Retired columnist and nursery owner Bob Hill and president of the Board of Botanica Brian Voelkner addressed last week’s Rotary Club meeting to give updates on the progress of the nonprofit’s Waterfront Botanical Gardens. Should Botanica meet its funding and planning goals, the 23-acre gardens could be open in the spring of 2018.

Program director Kasey Meier said the gardens, bounded by Frankfort Avenue, River Road, Beargrass Creek and I-71, would play a huge neighborhood revitalization role. It would provide opportunities for environmental education, tourism and economic development and improve the quality of life in Louisville.

Hill said he grew up on farms and purchased his Indiana nursery 15 years ago. After his 33-year career as a columnist in Louisville, working with Botanica is how he wants to give back to the city. He is on the 10-member horticulture committee.

When the attraction is set to open in 2018, they project they will employ five people and have $783,000 in operational revenue and $672,000 in operational expenses, with an estimated 35,000 attendees in the first year.

Once the gardens are fully built, the board expects to employ 42 people with $2.7 million in operational revenues and $2.6 million in expenses with around 210,000 attendees.

U.S. botanical gardens nationwide see 75 million visitors a year — that’s more visitors than the NBA, NHL and MLB combined, according to Voelkner.

The organization plans on hosting sundry events, from garden clubs to concerts to elaborate lights displays during the winter holidays.

The first structure on which they will break ground is a modern, mostly glass-walled, kidney-shaped Education Pavilion. The building will have a capacity of 250 people and can be subdivided into smaller rooms. It will be available to rent for meetings, weddings and other events.

Adjacent to the building will be the Education Garden and greenhouses.

So far, organizers have laid a solid ground for the nonprofit. They have had both an environmental and geotechnical analysis of the site, as well as conducted a topographical survey. A Master Plan is complete, and the organization has purchased the land from Louisville Metro for $1.

Voelkner said he hopes to have the fundraising completed by December 2016. They have raised $2.3 million against the projected $4.2 million they need for Phase One.

Before the 1937 and 1942 floods, the site of the proposed gardens was a neighborhood. After the second flood, the residents decided not to rebuild, and the land became a landfill consisting of debris from the homes that were torn down. Partially as a result, the high spots on the land are 40 feet above River Road, and all the buildings will be built on high ground in case of another 100-year flood.

The next major event planned for the site is the second annual ReGeneration Fair on Saturday, Sept. 10, with vendors and booths from around the city and region showcasing sustainable practices. Food trucks, sweet treats and adult beverages will be available. There will be a special Plein Air Paint Out in coordination with Louisville Visual Art.

For more information, visit the Botanical Gardens’ website.

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