spring,” as board president Brian Voelker put it, there’s still much work to be done to make the vision a reality.
Nevertheless, it promises to be yet another gem in the revitalization of Louisville’s waterfront.
Plans call for a visitor’s center, children’s garden, a tropical conservatory, an elevated platform overlooking Beargrass Creek and an educational pavilion among the garden’s key features.
The board behind the project – the group’s known as Botanica, originally composed from The Louisville Area Iris Society, The Louisville Area Daylily Society and Hostas of Kentuckiana – is busy preparing to launch its capital campaign. That means deciding exactly what will be part of each phase of the project and firming up the cost estimates, Voelker said.
The board expects to spend two years raising the projected $10 million needed for the first phase, then two to three years building it, Voelker said. Three phases are planned, he said, though that might be compressed if there’s enough contributor support. The full project is expected to require around $35 million.
It’s not the first effort to create a botanical garden in Louisville. Voelker said he knows of at least two previous projects that ran into trouble with acquiring land. The proposed property for this project, at the corner of River Road and Frankfort Avenue, was used as a dump for building refuse from damaged homes after the devastating flood of 1937. The landfill was closed in the 1960s. Though previously considered a Superfund cleanup site, it’s been removed from that list. The property now has a dirt fill cap 25 feet deep.
Voelker’s confident this effort will materialize, with the board having taken a lot of time to choose the 23-acre property.
“We’ve found a lot of excitement from a lot of different people,” he said. “People are really jazzed about it. I think it will be an important feature for the community. We’ve gotten a lot of support from Metro government, which is really important. The community is really rallying behind the idea. … I think this is the time.”
He said the proximity to downtown was considered a major plus.
“Tourists who are in the area, people who are working downtown – they can drive out and see it. We just loved the location. It’s handy for residents in the area, too,” he said.
A major focus among botanical gardens these days, he said, is inspiring people to care for the environment.
“This land had just been thrown away for 50 years. Reclaiming this land will be a wonderful addition to the community. It will be inspiring people to live their values of caring for the environment.”
The project starts off with a Founders’ Garden planted around the Heigold Façade, the structure that looks like a brick doorway just across River Road from RiverPark Place. Volunteers to the project will be recruited for work days during the spring and summer, Voelker said, while other volunteers can help with fund-raising events, marketing and other tasks.
With its Buy a Brick campaign, donors of $100 or more, can have an engraved brick placed in the Founder’s Garden.
Supporters Emil and Nancy Graeser also have offered to match every gift to the garden up to $225,000