Uproar over proposed upgrades to Sarasota’s Selby Botanical Gardens

Sarasota County

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota is looking into a massive multi-million dollar improvement project.

But many residents are worried that it will change their way of life and they’re trying to put a halt on the project.

The Selby Botanical Gardens is literally a living museum. Scientists worldwide study the plants here, and the sheer natural beauty amazes more than 200,000 visitors a year.

But it is running out of space and it is getting old. Parking is very limited. Officials say on peak days, they have to turn away about 200 visitors.

Damage from Hurricane Irma was a wakeup call.

“We need to act before the next major weather event puts the world’s best collections at risk,” said Selby Gardens CEO Jennifer Rominiecki.  

“Right now [our plants] are in the ground, on the flood zone in aging infrastructure. Hurricane Irma really put an exclamation point in our need to act and safeguard our collections.”

So officials unveiled a $92 million master plan to transform the gardens. There will be new greenhouses, a welcome center and library, a preserved plant complex, a learning pavilion, restored historical buildings, an additional 50 percent of garden space and a five story, 450 space state of the art parking garage called a Sky Garden.

“It really is a chance for Selby Gardens to shine as an international leader in sustainability,” said Rominiecki.

It will be surrounded by plants. It will house a 20,000 square foot solar array and will collect rainwater for irrigation.

“Making us have the first net positive botanical garden complex in the world, meaning we will generate more energy than we consume,” described Rominiecki.

It will also have a rooftop restaurant.

“We’ll house a destination rooftop restaurant fueled by an edible rooftop garden so that we can showcase edible gardening as part of our mission,” said Rominiecki.

Many residents want to stop this project before it gets off the ground, because they feel it gets in the way.

“Its just almost unimaginable the impact that would have on the neighborhood and the general congestion in the area,” said concerned resident Alan Peck.

Neighbors are furious. They feel not only will it lead to noise and traffic issues, they feel it’s altering the entire aesthetic of the natural attraction.

“Its bringing downtown to a residential area,” said resident Louanne Roy. “Its just unconscionable that they’re proposing a New York-style destination park-like atmosphere in this residential area. It’s not New York.”

“Meetings, events, retail, music, restaurants, lots of things that are much more commercialized and completely different than what the original intention of Selby gardens was,” said Peck.

Selby officials say they’ve addressed many of the residents’ concerns.

“Selby Gardens is privately owned and we were under no obligation to incorporate neighborhood input. However, we wanted to, and we formed a neighborhood advisory committee and we’ve held 16 meetings over two years,” said Rominiecki.

After the community input, officials added $1.5 million in improvements, including sound mitigation, scale reduction in the buildings and a multi-use recreational trail.

Officials expect to present before the city commission in August and they hope to break ground by the end of the year.


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