Appleton to reopen, maintain gardens at Memorial Park

Appleton parks officials said this week they’ll reopen and operate the arboretum and botanical garden in Memorial Park that was previously managed by the Gardens of the Fox Cities.gardens

That group notified the city in January that after nearly 20 years of operation, they were terminating the lease at the end of February.

“We have a $1 million, 5,500 square foot facility and basically inherited 35 new acres of the park,” said Dean Gazza, the city’s parks and recreation director. “The fixed cost of ownership is about $65,000 and if we begin operating it there will be additional costs of about $37,000.”

To offset that unanticipated cost, the city will seek to rent the space for small events like reunions and graduation parties like other city pavilions. Gazza said staff would be hired to unlock facilities at the Scheig Learning Center that would be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for events.

“The grounds will stay open to the public full-time and renting wouldn’t mean an exclusive use,” Gazza said. “The idea is to provide it at a rate to just cover the costs and then evaluate the demand and update our policy for next year.”

But the city isn’t looking to get into the catering and wedding business, said Alderman Kyle Lobner, who sits on the city’s parks committee.

“Temporarily we’re going to try to operate this by ourselves—we’re doing this short-term to bridge the gap,” Lobner said. “In an ideal world we would have loved for an existing business to run it because we have close to $70,000 in expenses to keep it maintained and viable.”

The abrupt change of plans for 2014 will require funds from a contingency budget, Gazza said. The 2015 city budget would likely include additional maintenance funds for the grounds, he said.

A draft of the rental policy was circulated this week and will be sent to the council in coming weeks.

— Nick Penzenstadler: 920-996-7226, or npenzenstadler@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @npenzenstadler

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