After flirting with architectural overreach in 2003, the Cleveland Botanical Garden charts a path to stability
Posted September 17, 2012 in Articles
Author: Steven Litt
The Cleveland Botanical Garden in University Circle was a picture of pure, late-summer bliss Wednesday afternoon.
A couple walked hand-in-hand through the gathering shadows in the institution’s Rose Garden. An art student sketched a waterfall inside a simulated Costa Rican rain forest enclosed beneath a vast, crystalline glass enclosure. Butterflies fluttered, bees hummed and fountains burbled.
This did not look like a place that has survived a financial trauma caused by an ambitious expansion in 2003 designed by Boston architect and Cleveland native Graham Gund.
But it’s been touch and go, financially, ever since the institution finished the project. When attendance fell below predicted levels in the middle 2000s and the recession hit in 2008, it was especially vulnerable.
Allied Irish Bank, which had provided a $20 million letter of credit, suddenly asked for $10 million in two payments over 18 months to cut its exposure. To pony up, the botanical garden had to cut its relatively modest $20 million endowment in half, rendering it both less secure and more dependent on annual fundraising to balance its budget.
Since then, fortunately, the institution has come up with a solid business plan to regain its footing. It was developed by Natalie Ronayne, the institution’s director since 2007 and the wife of Chris Ronayne, director of University Circle Inc., the non-profit community development corporation for the cultural district four miles east of downtown.