Overland Park considers $5 fee to visit arboretum



But will people pay $5 to see it?

The Overland Park City Council on Monday will consider a proposal to charge admission to its Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, which has been free since it opened in 1990.

It’s an idea that’s been floated before but has been gaining momentum. The fees would help offset the cost of maintaining the arboretum, but supporters say there is more to it than that.

“We strongly believe that we need to start changing the public perception of the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens,” said Dennis Patton, chairman of the private, nonprofit Friends of the Arboretum, which supports the fee proposal recommended by city staff. “It is not a park. Our mission is to build a world-class arboretum. It is destined to be more than a park.”

A plan endorsed 5-1 by the City Council’s Community Development Committee would charge visitors 13 and older $5 to visit the 300-acre arboretum at 179th Street, just west of U.S. 69. The fee for children 12 and younger would be $3.

One other thing: Dogs would no longer be allowed.

The city staff is proposing the arboretum remain free on Wednesdays.

Councilman Terry Goodman, who is chairman of the Community Development Committee, cast the sole vote against the plan. He is not opposed to the concept of a fee, but he’d be more comfortable with a lower one.

“I voted in opposition primarily as a strategic matter,” Goodman said, “because if something comes out of committee with a unanimous vote it goes on the consent agenda.”

A split vote means the whole council can weigh in on the idea — and hear public testimony — before the vote. The council will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 8500 Santa Fe Drive.

Councilman John Skubal, who also is on the Community Development Committee, said the city has invested a lot of taxpayer dollars, in addition to private money, into the arboretum. He would like to see more of the costs borne by people who visit the place, which also needs more amenities.

“We need a restroom at the far west end,” Skubal said. “What I would like to do is capture enough money to pay for staff, cover maintenance costs and be able to put in some improvements.”

The city has budgeted $732,000 for the arboretum this year. The proposed fees would bring in an estimated $322,000. Adding restrooms could cost $250,000. Setting up a fee collection system could cost $104,000 initially and $66,000 annually.

A city staff report assumes attendance, currently about 120,000, would drop initially if fees were imposed and more people would buy memberships with the Friends organization, which would allow free admission. That is what happened when the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead began charging admission on weekends.

Membership in Friends of the Arboretum costs $35 per person and $50 for families. The organization is considering charging more for non-Overland Park residents.